Sunday, November 13, 2011

People's Park, Berkeley

A portion of a mural painted on the restroom in People's Park

Today was a nice fall day, so a HALS adventure was in order, but with other things to do I wanted to visit a nearby site. Deciding on some place in Berkeley I reviewed the list of possible places and was struck by a listing for People’s Park. Initially I wondered why someone had included it in a list of potential HALS sites in Alameda County. It is certainly not historic – the database noted a construction date of 1969. On the other hand it certainly qualifies as a cultural landscape, and since my hometown of Oakland has gained international recognition during the Occupy movement maybe this is a timely topic.

Footpath into the park and canopy trees at the perimeter

People’s Park is a lasting monument to the Free Speech movement that began in the late 60s and continued through much of the 70s while I was a student on the Berkeley campus. Walking around and through the park one sees many signs reminiscent of today’s protests. One also sees many elements comparable to any other community park – an expanse of lawn, a variety of trees and plants, a community garden, a stage, a restroom building, picnic tables, art and even a tot lot.

Though this is a park conceived and constructed by volunteers – some who considered themselves anarchists - its design is remarkably similar to other parks - conventional. It occupies about two-thirds of a city block, has paths that enter the park from each corner and side, and has signage, lighting, and trash containers. There are areas shaded by mature canopy trees and a large, open, grassy area in the center where a group had erected canopies for an event and a blow-up toy for kids. UC students were attending the event while street people relaxed in their low-profile but very obvious encampments.

Picnic table, event canopies & blow up toy in central lawn area

Is this a cultural landscape? I say yes. What is more American than protesting? Let us not forget that our nation began with the American Revolution. A column in Friday’s paper by Thomas D. Elias tells me that “the average income of the top 1 percent of Californians rose from $778,000 to $1.2 million per year, while the average income of people in the bottom 80 percent actually fell.” And a sign in People’s Park notes, “On Bloody Thursday, the day UC administrators had a fence put up around People’s Park, we took to the streets. 30,000 people marched. LET 1000 PARKS BLOOM!”

Community garden beds line one side of the park
Our public open spaces – both designed and vernacular – often provide the venue for public discourse. We landscape architects design these spaces to encourage quiet conversation between two friends or massive public gatherings to voice our angst. Frank Ogawa Plaza, named after a long serving City Council representative, and where Occupy Oakland is based includes a large amphitheater and stage and the Jack London Oak – the symbol of our city anchors the park. This great tree and plaza serve as the forecourt to City Hall, the center of our government.

Artistic commentary

Another park sign

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fairytale Town, William Land Park, Sacramento

Farmer Brown's Barn
Today I participated in a re-enactment of the first suffrage march that took place in California. The march took place in downtown Oakland at Lakeside Park. The first suffrage march in California occurred on August 23, 1908. That parade of over 300 women re-energized the suffrage movement which led to the successful passage of the suffrage referendum in 1911. Today’s event was organized by the League of Women Voters. Oakland’s female Mayor, Jean Quan was joined by our female member of the US House of Representatives, Barbara Lee and three of Oakland’s female members of the City Council to welcome marchers and to lend their voices to the celebration.

The Three Little Pigs House
This civic event reminded me that it was another women’s organization – the Junior League that led the effort to plan and build the Fairytale Town theme park in William Land Park in Sacramento. Fairytale town like Oakland’s Fairyland and Roeding Park’s Storyland, is a special place for young children. Each of these fanciful places uses fairy tales as the models for child scaled sets. These themed play places are part of a post-World War II park movement. At Land Park the Junior League initiated plans for Fairytale Town in 1956. They hired Kenneth C. Rickey and Fred E. Brooks to design the sets.

3 fat pigs are part of the set

The original exhibits included the Three Little Pigs, Mary Had a Little Lamb, King Arthur’s Castle, Cinderella’s Carriage, Farmer Brown’s Barn and others. Fairytale Town opened in 1959. Other exhibits continued to be added. Today Fairytale town is well maintained and continues to be a beloved, special place for Sacramento’s children and others who visit.

Cinderell'as pumpkin is a very popular exhibit

Little Engine That Could

Mr. McGregor's Garden

Peter Rabbit

The Tortoise and where's the hare?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Land Park, Sacramento

The Pond.  Each water feature has a wide stone edge
 Recently I was hired to survey Land Park in Sacramento as part of a larger study to assess the historic features of the park – a dream job. I spent two days in the field photographing and recording field notes about everything in the park, and then summarized my finding by category. I organized the material by feature type – circulation, vegetation, buildings and structures, small scale features, water features, etc.

