Dr. Robert W. Winter: ‘Father of Historic Preservation’ Memorialized with a Permanent Tribute

The Dr. Robert W. Winter Tribute at the Exhibition Hall of the Pasadena Convention Center. – Photo by May S. Ruiz / Beacon Media News

By May S. Ruiz

Dr. Robert Winter, who passed away in February this year, was an inspiration to preservationists and architect buffs for over 50 years. He was hailed as the ‘Father of historic preservation in Pasadena.’ It was his campaign to effect an ordinance to establish a cultural heritage commission that eventually created the Pasadena Heritage. He was an influencer long before the term entered the pop culture lexicon.

To recognize his significant contributions to the Arts & Crafts movement on the West Coast, Pasadena Heritage’s Craftsman Weekend 2019 held on November 1 to 3 incorporated the inaugural Dr. Robert Winter Memorial Lecture and the unveiling of a permanent tribute commissioned by Pasadena Center Operating Company (PCOC) at the exhibition hall of the Pasadena Convention Center.

Directors of the Blinn Foundation, The Gamble House, and the Pasadena Museum of History – the organizations which partnered with the Pasadena Heritage for the event – spoke of Dr. Winter’s connections to their associations.

Author and historian Ann Scheid, who heads the Greene & Greene Archives at The Huntington Library and has co-authored a book about The Gamble House with Dr. Winter, was the first lecturer. She gave a short biography that covered his life and career, his passion for Craftsman homes as well as for martinis. She reminisced about his penchant for performing – whether when taking his Occidental College students on bus tours of architectural landmarks or when giving talks about the history of the Arts & Crafts movement on the West Coast. Her stories brought back happy memories for the audience who had been invited because they had close ties with him. Her lecture ended with a short video of Dr. Winter singing con brio the chorus to a song called ‘In the Land of the Bungalow.’

Patty Judy, Education Director of the Pasadena Heritage, explains, “It’s an old song written in the 1920s. As far as I know, Bob discovered it in his endless research of the Craftsman era and was just delighted with it, learned it, and often performed it just for fun – in classrooms, at lectures, and to close all kinds of presentations when he was asked to speak. As Ann said, he loved being a ‘performer.’ I think the song became tied to him because he sang it so often and so many who heard him speak over the years remember it.”

Participants in the Craftsman Weekend 2019 Show. – Photo by May S. Ruiz / Beacon Media News

An open reception followed the lecture at the other side of the hall where people milled about and chatted as they enjoyed the drinks and finger foods. Then Dianne Philibosian, former chair of PCOC, alongside her husband Tom Seifert, asked all the guests to assemble for the unveiling of a special permanent display.

Says Judy, “Tom was a dear, close friend of Bob’s. He and Dianne were nearby neighbors who regularly checked in on him and helped out in recent years. The two of them spearheaded the effort to come up with a proper Pasadena tribute to Bob and we worked with them to create this event combining our lecture and the tribute unveiling.”

Philibosian discloses the reasoning for the choice of venue, “I thought the historic exhibition hall would be a really appropriate place to put up a lasting memorial. And in consultation with others, including PCOC Board members, city council members, Pasadena Heritage, and other friends and colleagues of Dr. Winter, we all agreed it was a most fitting location.”

The Pasadena Convention Center’s Exhibition Hall is indeed the perfect venue to house the tribute. It was here that ‘California Design 1910,’ an important exhibition of Arts & Crafts work, was held from October 15 to December 1, 1974. According to a news article published in the Pasadena Star-News on February 27, 2011, ‘California Design 1910’ was organized by Eudorah Moore and California Design, a spin-off from the Pasadena Art Museum. In the exhibition catalog, Moore wrote an introductory essay on ‘California and the Arts and Crafts Ideal’ and Dr. Winter followed with an extensive essay on ‘The Arroyo Culture.’ The author noted that the exhibition catalog is a veritable textbook on the Arts & Crafts peak period between about 1895 and World War I.

It took a village to create what Philibosian and Seifert envisioned. And during the unveiling, Philibosian acknowledged the Pasadena Heritage, the Gamble House, Pasadena Museum of History, and the Blinn House Foundation. She gave special thanks to Dale Brown of Onyx Architects, and graphic designer Scott Garland.

