Sunday, December 6, 2009

Arcata Plaza

I started taking Spanish last summer – not because I am planning a trip to Mexico, but because I thought it would be good for the “little gray cells”, as Poirot would say. I’m not sure that it is working, but I am enjoying the class and other students. Learning a new language, or at least new vocabulary, is actually something we all do whenever we pursue a new job or hobby. Knitting, car mechanics, and bird watching – they all have their own language. Doing HALS work requires learning the language of the National Park Service (NPS), who has established the methodology for documenting cultural landscapes. It is important that everyone involved in this work use the same terms and definitions – so there is consistency throughout the country when we write about our national heritage properties.

Integrity is one of words that has special meaning. It is defined as, “the ability of a property to convey its significance.” To be listed on the National Register of Historic Places a site must have significance and it must retain integrity. The National Register criteria recognizes seven aspects or qualities of integrity, which are: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. When evaluating a site’s integrity one considers each of these qualities and makes a judgment about whether or not it retains integrity.

Integrity is an issue I thought about when we visited Arcata Plaza during our May 2009 HALS vacation. While many of the features of Arcata Plaza have been altered, I feel it retains sufficient integrity to qualify as a historic site. Note: the top photo by A.W. Ericson was part of a display in the Hotel Arcata.

Historic Features That Remain:
The plaza occupies one full city block and is surrounded by commercial and retail businesses housed in buildings of two and three stories. These businesses include small specialty shops; not chain stores. Diagonal parking surrounds the plaza on all four sides. The plaza continues to function as the hub of a thriving retail district.

The plaza retains most of its original formal layout – walks enter the center of the plaza from each corner. There are also mid-block walks on each street leading to the center of the plaza. There is a historic fountain, dated 1912, at the mid-block entrance on H Street. At the center of the plaza there is a circular paved plaza with a full size bronze statue of President William McKinley mounted on a pedestal at the center. Much of the plaza is planted in lawn. There are two remaining Canary Island Date Palms that match a pair visible in historic photos.

The plaza has undergone several renovations. Non-historic improvements include:
The circular walk that had been added by 1914 has been removed. Raised concrete planters have been added at the corner entry points and surrounding the central plaza. A raised planter now surrounds the bronze sculpture and a portion of the base has been buried. The paving for the corner and midblock walks has been replaced with exposed aggregate paving, and on some corners concrete pads with benches have been appended to the walk. New period-style light posts and period-style benches and other site furniture have been added.

Plaza History
Arcata Plaza was laid out by the Union Company in 1850, along with the surrounding blocks of commercial buildings. The plaza was known as the Commons. It became a parade ground, where a citizen’s military company drilled. The plaza was also used for grazing cows until 1901. The Plaza was the only place in town where bars and liquor stores could be located and accordingly women were not allowed until 1870.

Through the years, the Plaza served as the nucleus of community events. It was used as a ball park, a gathering place for town and national celebrations, the scene of huge 4th of July bonfires, of bicycle races, parades, Easter egg hunts, concerts, theatrical performances, fairs and an annual salmon bake.

By 1855, a railroad brought supplies to the southwest corner of the plaza to construct the businesses located around the plaza, and to support mining camps in the vicinity. An 1897 photograph shows the plaza with a similar configuration – mostly lawn, the diagonal paths, and wood plank sidewalk on all four sides.

In 1895 Arcata resident Charles Murdock though the plaza should be improved. He wrote, “The Plaza should be a thing of beauty and a center of life and interest. No building should rest upon it, but green sword, and well kept walks, a fountain, shrubs, and trees should be so attractive that it would be the pride of every citizen.” This led to the establishment of the Plaza Improvement Committee. A center bandstand was completed in 1901. In 1906, it was removed and the statue of McKinley was installed. By 1903 roses, boxwood hedges and the palms and other trees were planted. Murdock suggested the pattern of radiating sidewalks, which were completed in 1910.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A HALS Adventure Vacation

Last May I planned a “HALS Adventure Vacation” and selected several possible sites to visit along a looped route that would take us north to Arcata/Trinidad, then east to Redding, and further east to Yuba Pass where we stayed at Bassetts – a favorite place for birding – another interest of ours. Along the way we visited eleven historic sites. I wrote up HALS forms for four and have one yet to finish for the Point Cabrillo Light Station.