Money to build a large community park was given to the City of Sacramento by William Land in 1919. City fathers spent some time debating where to build the park and finally agreed on 236 acres of land known as the Swanston-McDivit Tract. In 1922 landscape architect Frederick N. Evans prepared a master plan for the park. Evans’ plan reflected the design trend of the day and incorporated lots of recreation features – five baseball fields, many single and group picnic facilities, an outdoor stage and amphitheater, two lakes and a pond, a golf course, a zoo and two separate children’s play – Fairytale Town and Funderland.

One of many group picnic facilities

Land Park is remarkably similar to Roeding Park in Fresno which I wrote about a year ago in September 2010. There is an outdoor dance floor, called Village Green in the southeast corner of Land Park that is exactly like two found in Roeding Park – the size, construction and a raised stage are essentially identical to those built earlier in Fresno. The water features, abundance of picnic facilities and two children’s play areas are also much like those found in Roeding Park thus it seems probable that Evans may have visited Fresno and decided to emulate that successful park.

The amphitheater and stage with Italian cypress backdrop

Both parks are located in valley communities that experience hot summer temperatures, so both parks consist predominantly of lawn and gorgeous, mature trees. Both parks include a nice variety of large shade trees – combinations of evergreens, conifers and deciduous trees, but one thing that distinguishes Roeding Park is how the trees are massed with a single species – more impressive than isolated specimens or groups of mixed species. In both parks the nearly continuous canopy of shade provided by these trees is most welcome.
Looking down the fairway of Land Park golf course

Land Park includes a number of structures constructed by the WPA – Works Progress Administration as part of President Roosevelt’s plan to put people back to work after the depression. Crews built several stone structures including a gazebo, a gracefully curved pergola, several monuments and what is now a wonderful perennial garden lovingly maintained by park staff member Daisy.

There is so much in Land Park that I’ll need to write at least one more post to tell you more.

Flamingos in the zoo

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sank Park

Two towaring Italian Cypress dwarf the cottage
While vacationing in northern California earlier this year we visited Oroville. My primary objective was to visit CaliforniaRegistered Historic Landmark No. 770 – Chinese Temple which was built in 1863 and used as a place of worship for 10,000 immigrants who came to California during the gold rush. I hoped to find a historic, traditional garden that would be suitable for submission to the Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) annual challenge – the theme for 2011 is Landscapes of diversity. Sadly, nothing about the existing garden at the temple was historic. It was nice enough, but a recent addition. The only landscape feature that may have been authentic is an old fig tree across the street where the Chinese schoolhouse had been located.

Fortunately, there were other places to visit in Oroville including Sank Park which provides the setting for the Lott House. This modest Victorian Gothic-revival cottage was built in1856 by Charles Fayette Lott, an attorney and former state senator. He and his descendants occupied the property for over one hundred years and when the last child died the home and garden were donated to the City of Oroville.

Like other historic homes the property occupies an entire city block. Often one block is all that remains of what was originally a much larger parcel of land, but in this case it was originally one block, purchased for $200 – imagine that.

The arbor leads from the sidewalk to the front door

Scored concrete marks the entry
 The block is surrounded by a low, white fence, and the main entry to the garden and home is off Montgomery Street. At the entry there is a nicely detailed accent in the sidewalk paving and a gate that leads to an elaborate wisteria covered arbor. Constructed of concrete and white timbers the arbor is so substantial that it nearly dwarfs the delicate house.

I particularly liked the carriage house – a utilitarian building. It is painted all white and is an understated piece of architecture. It was nicely tucked into the property and surrounded by massive shade trees. There was something simply appealing about it.

The carriage house shaded by trees
 In one corner of the site there is a gazebo. As I walked in that direction, something about the gazebo did not feel authentic – the scale was not right for a private family. It felt more municipal, and sure enough when I got up to the structure there was a small plaque indicating that it was a recent addition – added after the family occupied the site. To me that was a distraction. It was nice enough but when I visit a historic home or garden I prefer to see genuine features – “the real deal”. I do appreciate that they included the plaque informing me that it was not associated with the Lott family.