“When Dale Brown of Onyx Architects was asked to produce a tribute to Dr. Robert Winter he assigned Scott Garland, a local graphic designer who was born and raised in Pasadena and a graduate of Art Center College of Design,” Philibosian expounded. “As fate would have it, for 23 years Scott and his wife Karen lived in the 1911 historic landmark bungalow which would become the first historic district of Monrovia. During that time, their home was featured in the American Bungalow magazine and photographed by Alex Vertikoff. Scott even had his own copy of American Bungalow Style co-authored by Dr. Winter and Alex Vertikoff. Not only did Scott’s familiarity with the Arts and Crafts Movement influence his design decision but this project could not have been completed without the cooperation of many who graciously gave their time to be interviewed for this very piece behind us. Their insights and memories of ‘Bungalow Bob’ all contributed to what we hope will be a lasting and fitting tribute to this remarkable man.”

Mayor Tornek speaks of Dr. Winter’s significant contributions. – Photo by May S. Ruiz / Beacon Media News

Pasadena elected officials, led by Mayor Terry Tornek, were on hand to celebrate the occasion. Mayor Tornek, whom Philibosian introduced as someone who greatly appreciates and promotes art and aesthetics of historic preservation in the city of Pasadena, gave his remarks.

“I’m delighted to see so many people turn out for this – this is really a great event for us (I have notes because Bob would expect no less). Dr. Robert Winter, as you heard in Ann’s wonderful speech, was a Pasadenan of national renown. And if we had a tradition of naming people as historic treasures, I think he would have been among the first to be identified. He was an inspiration, a writer, a mentor, a teacher, an instigator, and he was a dedicated proponent of good architecture and its effects on the community. He was both expert and charming which, I think, helps a lot in promoting a cause.

“We were so fortunate that his primary community was indeed Pasadena. An architectural historian, well-known author, professor of ideas (great title that was) at Occidental for many years, Dr. Winter taught generations how to look at and appreciate historic buildings and places throughout Los Angeles and across the country. In terms of his local impact, Bob was among the first to proclaim that the city of Pasadena needed a historic preservation ordinance to confer landmark status on key buildings, identify critical properties and, most of all, to protect them. He, along with his close friend, L.A. Times columnist Miv Schaaf, who lived around the corner, drafted our city’s cultural heritage ordinance and he served on the board of the first cultural heritage commission. Later he rejoined the commission and served again.

“He also called for an uprising of local residents to champion and support that ordinance and the work of the commission as well as the general cause of historic preservation in the city. And that, in fact, gave rise to the formation of Pasadena Heritage and its mission which has been so effective down through the years and, ultimately, led to my arrival as planning director for the city of Pasadena. I’m afraid that ‘Bungalow Bob’ was responsible for me being here as well.

“So I’m so pleased that the PCOC, with the encouragement of Dianne Philibosian, has taken the time to create this wonderful lasting tribute to Dr. Robert Winter and make it a place where lots of people will come and see it for years to come. We treasure our history in Pasadena – it means a lot to us and it’s responsible in many ways for the kind of community we are. People like ‘Bungalow Bob’ really are the key contributors to making that happen. It’s not just about the buildings, which are important, but it’s really about the sense of community that we’ve developed in Pasadena. So I’m grateful to Bob, I’m grateful to those of you who invested in spending time to remember him and to memorialize him, and I hope that going forward we can be worthy of the causes he championed but also be as good-humored about it as he was.”

Karen Winters Fine Art display booth at Craftsman Weekend 2019. – Photo by May S. Ruiz / Beacon Media News

After the tribute was unveiled, everyone raised their champagne glass (not martini, which would have been his preference) to toast Dr. Robert W. Winter, Ph.D.

Seifert declared, “We thank you for your scholarship, your humor, your multiple contributions to so many fields of endeavor. May this wall commemorate your extraordinary legacy to the city of Pasadena.”

Then Philibosian recited Dr. Winter’s trademark song, “And all those who gaze upon it in the land of the bungalow, away from the ice and snow, away from the cold to the land of gold, out where the poppies grow, to the land of the setting sun and the home of the orange blossom, to the land of fruit and honey.” And Seifert ended it with, “In this land of your bungalow to Robert Winter Ph.D.”

Her emceeing duties finished, Philibosian returned to her table to chat with colleagues and other friends of the late Dr. Winter. She capped the evening with a wish, “We’re hoping this will be called the Robert Winter Historic Exhibition Hall – that as things evolve and progress, people will start calling it that.”

Let this mark the start of the fulfillment of that wish.


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