Our first stop was Fort Ross, featured in my banner and October 11, 2009 post. The most interesting site though was the 700 acre Mendocino Woodlands State Park located in the Jackson State Forest about 8 miles east of Highway One. The site is long, narrow and steeply sloped. See map of camp 1 above.

The first building encountered is the dining/recreation room. The kitchen has a high, beam ceiling with a skylight, and off that central space there are two dining areas each with its own stone fireplace. From the kitchen, double doors lead out onto stone steps and an outdoor eating area. This building and all of the others at the camp were built in the 1930s by the WPA and CCC, which were created by President Roosevelt during the depression. All are constructed of old growth redwood milled from the site. Even the tables and bench seats in the dining hall were constructed by the CCC crews.

Below the dining building is an amphitheater constructed in a traditional semi-circle, with Redwood stumps that mark the corners of the “stage”, and the Redwood forest as a “back drop”. The theater benches are in two groups divided by timber steps. Each bench is made of Redwood logs topped with a rounded slab of Redwood. There is a 3’ diameter fire ring at the center of the amphitheater.
Camping is in individual cabins that are identical throughout. Each has a small (3’ x 4’) stone porch, space for 4 cots, a small closet, a small porch, and a stone fireplace. Cabins are spaced about 30-40 feet apart, and at different levels, with footpaths connecting them. Between the paths understory plantings of fern, grasses, blue-eyed grass, Douglas Iris, Vaccinium, and Gaultheria provide a lush understory.

The camp was one of 46 similar camps built around the country that included Camp David – the president’s retreat. “It was conceived to provide a setting that would introduce the public to the wonders of nature” according to the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association website history. This is the only one of the original camps that has been maintained and continuously used for its original purpose. It was given to the people of California with the mandate that it be used for group camping and environmental education. A non-profit group was organized in 1949 to manage the park, and in 1976 Mendocino Woodlands became a State Park. National Historic Landmark status was granted in 1997.

Visiting these historic sites with the intent of doing a HALS inventory form really enhanced the trip for me. I made a greater effort to really see, explore and understand what I was seeing and what was important about it. Rather than just give a cursory look at exhibits I studied them carefully leaving with a deeper understanding and appreciation for our California history.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alameda Naval Air Station - A WWII Landscape

One year ago PGA was invited to prepare the HALS drawings for Doyle Drive at the Presidio in San Francisco, and since then I’ve been possessed with the project. Doyle is the single largest contract PGA has had in 30 years. It is a large, complex project that required an innovative approach to observing, recording and depicting the landscape. As we are coming close to completing our work I’ve begun to fret that Doyle would prove to be the peak of my career and nothing else would measure up.

Then about a month ago PGA got a call from JRP Historical Consulting inviting us to assist them with a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) for Alameda Naval Air Station (NAS). And, with one phone call, I fell in love with a new project. Somehow, I feel like I am two-timing Doyle. How could I be “dating” NAS when I am still “engaged” with Doyle? But who would not admire those sentry-like Italian Cypress guarding the entry to Building 17? How could I not flirt with the amusing Hollywood Junipers that flank the old Post office door? And, who would not swoon at the sight of those big, strong Rusty Leaf Figs by the Bachelors Officers Quarters?

Alameda NAS is a collection of landscape types. The Administrative Core is formal with bilateral symmetry and a strong axial alignment. The entry sequence includes 3 large panels of lawn creating a mall similar to the Washington Mall. All of the buildings, roads, sidewalks, paths and much of the planting are laid out in an orthogonal pattern. NAS was the last military base to be designed as part of the whole base design system where the architect, planner and landscape architect worked collaboratively to plan and layout an efficient and functional base. These buildings were built as permanent structures and reflect the architectural style of their time – a hybrid of Art Deco and Moderne design.

