Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Devendorf Park

The urban plaza is one of the oldest city planning concepts. Plaza is defined as a public square that is usually centrally located, found especially in towns of the American Southwest of Spanish heritage. Similar is the “Piazza” – an open square or public place in a city or town, especially in Italy. These urban spaces are typically one square block located at the town center, and built as a place for the community to gather for civic functions and celebrations. My Dec. 6, 2009 post on Arcata Plaza features a very traditional plaza that has served as the heart of that community for over one hundred and fifty years.

A couple weeks ago I attended my granddaughter’s graduation from high school in Sonoma. Sonoma has one of the best plazas in the Bay Area. It’s one square block surrounded by thriving retail shops and restaurants. This is where the 4th of July festivities take place, art shows and family picnics. It’s a vibrant and dynamic urban space.

Devendorf Park is Carmel’s central gathering place. The land was given to the city by J. Frank Devendorf known as the Father of Carmel-By-the-Sea. He along with developer Frank Powers founded the town in 1900. Fund raising to build the park was started in 1929 by Mattie Hopper. The park occupies the block at Ocean and Junipero Avenues. The best part of the park is how it invites you in. There are entry points at each corner and a generously wide set of steps into the park from Ocean Avenue.

Second best are all the places to sit. At either side of the steps are twenty foot long stone benches, facing the street, that invite you to linger and people watch. There are stone benches at two of the four corner entries, another parallel to 6th Street, and both stone and modern wood benches within the park. Some stone benches have stone seats and others heavy wood timbers.

The center is an expanse of lawn with a narrow, curving path that connects diagonally across the open space. This path can be seen in a circa 1940 photograph but at that time it was a serpentine line of stepping stones. There are a number of war memorials - each a bronze plaque set in a granite stone – simple, dignified monuments that honor their community’s heroes.

In the original design stone was used to build the walls and for the paved areas. To make the park more accessible some of the paving stones have been lifted and re-set. In other places the original stone has been replace with concrete or exposed aggregate – less desirable but certainly better than introducing a totally different material like brick.

There is a simple, oval-shaped pond – also seen in the 1940 picture postcard. Today, a cast pedestal fountain has been added. And, drinking fountains – features often omitted from today’s parks, to avoid clogging problems. At Devendorf hand-crafted stone fountains – each unique, are located at three of the four corner entries.

This well-maintained urban oasis is shaded by several massive live oaks. Flowering perennials accent the entry at the corner of Ocean and Junipero, and there are several very old camellia japonica along the Ocean Avenue edge. That edge is defined by large, rounded cobbles set on edge and mortared in place to form a curb 12 inches high.

The entire time we spent here the park was being enjoyed by others. A family played a game on the lawn, another family sat on a group of benches, single men sat on the edge – one reading the other relaxing. Businessmen walked rapidly through the park and others walked around leisurely. This space offers a respite from the rigors of shops and galleries – a lasting gift from Frank Devendorf.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Casa Soberanes, Monterey County

Friday I started a new HALS adventure. My mother turned 90 last Christmas and my gift to her was a weekend trip together. She enjoys reading this blog – in fact she is probably my most faithful reader – and asked that I take her to see some of the HALS sites I write and talk about. I decided to make a trip to Monterey County because it’s just a one and a half hour drive, and because there are so many historic gardens there I knew we’d find plenty to do.

Our first stop was Casa Soberanes – a small site at the busy corner of Pacific and Del Monte. The garden and adobe house are set above the surrounding sidewalks and across the front and one side of the property there is a stonewall varying in height from 30” to 5’ high. The stone is “chalk rock” which is light in color – white and buffy. There are square, stone pillars at the corners and entry gates. The gate is wood, made of heavy timbers with ornamental iron hinges and it is painted a vibrant blue, in contrast to the pale stone.

The garden has a simple, axial layout with a single central path about 4’ wide. The path leads straight to the center of the house, which is set perpendicular to the path. The path starts as brick with some tile inlays and then changes to stone. I wonder if the brick is original or was added when the brick sidewalk was installed. As you walk up towards the house the garden is terraced at either side stepping up the grade.

