Gregangelo’s house is a place of many wonders, where every step can transport you into a new dimension full of the real, the fantastic, and the sublime.
Tucked away at 225 San Leandro Way in Balboa Terrace, this hidden museum was created solely through artist Gregangelo’s passions. Through untold amounts of hard work, Gregangelo has somehow personified his strong sense of wonder, mystery, and pure, unadulterated fantasy into his own house, which he started transforming about 30 years back — it was even featured on Home Strange Home.
One of the most special attributes of Gregangelo’s wonderland is how organic it is. You get the sense that the house grew naturally, sprung into life simply by his own imagination and passions.
“This is my obsession. What is this battery that makes us operate and think and be passionate? Why do we do what we do?” Gregangelo said.
The house asks age-old questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going? What connects us all?
Follow me down the rabbit hole. You might never want to come back out.
– – –
Walking up the drive, I was struck by how plain the house looked from a distance. You could never guess what secrets the house hid inside its unassuming exterior, which was exactly how Gregangelo wanted it.
“I like to keep it as normal as possible — on the outside.” Gregangelo said with his feel-good laugh, making me laugh in turn.
I got my first taste of the crazy adventure that was in store when I looked up at the entryway mosaic; tiles were arranged in shades of blues and blacks to create a swirling galaxy. Tania Seabock, the resident artist, was painting another addition onto the doorway when I arrived.
“The work is never done. I’m adding onto someone else’s work,” Tania said, gesturing to the painting, “and after I leave, someone else will add on to what I’m doing now.”
I followed Tania into the house and came face-to-face with this:
Yeah, I was pretty surprised too. Later I learned that the avant-garde jester was a handmade, fully functional costume designed by Gregangelo and used in his circus shows whenever it was needed. It reflected the running theme of Gregangelo’s marvelous house — nothing is simply decorative or fragile, and guests are invited to touch, feel and interact with the pieces.
The hallway, known as Dusk Hall, was my entrance into the psychedelic world of Gregangelo’s.
I then found myself in the Solstice Room, which, like the name implies, was indeed bright. Lit with a combination of artificial and natural light, the room invited you to sit and take a load off. Despite — or perhaps because of — the 24-Karat gold painted angel with medieval sleeves (another innovative costume) guarding the credenza in the Arabian Nights-inspired sitting area, I felt completely at home.
The sheer amount of patterns, colors, and props inside the room were baffling to look at separately, but when brought together they worked in chaotic harmony to complete the picture of solstice.
“All of this was painted by hand,” said Tania as she pointed out one of the molding on the doorways. Then she led me to the next room: the Eclipse Room.
Walking into the Eclipse Room after soaking in the Solstice Room was like strolling through a sudden patch of shade on a sunny day. In contrast to the bright, sunny colors of Solstice, Eclipse was dominated by blues, blacks and greens — cool shades that were relaxing, not somber.
But what commanded my attention first was the pièce de résistance: the candy wonderland set smack in the middle of the room, proudly featuring every sweet imaginable in glass containers.
“This represents us, the Gregangelo company,” explained Gregangelo.
But I only had time for a cursory glance at the baffling assortment of sugar before Tania whisked me away to one of her favorite rooms.
Voila: the bathroom, if it could even be called that.
Modeled after the ocean, every millimeter of wall was adorned with jewels, starfish, mosaics, and even a stained-glass window in the shape of a man. The ceiling had been replaced with a wavy mirror and glass bubbles to make the viewer feel like they were underwater, looking up at the sky through a film of seafoam.
Even the floor was graced with a mosaic in the shape of a translucent rainbow eye, each color creeping into the next without breaking the subtle gradient effect.
I gaped and snapped pictures, brought speechless by the sheer riot of color — and the work it must have taken to install every last bead by hand.
Before I knew it, I heard dishes clattering in the kitchen and the rumble of voices nearby. The house had come to life — it was time for lunch.
The core members of Gregangelo’s Circus (where had they come from?) had assembled in the kitchen, where Darkhija Damba had prepared pots of soup, salad and rice for everyone to enjoy. I entered, appropriately timid, and grabbed some food for myself before heading in the same direction as everyone else: the Dawn Room.
Imagine sitting in a cafe with a freshly made cup of coffee, sunlight spilling on the table as you contemplate the whole day in front of you, ripe with possibilities. Water babbles in the distance — you’re feeling fresh, calm, relaxed and ready to face the world.
That’s what the Dawn Room felt like. Swathed in calming shades of blue and white, the whole room was a shrine to serenity and energized peace.