The residential area is sub-divided into 4 housing types that reflect the status of different grades of military personnel. Curving streets, expanses of lawn, and an abundance of trees convey a park-like setting. The remainder of the base has a utilitarian landscape designed to facilitate its primary purpose to prepare and maintain aircraft during World War II. Spaces are massive – sometimes the size of multiple football fields laid side by side – without obstructions. Buildings and doors are monumental in scale, designed to allow an airplane to roll in the front door.

A Cultural Landscape Report is not HALS. It is another type of documentation for a historically significant landscape – in this case a site associated with our involvement with WWII, and subsequent military operations, including the Cold War. While our work at NAS is not HALS it is an important historic landscape and certainly is worthy of recordation under the HALS program.

Currently, what I am doing is recording the existing conditions for this 1750 acre site. I am mapping the locations of trees and vegetation (lawn and foundation shrubs). I am taking notes about other landscape improvements by feature type – circulation, hardscape features, buildings and structures, views and vistas, monuments, and spatial organization. And, I am photographing the features. With the existing conditions information, PGA will prepare a series of diagrams that illustrate the major components of the site, as it exists today: vegetation, circulation, and land use. PGA will contribute to the assessment and analysis; we will identify character defining features, and write Treatment Recommendations for the future use of the base. All of this is one part of an elaborate base closure process, and the transition of what this site will be in the future.

If you’ve never visited Alameda NAS I recommend it. It is a stunning landscape steeped in history. You’ll find extraordinary views of San Francisco and the Port of Oakland. You can visit the USS Hornet and the base museum. It is a great place to see a large variety of mature tree species, great architecture, and would be a perfect place to teach someone to drive, because it is flat and there are very few cars out there.

This post is dedicated to the World's Best Dog, Beauregard who died today at 17 - that is 119 in dog years. Beau was a mixed-bread dog we got from Hopalong Rescue. He was a perfect dog, who visited most of the historic sites with us. He will be missed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

HALS Documentation - What's involved? Part 2

The Northern California Chapter of HALS has completed documentation for three historic sites – the Kaiser Roof Garden (top photo, taken by Tom Fox) in downtown Oakland, Piedmont Way (2nd Photo) in Berkeley, and the Mary Burdell Victorian Garden at Olompali State Historic Park, in Marin County. To see the documentation for these sites visit the HALS Chapter website. Go to “Landscapes”, click on Alameda or Marin County, and then look for the site by City.

The National Park Service donated the services of Brian Grogan, who photographed all three sites using a large format camera and black and white film, which complies with HALS Guidelines for Photography. The written narrative for Piedmont Way was researched and written by HALS member Michael Crowe and funded by a donation from the SWIG Company. Member, Carol Roland did the history for the Mary Burdell Garden and found it to be eligible for the National Register. Her work was funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Marlea Graham is doing the history of the Kaiser Roof Garden.

Several members of the PGA staff contributed to the HALS drawings for these 3 sites but it was Cate Bainton who pulled everything together. The documentation of the Burdell Garden will ultimately lead to the garden’s restoration, which is another reason for doing HALS. Part of the research involved studying historic photos, and then conducting field investigations to locate remnants of paths and other features. Archaeologists from Sonoma State confirmed the locations of paths.

HALS Documentation - What's involved?

Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) documentation has three components – a written history, drawings and photography. The part that I am most familiar with is the drawings. My firm, PGAdesign has completed HALS drawings for three sites, and is actively engaged in preparing drawings for Doyle Drive at the Presidio in San Francisco. The photos in this posting are from Doyle Drive.

HALS Guidelines for each component describe how to prepare the documentation. The Guidelines for drawings, lists several different types of drawings that can be used to illustrate a particular landscape. The difficulty is that the guidelines were written to be used for all types of landscapes – from a small, formal residential garden to the White House grounds. The challenge is to select what drawings will best convey what a landscape looks like.

In the case of Doyle Drive, which is a large (1.2 mile long) and complex landscape, we are preparing several different types of drawings. The vegetation plans show trees and shrubs. Unique graphic symbols are used for different species of trees. Shrubs are categorized by size – low, medium and high. Species are listed in a plant list.

