Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aaron Augustus Sargent Garden, Nevada City


This is a continuation of last week’s post about the California Preservation Foundation conference in Grass Valley and Nevada City. The historic downtowns of both Grass Valley and Nevada City have been nicely rehabilitated to accommodate current business enterprises and to provide an appealing destination for visitors. Most of the businesses and many of the homes in and around the downtowns have been restored – including the gardens.


Between education sessions of the conference I wandered around downtown Nevada City taking in some of the shops and admiring the homes. One of the properties that piqued my interest was the Aaron Augustus Sargent Home and garden. The home is currently unoccupied and the garden, though showing signs of short-term neglect, was intriguing. It occupies a corner lot and is defined across the front by am ornately-detailed wrought iron fence and gate covered in Cecil Brunner small, pale pink roses. The fence is set in a stout, rectangular concrete curb.

At about the corner of the house the fence changes to a 2x2 wood picket fence also set in a stout concrete curb, but here the curb is rounded on top. As you turn the corner, the side property line fence is an old-fashioned twisted wire fence similar if not identical to one that was in my grandparent’s yard.


It is a large, gently sloping lot with several specimen trees and an eclectic assortment of garden paths that were intriguing because they seemed to lead to nothing or end abruptly with the suggestion of something that use to be there.

The trees included a very large Redwood near the sidewalk, a large, multi-trunk Deodar cedar, and a Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys verticillata), which my friend Janet Gracyk identified for me. I was vaguely familiar with the plant but know that I’d never seen one that large in a private garden. Sunset’s Western Garden Book says it grows to 120 feet in Japan where it is native, but only to 25-40 in western gardens. This is not really a pine but it does have 3” to 6” long needles that are thick and glossy – quite unusual. Each corner of the house was marked by a very old and sculptured Red Laceleaf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum `Dissectum Atropurpurea’).

So, who was Aaron Augustus Sargent? Fortunately, there was a bronze plaque embedded in a boulder that told me everything I needed to know. He came to Grass Valley during the Gold Rush as a journeyman printer and went on to become the editor and owner of the first local newspaper – The Nevada Journal. He passed the bar and served an Attorney General from 1855 – 1857. He was the first citizen elected to the House of Representatives in 1861, and later the first to be elected to the US Senate in 1873. During his tenure he authored the bill that created the first Continental Railroad, and was an advocate for women’s suffrage.


After exploring the garden I headed off to the Pioneer Cemetery where I encountered Mr. Sargent again buried at the top of the knoll. Though much of the cemetery was shaded, Sargent’s tomb was dramatically illuminated by the afternoon sun – clearly I was meant to notice this monument. Here I learned that Sargent was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on September 28, 1827 and died in San Francisco in 1887 where he was buried until all who were buried in San Francisco were disinterred for reburial in Colma, at which time Mr. Sargent made his way back to Grass Valley, thanks to the Native Sons of the Golden West.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pioneer Cemetery Nevada City

Last week I attended the 35th annual California Preservation Foundation (CPF) conference in Nevada City and Grass Valley – the gold country. According to the conference brochure, “Nevada City once had a larger population than San Francisco and was considered as the first capitol of California at statehood.” In 1985, preservationist succeeded in having the entire downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I think it may have been the best conference I’ve ever attended – due in large part to the venue, and also the consistently high caliber of speakers. Like many conferences the schedule was intense – the moment I walked into the Miners Foundry on Tuesday evening I felt drawn into a vortex of intense preservation that I didn’t escape until Saturday as I headed home.

I did carve out a few hours of unscheduled time between education sessions, when I checked out a few of Nevada City’s shops, had lunch, and took a self-guided tour of town enjoying a wonderful collection of well-maintained historic homes and gardens. Just beyond downtown I was drawn to the Pioneer Cemetery, established in 1851, on West Broad Street. It is a small cemetery located adjacent to a newer, more modern burial ground. The Pioneer cemetery is located on a knoll surrounded by mature Ponderosa Pines with an understory of grasses, some wildflowers and a few hardy shrubs and ground covers.

Many of the graves were marked with small, simple wood markers. Some had marble headstones while many had no marker at all. The graves that most interested me were those that were surrounded by ornamental iron fences set in granite curbs. The fences varied from very simple, light-weight hoops (Alphonse and Keller), to richly detailed pressed metal (CF Taylor and Burnett).

The Meredith monument had solid cast-iron corner posts and the fence was made from ¾” thick cast iron. The gate had heavy-duty hinges and latches that have not failed after 150 seasons of snow and summer heat. The marble obelisk was engraved, “Brave, gifted, generous and faithful closed a life of usefulness and purity by a death of honor”.

Top Photo: Grave of William Alphonse; 2nd Photo: MW Burnett; Third Photo: CF Taylor 18440 - 1922; Fourth Photo: Frederick, Rosa and Nicolas Keller; Photo Below: Henry Meredith.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Berkeley City Club


In February, the Northern California Chapter of HALS agreed to document the gardens at the Berkeley Club. I sent out an email inviting volunteers to help with measuring the site and collecting the existing conditions information, and was delighted when several new volunteers responded, including Kris Zhang and Daniella Sawaya - architecture students from UC Berkeley, Sarka Volejnikova a landscape designer, Marilyn Novell who is a member of the club and finishing her master’s thesis as an architectural historian, Celia McCarthy, a cultural resource planner, and Bob Towar who works with PGAdesign.

We all met in the East Court of the club this morning, where I gave a brief overview of HALS and showed examples of other sets of HALS drawings that have been completed by our HALS group and PGA. Sarka had previously prepared base plans for today’s efforts, using a digital copy of the original building plan designed by architect, Julia Morgan in 1929.

After a tour of the garden, led by Gary the club’s dedicated gardener, we divided into three teams of two and set about measuring the different garden spaces. Marilyn and Daniella took charge of the planting at the front of the building while Bob and Kris did the East Court. Both of these groups completed measuring and sketching all of the hardscape features – sidewalk, street trees, courtyard paving, planting beds, fountains, pots, etc. and then they sketched in the plants. Gary and I assisted with plant identification and between the two of us were able to correctly indentify nearly every plant.

Sarka, Celia and Daniella tackled all the rest including the West Court, west loggia, the yard in the northwest corner of the property, plus all of the garden spaces on the north side of the building. They completed recording the hardscape features and will draft those up before going back to add the plantings in these areas. I took digital photos, answered questions, took a few measurements along the east fa├žade, and helped with plant identification.



Everyone worked hard, had fun and together we accomplished a great deal. Next steps are to draft all of today’s field notes and finish the plant placement and identification. I plan to do some sketches of the garden and want to work on the plant list – Gary provided a very helpful list of plants by area. Sarka, Daniella and Kris have all volunteered to help with the drafting.

As we work on the drawings anther team of volunteers, led by Gretchen Hilyard, will be doing the historic research and writing the narrative. Members of the Landmark Heritage Foundation have already provided us with lots of historic photographs, articles about the garden, and other information that will be invaluable. I’ll share more about all this as we make progress.

Top: Sarka and Celia

Next: Daniella and Marilyn

Next: Kris drawing at the table with Bob taking measurements in the garden

Next: Planting detail

Below: Relief in the West court