This was where we all gathered for lunch. I sat gingerly, afraid to pollute this art piece with my all-too-clumsy touch. But watching the other circus members milling around the table and shooting the breeze (“How did the show go last night?”, “Whose dog is that?”, “Tell me more about Project Nunway”), I relaxed by degrees.
When I asked Gregangelo if he was afraid of breaking his masterpieces by using them so candidly, it was clear he was not only unconcerned, but that he refused to believe in the concept of defection in relation to art. Good art, according to him, could never be broken. It could only be improved.
While we dug into our meals, Gregangelo introduced everyone to me. There was Kevin Tigerina, the dancer and costume creator; Dixie Delish, the Director of Operations; Andy Faulkner, the stage manager and one-woman tech team; Darkhija Damba, the resident chef and traditional Mongolian dancer; and Dually, the amazing trick pup.
But job titles meant little to this motley crew of artists. Everyone did a little bit of everything — Dixie specialized in precision bullwhip cracking, Darkhija acted, Kevin managed artists and, of course, everyone performed. The only one who seemed to stay in one role was Dually.
“What I do really depends on the gig,” said Kevin. “Last time I was a giant plant and scared a bunch of people.”
After lunch, I was treated to an exclusive show of Dixie & Dually in the Solstice Room while I lounged on a sofa — watching that little dog go was one of the many highlights of my day.
Afterwards, Gregangelo came to collect me from my little nest near the hookah. It was time for the real tour to begin.
I was a little apprehensive, I admit — passing through the Midnight Hall will do that to you. Maybe it was the hands coming out from the wall or maybe it was the leering face, made all the more sinister by the lightbulb it was holding.
But this was the Midnight Hall, the secret passage that led to “sacred treasures,” so it was only fitting that it be frightening as to scare off unworthy viewers of Gregangelo’s inner sanctum.
Off to the side, a strange room straight out of the Wizard of Oz’s palace awaited me: the vibrant Emerald Room.
Then there was the outer space office, fittingly belonging to Gregangelo himself. An avid lover of the cosmic, his office reflected his passion for the unknown vastness of space. A Swingin’ Sixties take on the galaxy, the room was enrobed with silver and sequins, and scattered with little artifacts of mystique — such as the alien totems and lava lamps.
I spotted a small staircase at the corner of his office and left the discotheque nebula behind. Three steps upwards, and suddenly I was transported to a sultan’s private abode.
Posh, elegant, exquisitely lux — it was like I’d somehow wandered into Scheherazade’s lounge. The table was complete with a crystal ball, an elegant silver hand and an urn; at any minute, a genie would come swirling out of the lamp.
A curtain fluttered out of the corner of my eye, offering tantalizing glimpses of a statuary collection outside as it swayed with the breeze. I looked at Gregangelo and he nodded, leaving me be with my own raging curiosity.
There were a cluster of statues on the balcony, but the most interesting feature was by far the ladder leaning on the side of the building. Why was it there? Where did it lead to?
I, of course, wasted no time in clambering up the ladder until I got to the very tippy-top. Knowing Gregangelo, anything from another house to a dragon could be waiting for me up there — the one thing I could be certain of was that it wouldn’t be boring.
A shooting star — that mystical, wish-bearing entity of our Disney-fueled childhood dreams — was resting atop the roof. The mosaic swirl surrounding it suggested movement as it radiated shattered chunks of red light.
A truly befitting tree-topper to Gregangelo’s (Mad? Inspired? Genius?) wonderland.
I descended back down the ladder and followed Gregangelo to another door that I’d failed to notice before. Or maybe it hadn’t been there before? In Gregangelo’s house, I was coming to learn, anything was possible.
We passed through the Earth Room (a wooden bathroom with Japanese influences) and entered the conscious/subconscious room.
There were two levels to this room, separated by a single staircase — “a bridge between the conscious and the subconscious; the dream state.” The conscious level consisted of the first floor, and was covered in head to toe with, well, shoes. There were a baffling variety from all walks of life (get it?) and in the middle of the room, there was a shrine.
Perched on his “bridge,” Gregangelo shared his take on the conscious and the subconscious, and how interconnected we all were metaphysically.
“It’s a connection that we all have,” said Gregangelo. “This is what the house is about. It’s the foundation of what we’re based on. That’s what the house is contemplating. That’s what all the art in this house is contemplating.”
Is it just a bed, or is it the gateway that delivers us from the conscious to the subconscious, hence the wings?
Like all proper adventures, Gregangelo wasn’t about to send me into the hidden depths of his house without a guide. The cabinet, shown above, would be my map.
The I’itoi petroglyph, or the Man in the Maze, of the O’oodham people (located in the top right corner) was a blueprint for life — and his house. The traveler would start at the beginning and wander through a variety of experiences until, finally, they arrived at death.