All this sounds rather ordinary, but this garden is hardly that. It is filled with a delightful assortment of things to discover. Garden beds are lined with an eclectic combination of collected objects – bricks set on edge, large rounded cobbles also set on edge, irregularly-shaped stones, abalone shells – set on edge, and bottles and jars that have been partially buried leaving the bottoms sitting about 4 inches above grade. They look like beer bottles and are mostly brown and green.

There is an equally eclectic combination of plants – old boxwood hedges line some of the paths while lavender, rosemary, daylilies, hebe, geranium, gazania, roses and many other species fill the beds. Ezequiel Soberanes owned the home and his son was a gardener at the Carmel Mission. It seems likely that Ezequiel brought home cuttings from work and grew them at home. What appears to be the oldest plant in this fanciful garden is an old craggy pepper tree (Schinus molle). Pepper trees are not known for being long-lived but this one has a three-foot diameter, hollowed out trunk that looks quite ancient.

All of this would have been plenty to satisfy us so we were delighted to discover another garden space at the back of the house. The back garden is about 40’ x 40’ with trees and shrubs planted around the perimeter and compacted earth in the center of the space. Within that there are five circular planting beds each lined with either stones, cobbles, or bottles similar to those in the front garden. Even though we were close to the street the walled garden was quiet and felt protected.

Both gardens had wooden benches, a few garden ornaments and did I mention the twelve-foot long whalebone used to edge the bed beneath the pepper tree?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bourn Cottage & Garden

This is the third and final post in a series about the California Preservation Foundation conference in Grass Valley and Nevada City that took place May 12 – 15. The finale of the conference for me was the last stop on a tour of Historic Foothill Estates – the Bourn Cottage and Garden, built in 1878-79. The cottage which some might call a mansion was designed by San Francisco architect Willis Polk for the Bourn family and is now part of an 800 acre State Park that includes the Empire Mine.

The Empire Mine was one of the oldest, largest and richest mines in California. It was in operation for 107 years and produced $960 million worth of gold, making William Bourn one of the wealthiest men of his time. Bay Area natives may be familiar with that name and associate it with “Filoli”, another of the Bourn family estates located in San Mateo County. Or their country home “Madrono” in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. Bourn was also associated with the Imperial Silver Mine of Virginia City and Hidden Treasure mine in Nevada according to Charles C. Steinfeld in his book, “The Bourn Dynasty”. Left: Me standing at a mine building entry stairs with bouldar capped rail.

Grass Valley is in the foothills – a part of California that gets pretty hot in summer and fall, so walking from the gravel parking lot, through the massive stone walls, and then seeing the expansive view of a lush lawn surrounded by tall coniferous trees, pink dogwood, beds of flowering plants including 8” diameter white peonies, pink and yellow Exbury azaleas, pink bleeding heart, and a bounty of salmon color climbing roses truly gave the impression of an oasis. Fortunately, we were able to wander along the brick pathways without the constant noise of the mine stamp machine in the background, that apparently ran 24 hours a day 365 days of the year, while the mine was in operation.

At the front of the cottage there are a symmetrical pair of low, circular pools and each has a gentle umbrella-shaped fountain that moistens and cools the air and injects a soft sound as droplets fall into the pool. These are set in a level lawn that is surrounded by a stone and ornamental iron wall. Steps lead down from the level of the lawn through brick terraces to a dark, rectangular pool planted with yellow flag iris. From there, a narrow cascade steps down brick steps to a long, rectangular reflecting pool set perpendicular to the cascade. The steps are lined with trimmed star jasmine and four, very tall Italian cypress anchor the corners of a lawn above the lower pool.

From the house and upper lawn the cascade and lower pool are not seen at all. It is not until you start down the steps that you discover this part of this formal garden – a common gesture to reveal and surprise and thus enhance one’s experience. Well, it worked for me.

One of the other features of the garden is a brick, stone and metal trellis structure that steps down a slope and is covered in small, lightly-fragrant, salmon-colored roses. There are terraced beds of roses and perennials to the sides as one walks under the roses. It is know that Agnus Bourn, wife of William Bourn Jr., enjoyed gardening and worked with Miss Isabella Worn, a gardener and floral decorator. Docents at the Bourn cottage suggested that Miss Worn likely helped design of the cottage garden.