Our “Built Environment Plans” show “hardscape” features, i.e. Walls, paving, stairs, ramps, fences, etc. Another set of drawings illustrate views. The external views diagram shows what can be viewed outside the site – like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the East Bay Hills. Three internal views diagrams highlight what can be see within the site, including the national cemetery, the historic stables buildings, and the batteries. A battery is where the artillery was mounted to defend the presidio.

The existence of the bluff, that overlooks the bay, is one of the strategic reasons why the presidio is located where it is. This bluff provided an elevated vantage point to see enemy ships. It also divides the presidio topographically. Crissy Field is just slightly above high tide while most of the presidio is elevated above the bluff. Today, the presidio is no longer a military facility. It is a national park and recreation area, so the new design for Doyle Drive includes re-grading, to better connect the upper and lower portions of the site. Portions of the bluff will be cut down by this grading and an important feature will no longer exist. Capturing the bluff and recording it, is important to understanding this site. Our section drawings, being completed by Janet Grayck, illustrate the topography of the landscape. These drawings show the bluff and the relationship between the upper and lower portions of the site.

Ultimately, these drawings along with the written narrative and HALS photographs will reside at the Library of Congress accessible to future researchers, and to the public online. Our drawings will show what the landscape around Doyle Drive was like in 2009, before it was changed. In this way, a piece of our national heritage is being preserved, which is one answer to the question, “What is the purpose of HALS?”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Trees of Mountain View Cemetery - A Self-Guided Tour

It’s Fall and the Dawn Redwood at Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery is just starting to turn to deep yellow. The Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is one of three types of Redwoods found at Mountain View cemetery and the only one that is deciduous (loses its leaves). This pre-historic species is native to China and is one of a very few deciduous conifers. Learn about how the Dawn Redwood was discovered in an article on the Arnold Arboretum website.

Download Trees of Mountain View Cemetery – A Self-Guided Tour and go see the fall color soon. As of Friday November 5th the Dawn Redwood was just hinting at changing color as were the Copper Beech in front of the main mausoleum and the Japanese Maples in the sunken garden. The Red Maple and Ash are already past their prime, but the Gingko, Sweetgum, Poplar, Tulip Tree and Dogwood are all at their peak.

Mountain View Cemetery is one of Oakland’s most important historic landscapes because it was designed by Frederic Law Olmsted, the person known as “The Father of Landscape Architecture”. Olmsted is best known as the designer of New York’s Central Park. Mountain View is significant because it was one of the earliest detached cemeteries in the United States and as such set a new standard for burial places.

If you prefer a guided tour make a note to join me on Saturday April 24th, 2010 at 10:00 AM. Spring is also a wonderful time to see Mountain View’s trees.
Top Photo: Dawn Redwood
Middle: Sweet Gum along main allee
Bottom: Tulip Tree

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Olmsted's Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland CA

Four years after the California Cemetery Act was passed in 1859, the original trustees of Mountain View Cemetery met and organized a non-profit association. The trustees sought out Frederic Law Olmsted who was known for his work in New York’s Central Park and who was in California at the time. (Olmsted came to California to manage the 44,000 acre Mariposa Gold Mine.)

The cemetery was consecrated May 25, 1865 and quickly became the premier place to be buried, attracting the elite of California - including such notables as: Charles Crocker one of the Big 4 who built the transcontinental railroad and later founded Crocker Bank; Henry Durant, founder of what became the University of California; Ina Coolbrith, California’s first poet laureate; James Folger who created Folgers Coffee Company; Domingo Ghirardelli, the chocolate king; three generations of the Pardee family that included two Mayors of Oakland and one California Governor; famed architects Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan, the first woman to graduate from the Ecole de Beaux Arts; Col. John Coffee “Jack” Hays, the most famous Texas Ranger; landscape painter, Thomas Hill; author Frank Norris; sculptor, Douglas Tilden; industrialist, Henry J. Kaiser whose shipyards played a key role in the Allied forces victory in WWII and whose medical foundation provides quality health care to this day; Warren and Steven Bechtel, who founded and built the largest engineering firm in the world; Elizabeth Short, aka “The Black Dahlia”; and numerous other state governors and legislators.