Gregangelo stressed to me that he hadn’t designed his hideaway around the I’itoi; rather, the house had grown naturally to fit with the glyph’s message.
I was confused for a split second — how could there be more to his house? — until Gregangelo reached over and pulled a certain spot in the wood cabinet, and the cabinet map itself swung open to reveal a mirror passageway.
“The mirrors are circular, saying everything in the cosmos is spinning; it’s all a reflection of us,” said Gregangelo.
I followed Gregangelo in, thrilled beyond belief that I was finally walking into a bonafide hidden passageway. The door swung shut and complete darkness fell for a split second before the lights came on, wrapping everything in an ethereal, multi-colored glow.
From the floor, the I’itoi shone. I had officially entered Gregangelo’s inner maze.
After turning a corner in the mirror hallway, I ran straight into what seemed like thousands of neon strings.
“This is the web of life.” Gregangelo called to me from somewhere up ahead. “Don’t get caught!”
Much easier said then done. The web seemed very unwilling to let me pass, catching on my clothes, my hair and even my camera. Which, I suppose, was the whole point.
After braving the sticky strings, Gregangelo instructed me to get on my hands and knees and crawl on into a small door (“like you’re a small innocent child!”). My knees hit plush orange carpet and I scrambled in to a delightful orange room full of toys, gadgets and tons of squishy puffer balls. Immediately, the scratchy record player revved up an old fun-in-the-sun jam.
After I played around in the puffer balls a bit, Gregangelo took me back through the web to a “portal.”
I stepped into the cylindrical tube to “transport” myself to whatever sight Gregangelo had in store for me.
“Hang on tight!”
I grabbed onto a ledge right before he started spinning the tube. And when I stepped out, it was to a whole different place.
Lights. There were rainbow lights everywhere, lighting up the mirrored room in a psychedelic, hey-I’m-on-acid way. It was beautiful. It was mystical.
The thought where the heck am I? floated through my mind more than once, because I had obviously been teleported away from reality and into a place where nothing really existed except for the countless, countless lights.
I looked down and immediately felt dizzy.
A giant eye was staring back at me from the ground. What had Nieztsche said? “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
There had never been a more appropriate time to use that quote than now. The eye seemed to hide sentience in its spiraling rainbow depths, although that could have been just me reflected in the glass. Who knew, really?
I turned away and stepped into a womb of black fabric, only to see this majesty:
It was a gateway, a passage into a sight that defied words. Gregangelo had explained to me beforehand what his goal was for the Eternity Room: “To me, after death, wouldn’t it be great if all the secrets of the universe and everything we’ve ever wondered about could just be revealed?”
He’d endeavored to recreate an experience when, in that moment of death, you would feel the majesty of a universe open to your spirit; you would understand the truths hidden from you in life and be completely, absolutely satisfied.
This was his answer.
I relaxed, utterly safe in this dark womb. For a brief second, the world outside, my worries, my fears, even my physical form seemed to melt away; I was left with only myself and the cosmos swirling ahead in the small, infinite space.
Still dazed from the majesty of Eternity, I stumbled into the Pink Room, or what the candy sculpture from Eclipse Room supposedly looked like from inside. It seemed like a normal neon pink toy store at first — stuffed animals, music boxes, a cake in the corner.
Then I took a closer look.
The teddy bear had her arm cut off and a gun in the other, bone still protruding from the stump (“Mama went off to war, came home with PTSD”); the cake opened to reveal that the inside was filled with organs (“the fast food industry”); the old-timey television had arms and legs and a face (“the mass media monster that turns people into blind zombies”); the pink shark was trying to eat the blowfish (“represents terrorism — see how the fish are living in fear?”).
It was a morbid representation of society’s problems, cleverly hidden behind a sweet, pink surface.
“The pink room is about how we look at the world with our rose-colored glasses on and we take ’em off. We take an honest look at everything that exists in our world — the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful — and see who we are,” said Gregangelo.
On that note, Gregangelo opened a wall that doubled as a door and led me back to reality.
I thought we’d finished the tour, but Gregangelo still had one more surprise for me under his belt. We walked down the stairs this time, to the basement where he kept all the leftover props from his shows, the troupe’s costumes, and his sketches.
His basement was large it was stuffed to the gills with props and costumes, all tucked into bins and stacked high. Props in progress — like a bitten apple with a worm sticking out of it — were scattered on the table relegated as the workshop.
The makeup and media room was relatively less crowded; pictured above is the photographer’s office and the photo studio.
Want to tour Gregangelo’s mystical house? The cap is placed at four people per tour and the fee is $150/person — learn more over at their website.
[All Images: © Regina Park]