Memory  /  Museum Review

Pieces of the Past at the Doctors House: Glendale, California

How one house can contain larger stories of American migration and growth, reckonings with exclusion, and the advent of new technologies.

Each of these historical layers is still visible in the house. Because different elements from different moments in time are present all at once, the Doctors House provides an unusual opportunity for contemplating how we interact with the past and how we understand its contingency. Nothing, the house reveals, is a finished product. As visitors walk through a Victorian parlor, marvel at turn-of-the-century kitchen gadgets, then explore the added-on upstairs rooms, the overwhelming impression is one of rapid change—not historical stasis.

As a baseline, the historical society painstakingly restored many aspects of the house to how they would have appeared during Dr. Bogue’s residency from 1896–1901: a late 19th-century doctor’s office, reproductions of the original wallpaper as discovered under layers of wall and paint, window seats in the parlor. But the society also kept some of the renovations of the home’s later owners and tenants.

For example, sometime at the beginning of the 20th century, Dr. Hunt’s family expanded what had been a small attic into living space that included a new primary bedroom. Although this room alters the original 1880s roofline, it has been preserved. Rather than detracting from the house’s historical authenticity, this alteration is an asset because visitors can see the house’s development in its outer structure.

Inside, the primary bedroom shows museum visitors several historical moments simultaneously. The early 20th-century bathroom, complete with pull-chain toilet, coexists with a 19th-century washstand and bedside commode tucked in the corner, relics of the days before indoor plumbing. Along one wall is an exhibit honoring Nell Shipman, through which visitors can explore her contributions to film history or admire photos of her cuddling her pet bear.

Moreover, the Doctors House was initially constructed without electricity, plumbing, or a gas line. But it would rapidly witness and accommodate the introduction of these technologies in the developing American West. The museum thus highlights household technology in flux. The dining room, for instance, is equipped with a lighting system that could be powered by both gas and electricity, designed for electricity’s early days, when power was not always reliable.

My personal favorite technological disjunction is in the parlor, where an 1877 Steinway square piano sits across the room from an Edison phonograph. 1877 was the year that Thomas Edison introduced his tinfoil phonograph, which eventually revolutionized the home music scene.