Mountain View cemetery occupies 226 acres of land in the Oakland hills. Olmsted planned curving paths and roads that climb up the slopes at either side of a formal allee. The main allee starts at the level entry and extends one half mile up along a gentle slope. As described in a narrative Olmsted wrote, he envisioned a place for all persons to be buried, "a place of our common grief, our common hopes and our common faith; a place wherein we may see and feel our sympathy one with another ... where all elements of society would be provided for ... so that the community of the dead would be an object lesson for the community of the living".

Olmsted intended native grasses, lots of shrubs and five species of trees - Italian Cypress, Cedar of Lebanon, Stone Pine, Monterey Cypress, and Evergreen Oak (Quercus agrifolia). Today 80+ species of trees are found throughout the cemetery. The upper terraces offer spectacular views of the bay and the City of San Francisco. It is here that the elite of California chose as their final resting place, which became known as Millionaire's Row.

See the sidebar on this blog for information about free, docent-led walking tours.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Sun House – A HALS Adventure

On October 16, 2009 I visited the Sun House in Ukiah which is in Mendocino County off Highway 101. Ukiah is the county seat and has a nicely-scaled historic downtown. We drove from the coast over Mountain View Road enjoying the fall color – vibrant red poison oak and intensely yellow Big Leaf Maples – through Boonville to Highway 253. When we arrived in Ukiah it was well past lunchtime so I inquired of the first person we passed, “where should we have lunch?” Without hesitation she suggested Schat’s Bakery which was just around the corner at 113 W. Perkins Avenue – across from the courthouse.

What luck – they not only offered an assortment of appealing pastries which we bought two of, but great sandwiches. I ordered a half sandwich and ceasar salad and the sandwich was so large I could not eat it all – much more food than one usually gets with a whole sandwich and it was delicious. Sated we headed off to the Sun House and Grace Hudson Museum that I’d learned about from the Northern California HALS database of potential HALS sites.

The Sun House, so named because John and Grace Hudson incorporated a Hopi Indian sun sign over the front door of their new home.

Grace Hudson was an uncommonly successful and recognized artist of her time. She gained national recognition for her paintings and received an honor award at the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She was a prolific artist working primarily in oils creating over 600 paintings of local Pomo Indians.

My purpose was to study the landscape associated with the house. What I found was that much of the original garden that had been designed and installed by the Hudsons was still present.

The Sun House is located on a 4 acre parcel. In addition to the single-family craftsman-style home the property includes the original garage, Hudson-Carpenter Park, the Grace Hudson Museum and a shaded parking lot. A timber fence defines the front property line along Main Street. Brick columns mark a simple wooden gate with a hand-hewn iron latch and a straight, brick path aligns with the heavy timber front door. To the left of the front door there is a 25 foot totem acquired by John Hudson from Northwest Native Americans. To the right of the front door is a stone bench and further right is a mature Pistache Tree – one of six originally planted by the Hudsons.

The front garden is mostly lawn with a bronze sundial mounted on a brick pedestal and a curved brick path leading to the ornament. A mosaic and metal birdbath depicted in historic photos was not visible at the time of my visit having been temporarily removed for repairs. The front garden currently has fewer shrubs than depicted in historic photos that also show vines covering much of the front of the house.

The south property line is defined by a drive that accesses the parking lot that serves the Grace Hudson Museum. Between this drive and the Sun House is a garden that includes features installed shortly after the house was built including a rectangular brick patio surrounded by four rough-hewn stone benches and a raised brick planter that originally was an 8 foot square fish pond.

The south garden is lushly planted under the shade of mature Sycamore and Poplar trees. The understory plants appear to be relatively new additions. Towards the rear of the property there are two other garden structures designed and built by the Hudsons. A heavy-timbered trellis consisting of six 8x8 redwood posts support 6x6 beams that are topped by eight 4x6 crossbeams. A knarled Wisteria remains on this now deteriorated structure. The area under the trellis is paved with brick and there is another stone bench and a stone millstone.

