Sunday, July 11, 2010

La Mirada and The Castro Adobe

The ideal HALS site is one that has changed very little since its period of significance. Period of significance means the time period during which the garden gained importance as a historic site. Typically it is the period when the original owner occupied the site. For example the period of significance for the San Francisco Presidio are the years when the military occupied the site.

Casa Amesti in Monterey is a perfect example of a garden that has not changed substantially since its original design, because when owner Francis Elkins died the property was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. My firm, PGAdesign was asked to restore this garden a few years ago, and when we started we found that the current garden was essentially the same as the garden depicted in photographs from the 1930s – it had deteriorated but the original design and most of the original plantings remained.

Realistically though all gardens change and they change quickly because plants grow and as they grow they transform the landscape profoundly. Other things change as well – wooden fences and gates deteriorate, stone walls crumble, and sometimes modifications occur when a new owner simply wants their garden to look different or to accommodate a new use. The Monterey Art Museum at La Mirada is such an example. The original Castro Adobe has been restored and over time several buildings have been added. At this point it is impossible to tell, just by looking at the complex, what is historic and what has been added, and certainly some additions are now old enough in their own right to qualify as “historic”. 50 years is the general rule for HALS, which I find a bit disconcerting considering I passed that milestone some while ago.

The garden at La Mirada is enclosed by a chalk rock stone wall that is an extension off the back of the Antonio Mario Castro Adobe. The stones are rough and irregularly-shaped, nearly white in color except where they are covered by lichens. The height of the wall varies from about 30” to 7’ where it has buttresses. There are two wooden gates into the garden – one a simple board fence with a round, bronze knocker, and the other more elaborate and set in a classical stone peaked arch, which is in poor condition. I presume these gates are replacements for the originals.

Garden beds occur on three levels and are edged with brick set on end and half buried. Beds are separated by brick paths about 4’ wide in a basket weave pattern. One bed is terraced with a chalk rock stone wall about 20” high, and is in poor condition which leads me to believe it is original. The beds are bordered with hens and chick succulents and planted almost exclusively with roses.

The Antonio Mario Castro Adobe was built in the early 1800s. It is one of three buildings that appear on an 1849 map of Monterey. Castro was a soldier in California from 1780 to 1809. The home remained in the Castro family for a few generations until 1919. For a time the John C. Fremont family rented two rooms in the adobe from Modesto Castro, until Fremont was elected to the U.S. Senate and they moved to Washington.

Gouverneu Morris purchased the adobe in 1920. He restored the adobe, added other buildings and built the wall around the garden for privacy. So, the garden wall is nearly 90 years old and clearly meets the 50 year criteria for HALS.

Thomas Albert Work, Sr. purchased the property in 1936. He made his fortune in land and real estate. Work planted the cypress, pine and other trees surrounding the property. Work’s wife, Maude Porter created the rose garden before her death in 1949. The rose garden was rehabilitated in 1989 when many new roses were added and some of the original roses were retained. One Cecile Brunner rose with a mass of knotty root stock was labeled 1881/1894.

Thomas and Maude’s son Frank Work inherited the property and maintained the garden until he deeded it to the museum in 1983.

So, this is a garden has had several owners since the early 1800s and it has changed substantially. There are clues to what is old and what has been added, but the lines are blurred and only extensive research would tell us more.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Forest Theater, Carmel

In the summer of 1968 after graduating from high school I auditioned for the cast at Woodminster – an outdoor amphitheater in the Oakland hills. I was in two musicals – The Most Happy Fella and The King and I where I played one of the king’s many wives. It was a lot of fun, so when I read about the Forest Theater in Carmel I was keen to go see it as part of my HALS adventure.

The Forest Theater was built in 1910 and is the oldest outdoor theater west of the Rockies. It was started by actor/director Herbert Heron with poet Mary Austin. The land for the theater was given rent free by Carmel’s founder Frank Devendorf – the same person who gave the land for Devendorf Park that I wrote about of week. Plays, pageants, musicals, Shakespeare and outdoor films have been performed at the theater. There is a long-standing tradition of featuring original works of California authors including the work of Robinson Jeffers, Mary Austin, and Barbara Newberry who wrote The Toad and Junipero Serra, a historical pageant focusing on the life of Father Junipero Serra.

The privately owned theater was deeded to the city of Carmel in 1939 so it would be eligible for federal support when it became a WPA project. The theater closed during World War II in response to mandatory blackouts, but reopened after the war. Since then interest in the theater has waxed and waned but renewed community interest has kept it going for 100 years. According to Wikipedia, “in 2005, Pacific Repertory Theater presented the theater’s highest attended production, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, to a combined audience of over 10,000 ticket holders.”

The site of the 60-seat theater is a naturally occurring bowl-shaped area in an oak woodland, in a residential neighborhood of Carmel. Oaks were removed to construct the bleacher seating but the grove remains at the back and sides. Most of the understory has been cleared. The view back of stage is through Monterey pines and beyond to the Monterey Bay. The character of the site and planting is left a bit wild and natural.

The perimeter of the theater is defined by a four-five foot high grape-stake fence. There are two gates into the theater; one wide enough for vehicles and one pedestrian gateway that has a beam overhead with “Forest Theater” carved into it.

Materials are limited to wood and rough stone. The wood is either painted “state parks brown” or left unpainted. The bleacher seating is divided into two sections with concrete paths at either side and in the middle. There are 11 rows of seating, then a stone retaining wall about 30” high, and 6 additional rows of seating. Seats have backs and the space between rows is compacted earth.

Near the stage there are semi-circular stone fireplaces built at either side of the bleachers that provide warmth to those sitting near enough and ambiance for the rest of the audience.
The stage is wood and there are storage areas for props at either side. Additional storage, dressing rooms, and an indoor theater are below the main stage. There is also a wood deck (about 40’ x 80’) with a built in bench on the downhill side of the theater.

The form and layout of the theater all appear to be original as does the stone work and arrangement of the seating. In 1939 Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews undertook a major reconstruction. They built new benches, laid a concrete foundation for the stage, and replaced a barbed-wire fence with the grape-stake fence.

To stage left there is a square of stones and an upright carved boulder: “Here lies Pal the friend of all who knew and loved him. Carmel’s dog, born Aug 1929, died Dec. 1943.”