Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sakai and Oishi Nurseries

I started a new HALS project this week. My firm, PGAdesign was hired to prepare the HALS drawings for the Sakai and Oishi nurseries in Richmond, which are two of three remaining wholesale flower nurseries. Years ago there were several nurseries in this area owned by different Japanese families. Most were closed and demolished when Interstate 80 cut through this neighborhood.

These nurseries ceased operation a few years ago and since that time the buildings and structures have been vandalized and deteriorated from lack of use and maintenance, but the site is still an important cultural resource with a story to tell about a somewhat unique community of businesses and families.

PGA is working with a team of professionals that includes architectural and landscape historians to complete the HALS documentation. The HALS photography was done a few years ago by Brian Grogan – the same photographer we worked with at the Presidio on Doyle Drive. A separate group of architects is measuring and recording several of the buildings and structures that will be saved on site or moved to new locations. The remaining buildings will be demolished to make way for new housing.

Starting a project like this is much like doing a jig saw puzzle. You dump the pieces on the table, turn them over, and sort them by color, culling out the edge pieces. I had reviewed the background material before my first site visit, so I knew what I was looking at, but on day one, the site appears like a lot of loose pieces that one has to quickly sort and assemble.

My first task is to record what is existing in the landscape. The land survey depicts the property lines, locations of the buildings, greenhouses and other major structures. It also shows some of the paving, spot elevations and shrub masses. I look to see what does not appear on the survey, measure it and sketch it onto my plan. Sounds easy. Well, imagine that most of this site is covered in knee-high grass under which are open trenches, holes, thousands of broken panes of glass from the vandalized greenhouses, and pipes of various sizes and materials running everywhere – sometimes 10 feet overhead, sometimes buried, and often just on the surface – there for you to trip over. Walkways that need to be measured are buried under soil, some of the plants that need to be identified have no leaves, and in places the vegetation mass is so dense it is impenetrable. If you can imagine all that you begin to get the puzzle metaphor.

While in the field I measure and sketch, and I also take field photographs that help me confirm what I saw once I am back in the office. Sometimes I see things in the photographs that I had not really noticed in the field. I also use a digital recorder to describe details – this saves time because it is faster for me to record lengthy notes than to write them out. One recorded note explained, “there is a large diameter, red, rubber hose between greenhouses 12 and 13. It has heavy-duty, industrial-grade nozzles. We need to find out what this hose was used for.” I also photographed the hose placing my pencil in the image for scale.

This kind of detail is essential because one of our charges from the National Park Service is to explain not just what the nursery looked like, but how it functioned. This site is all about systems – circulation, watering, heating and cooling, fertilizing, spraying, and it is also where the Sakai and Oishi families lived. The system of pipes that traverse this site is a complex maze. In one location I counted 9 pipes – galvanized and PVC, some insulated, some not – all running in parallel, each with a different function – a three dimensional puzzle. I’ll tell you more about that, and more about the process in subsequent posts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Boyd Memorial Park

Last Sunday, February 7th, 2010 was a beautiful day in the Bay Area – cool and clear with poofy white clouds, and since I had worked on Saturday we deserved a special day off. We decided on a HALS adventure in Marin county so headed out with our dog Stella. Driving over the San Rafael Bridge Mount Tamalpias and the surrounding Marin hills appeared lushly green, and the San Francisco Bay was calm. A perfect day.

Our first stop was a non-distinguished but well-designed neighborhood park on Lucas Valley Road by Theodore Osmundson, but not suitable for HALS. Next was a development of Eichler Homes, also on Lucas Valley Road, where the landscape architect had been Robert Royston. This development retained integrity, but did not inspire me, so we headed for Boyd Memorial Park in downtown San Rafael, near the reconstructed Mission San Rafael. Original construction 1817.

Boyd memorial park was created as a memorial to Seth and John Boyd, sons of John F. Boyd and his wife, Louise. Louise was the granddaughter of Ira Cook who settled in the City of San Rafael in 1874. Cook owned property along Mission Avenue that is now occupied by “Falkirk” the original family home. The property included the Cook-Boyd home now used by the Elks Club, and Boyd Memorial Park, which includes the Boyd Gate House.

Ira Cook commissioned the Boyd Gate house construction in 1879 to house family guests. Since 1959, the City of San Rafael has used the house for the Marin History Museum. The gothic revival style guesthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Dan and Seth Cook who were successful gold miners at the Bodie Mine in California developed the gardens for these properties. Dan and Seth hired a “noted landscape architect from Boston to design the gardens” according to Judith M. Taylor, in her book “Tangible Memories Californians and their Gardens 1800-1850”. The name of the landscape architect is unknown.

The most prominent features of Boyd Memorial Park are several mature trees including several exotic species, and a beautifully detailed wall and ornamental iron fence with four richly detailed gates. The core of the wall consists of a combination of stone cobbles and brick pieces that are faced with concrete. It has a carved, granite cap and an ornately detailed, ornamental ironwork fence.