The second structure on the southeast side of the house is a wishing well. A spring was known to be here as early as 1817, long before the Hudson’s purchased the property. Grace Hudson had a rusticated stone wishing well with a filigreed ornamented bucket holder built as a present for her husband.

A driveway runs perpendicular to Main Street on the north side of the property and passes under a heavy-timbered and simply-designed porte corchere to a small, one-car garage. Integrated into the timbers of the porte corchere is one of three bells collected by the Hudsons. The largest had been the Ukiah Fire Bell; the smallest was the bell from Redwood School and the third came from the Methodist Church.

Several mature camellia trees are planted along the foundation on the north side of the house and appear to be original. The park to the north of the house includes several mature trees that also appear to be original including a very large oak. Several large Redwoods were added later. Authors Lanson and Tetzlaff in their book “Grace Hudson Artist of the Pomo Indians – A Biography” include a reference to a rose garden as “an early addition” to the grounds but no rose garden remains as of 2009.

The House is a craftsman-style redwood structure designed by the Hudsons and their architect George L. Wilcox. Construction started in 1911 and took six months complete. The house is California Historical Landmark No. 926 and the property is on the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Ukiah acquired the property in 1975 after the deaths of Mark and Melissa Carpenter. Mark Carpenter was Grace Hudson’s nephew.

If you visit the Sun House be sure to allow time to see the garden, the interior of the house and the museum including the permanent and changing exhibits – oh, and be sure to eat at Schats.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fort Ross State Historic Park

So, I have started a blog. I didn’t really mean to, but yesterday I attended a talk at the California Genealogical Society just to learn about blogs. The speaker was Thomas MacEntee who writes GeneaBloggers – a site for genealogists. Part 2 of his talk demonstrated how to create a blog using Blogger, a free application. Thomas made it look so easy and so fun that I could not resist. I visited his site, found the link to Blogger, clicked on it and then froze when it asked, “What is the name of your Blog?” Did I really want to do this? It’s a big commitment. I used to hate to write – what’s gotten into me?

I typed in a name, and then it asked me to assign a URL. Oh my gawd, they are serious – am I? Well, if you are reading this you know the answer. It took only a few minutes and really was fun. I wrote my first post last night and ever since my mind has been whirling with ideas of what more to write about. I thought I should start at the beginning and explain the basics: What is HALS? Why was it created? What is its purpose? But all that sounds too dull and what I really want to tell you about is some of the fascinating historic landscapes I’ve visited in the past few months. So I decided to start with Fort Ross.

I took the photo of Fort Ross that appears on my blog banner in spring of 2009 while my partner, two dogs and I were on a weeklong vacation in Northern California. This state historic park recently made headlines when Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak visited on August 27, 2009 in response to Governor Schwarzenegger’s threat to close many of our state parks. Kislyak urged the governor to consider how important the site was to the people of Russia. According to a September 18th article in the Independent Coast Observer by Lisa Walters, “Ambassador Kislyak said he would lobby Russian business interests that might be willing to help with the needed funds.”

Fort Ross History
Fort Ross is a 3386-acre park that preserves North America’s southernmost Russian settlement originally founded in 1812 by the Russian-American Company. Today the site includes the restored Rotchev House and 5 other reconstructed buildings including the Northwest and Southeast Blockhouses, the Kuskov House, a chapel and Officers Quarters. The original fort is enclosed by a stockade built of Redwood with wood spikes on top.

The park property includes the Call Ranch House, remnants of a Russian Orchard and cemetery, a visitor center with interpretive displays, picnic and parking. Archaeological excavations have been undertaken to insure that the placement, orientation and size of features is historically accurate. The fort is set on a point of land between Fort Ross Cove and Sandy Cove on California’s northern coastline. It has a broad view of the Pacific Ocean and of forested hills to the northeast. Because the Call family valued the site the property today it is almost the same as it had been when the Russians left it in 1841.

Prior to the Russian settlement Native Americans used this site known as Metini for centuries. The Kashaya Pomo people seasonally moved their village from the ridges where they lived in winter, to their summer home along the seashore where they hunted, gathered food and harvested seafood.

Russians began exploring in North America as early as 1742. In 1784 they built the first permanent Russian settlement on Kodiak Island, Alaska. This organization became the Russian-American Company in 1799. In 1809 the Russian-American Company sent Ivan Kuskov to locate a California site to serve as a trading base. Kuskov chose Metini which had plentiful water, good soil, forage and pasture and a supply of redwoods. The site was relatively inaccessible which gave the settlers a defensive advantage. The settlement was never threatened by outside attack. Kuskov returned in 1812 to build houses and a stockade. The colony was dedicated on August 13, 1812 as “Fortress Ross” to honor its connection with Imperial Russia – or “Rossiia”. Kuskov was an avid gardener, growing cabbage and beets for pickling. He produced enough to ship the excess to Sitka, Alaska. At its peak the Fort Ross settlement included 300 men, women and children and thousands of livestock.

Outside the stockade a village grew to the southwest that had 50 buildings, Native Americans continued to live nearby and worked at the fort. Ross was a successfully functioning multicultural settlement for at least 30 years; residents included Russians, Native Alaskans, Californians and Creoles. Activities included agriculture, ranching, hunting sea mammals, blacksmithing, tanning, brick making, logging and shipbuilding. The decline of the marine mammal population contributed to the departure of the Russians.

One of the first horticultural efforts was the Russian experiments with fruit trees. Peach trees were brought from San Francisco and planted in 1814. Grapes from Peru were planted in 1817. A Russian orchard located on the hillside included apples, peaches, grapes, quince, cherries and several types of pear. An 1841 inventory listed 216 fruit trees. This orchard is still maintained. Agriculture at the site peaked in the 1830s but was never very successful do to the severe climate and gophers.

In 1841 the property was sold to John Sutter who was based in the Sacramento Valley. Sutter had Otto Benitz manage the Ross property (1841-67). Benitz sold to James Dixon and Lord Fairfax who ran a lumber company (1867- 1873) when Fort Ross was sold to George W. Call (1873 – 1979).

In 1903 the California Historical Landmarks Committee acquired the Fort Ross property within the stockade from the Call family. The state acquired the property in 1906 and has implemented the restoration and reconstruction work.

The Rotchev House is a designated National Historic Landmark
The Chapel has been recorded by HABS (Historic American Building Survey)
The entire property is State Historic Landmark No. 5

Sources for this article include the following:
Fort Ross State Historic Park brochure, California State Parks,

"Fort Ross" published by Fort Ross Interpretive Associates, General Editors: Lyn Kalani, Lynn Rudy and John Sperry. E-mail:, 1998

Historic Spots in California, by Mildred Brooke Hoover, Hero Eugene Rensch and Ethel Grace Rensch, third edition revised by William N. Abeloe, 1966.

Next time you drive up Highway 1 make a point of stopping at Fort Ross. It is a unique part of our state park system with an excellent visitor center.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Historic American Landscapes Survey - What Is It?

The Historic American Landscapes Survey is a new federal program created in 2000 to document historic landscapes. It is modeled on HABS which stands for Historic American Building Survey. HABS was created in 1933 during the depression and was one of President Roosevelt's many programs created to put Americans back to work. Unemployed architects were tasked with creating records of important historic buildings as a means of "preserving" them for future generations.

In 1969 HAER was created. HAER is an acronym for Historic American Engineering Record and it used to document engineered structures like the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The Bay Bridge was damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake and a new bridge is being built to replace the span between Oakland and Treasure Island. HAER documents will provide a permanent record of the original bridge.

One of the largest HALS projects currently underway in the United States is the documentation for Doyle Drive. Doyle Drive traverses the Presidio in San Francisco and connects the Marina District with the toll booth. This highway, constructed in 1937, is ranked 2 on a scale of 1 - 100 which means that it is seismically one of the least safe highways in the United States. Plans are underway to replace Doyle Drive. Part of this replacement project is to record the existing historic features.

The Presidio is within a National Park and as such it deserves a high level of documentation. Currently HABS, HAER and HALS documention is underway. My firm, PGAdesign Landscape Architects, is working with Jones & Stokes to complete the drawings portion of the HALS documentation. I'll tell you more about this facinating project in future postings