There are two gates on Mission Avenue. The west gate is about 5 feet wide and has granite gateposts and a double ornamental iron gate. The left gatepost is etched with “Boyd Memorial Park dedicated April 24, 1905”. A concrete path and two sets of concrete stairs lead uphill into the park. There is a tennis court east of this path parallel to Mission Avenue.

Further east on Mission Avenue is a second gate, marked by two very large Yew trees/Taxus baccata that form dense spheres of dark foliage. A concrete path, with narrow, 3” wide concrete curbs, leads toward the east side of the Boyd Gate House. There is a stout granite corner post at the corner of Mission Avenue and B Street.

The third gate is a low ornamental iron two-part gate directly in front of the front door of the house, now occupied by the Marin History Museum. A carved post topped with a planted urn is integrated into the wall just east of the front door.

Further east on Mission there is a fourth gate. This two-part ornamental iron gate is at a driveway that leads behind the gatehouse and up into the park and other portions of the Cook-Boyd property. This gate is flanked by two, tall, ornately carved gateposts. To the east of the gate the stonewall is engraved with the name of the park and dedication date. The driveway is currently used for picnicking.

The park consists of terraced planting beds that rise up a steep slope. Rock-lined paths meander through the park; some follow the route of a rock-lined channel. The serpentine channel is bridged in a few locations and leads to the Old Mission Spring. This spring was likely the source of water for nearby Mission San Rafael, established in 1817.

Much of the under story plantings are no longer extant but the park has many large specimen trees including Araucaria excelsa, deodar cedar, camphor, incense cedar and a variegated thuya. New plantings have been added to the park. There is a wooden flagpole on a circular concrete base in the southeast corner of the park.

North and west of the house there is a granite monument surrounded by triangular concrete paths and three southern magnolia trees. There is a drinking fountain on the backside of the monument. The dedication says: “This park is the gift of Louise Arner Boyd and John F. Boyd, dedicated to Seth Cook Boyd and John Franklin Boyd Jr. April 24, 1905.”

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dry Creek Garden

A few weeks ago I wrote about the garden at the Alameda residence of architect Henry H. Meyers. The Meyers family also owned property in the Alvarado – Niles district, now a part of Union City. Henry designed a craftsman-style cottage at the site for the family’s use. There is a secluded swimming pool and a garden designed by one of his three daughters, Jeannette. The family used this oasis as their personal summer retreat and also made it available to a number of philanthropic groups who held events at the garden for many years.

When Jeannette died in 1993, the garden became overgrown from lack of regular maintenance. Fortunately, the property was acquired by the East Bay Regional Park (EBRP) District and they, along with a dedicated group of volunteer gardeners have been maintaining and restoring the gardens since. Dry Creek – so named because of the frequently dry creek that traverses the property – is now part of Garin Park, part of the EPRP system. The site recently was opened to the general public on a limited schedule.

In 2008, my firm PGAdesign was hired to prepare a long-term garden restoration and maintenance plan. EBRP had obtained a set of historic family photographs, from the City of Alameda, when the city acquired the family residence. Many of these photographs depicted the garden at Dry Creek.

This image of the Beagle in the garden is one of the photographs aquired by EBRP. In it one can identify different colors of Alyssum - an easily grown annual. Provided by EBRP.

PGA was asked to study these photographs to identify the species of plants shown in the photos, and to prepare a plan for restoring the plantings at Dry Creek, based on the photographs. Sounds easy …. but it wasn’t. Many of the photos had been provided to us reversed making it difficult to figure out what portion of the garden was depicted in a particular photo, until we realized what was amiss. Many of the photos were taken from a distance and were not clear – making plant identification challenging.

Fortunately, there were several photos and by studying the group we were able to piece together the puzzle of most of what had been planted by Jeanette, and from that prepare a planting plan showing what should be planted in each bed to be historically accurate.

EBRP also wanted recommendations on how to reduce water use and maintenance at the garden. In consultation with their staff we defined a hierarchy of garden zones. Areas close to the cottage and along the main entry path would be more intensively planted while areas further from these areas would be planted with larger shrubs, more broadly spaced needing less irrigation and less maintenance.

The process of studying the group of historic photos was much like the “History Detective” – a challenge and great fun. In time, by implementing the recommendations from our report Dry Creek garden will not only be restored to reflect the original design, it will use less water and other resources, and will require less maintenance.

Above, by Mother, Lottie Pattillo and I visited the garden in 2008 for an opening event.

The garden at Dry Creek is a hidden secret for you to discover. It is also available for special events.

The Meyers had several garden ornaments including this bird bath surrounded by stone paving and a boxwood hedge. In the background is one of the well-crafted woooden bridges that crosses the creek