Most of the park consists of lawn and gardens that are well tended. There were many indications of care being taken to preserve and maintain this site. Though we missed the Wisteria bloom, the azaleas were at their peak – lots of them. One wanders through the garden on brick or concrete paths and discovers details along the way – a bench, a pool, and an interesting assortment of inlaid tiles. Apparently, it was Jesse Sank, husband of Cornelia Lott, who built these for his bride. Follow this link to read the story of their romance.

Much of the front yard is planted with azaleas making Spring a good time to visit

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bidwell Park, Chico

Main entry flanked by stone columns and accented by flowering Dogwood
Bidwell Park is the third largest urban park in the United States. It is a long, narrow park that starts in downtown not far from the Bidwell Mansion and extends for over five miles into wilderness. It has 68 miles of walking and bicycle trails. The lower portion of the park is closest to downtown and is the most developed with several entry points from adjacent residential neighborhoods. The main entry is off South Park Drive west of Mangrove Avenue. This entry is flanked by a pair of simple, rough-hewn, granite columns, each topped with a stout, rectangular light.

Amenities in the lower portion of the park include picnic facilities, open lawn areas, a baseball field, horseshow pits, a themed children’s play area called “Caper Acres”, and by far my favorite feature - Sycamore swimming pool formed by the damming of Chico Creek. The water flows rapidly through the pool, which is about 600 feet in length and 95 feet wide, and then exits via a spillway at the east end. A footbridge crosses over the spillway. Native sycamore trees line one side of the pool.

Enticing Sycamore pool is fed by Big Chico Creek

The middle portion of the park consists of trails and a single, one-way drive that lie beneath a continuous canopy of trees. Summer temperatures in Chico are typically in the 100s so these trees and the swimming pool are essential amenities. Tree species are predominantly valley oak (Quercus lobata), and native sycamore (Platanus racemosa). The understory is mostly grasses, willow and spice bush (Calycanthus occidentalis). Big Chico Creek continues through the middle and upper portions of the park, and there are individual picnic facilities along the drive, each with a barbeque.

Paths throughout the park are shaded by mature trees

Facilities in the Upper portion of the park include an 18-hole golf course, a driving range, an observatory, a fishing pier, Horseshoe Lake, picnic facilities, and equestrian trails. Just east of Manzanita Avenue is the Hooker Oak Picnic Area – named for the Hooker Oak – the largest known valley oak until it fell in a 1977 storm. The entire park has a rustic, informal quality. There is very little irrigated, mown lawn. Instead the park brings the wilderness into downtown.

Annie Bidwell donated the land to the people of Chico in 1905 for a public park. She said at the time that the grant followed the desire of her late husband. In subsequent years she made additional donations to expand the park. This generous gift is the heart of Chico – a treasure enjoyed and appreciated by visitors and residents – particularly on hot summer days. If you plan a visit and go in summer I dare you to resist a plunge into Sycamore Pool.

Much of the park consists of a continuous canopy of trees with grasses below

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bidwell Mansion, Chico

Mansion, oval planter and Southern Magnolia.  Fan palm at right.
Visiting Chico one cannot avoid contact with the legacy of their most famous residents – John Bidwell and his wife Annie Ellicott Kennedy Bidwell. John Bidwell was part of the first wagon trains that arrived in California, he discovered gold in 1848, laid out the town of Chico, served in the House of Representatives, lobbied for California statehood, and ran for President of the United States in 1892. Annie Bidwell was the daughter of Joseph C.G. Kennedy, Superintendent of the U.S. Census and was an advocate for prohibition and the suffragette movement. Their legacy dominates the town of Chico – the two primary components are their home - the Bidwell Mansion and Bidwell Park.

What is incredible is how much of the property retains features as they were depicted in a circa 1877 sketch by Smith and Elliott. The most significant landscape feature is a large oval-shaped planting bed, as wide as the width of the house. The bed is surrounded by an oval drive that passes beneath the porte-cochere. A southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) 25 – 35 feet taller than the three story tower of the house is planted in the oval.

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Other original trees that remain are a maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba), a spectacular – in size and form - tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), a South American monkey puzzle (Auracaria imbricata) and a Lawson cypress (Cupressus lawsoniana). These trees are growing within a broad expanse of lawn between the mansion and Esplanade – typical of Victorian era gardens, and were intended to demonstrate the owner’s wealth and taste.

A lushly planted area south of the mansion, along the Big Chico Creek, remains today though the trees are much larger than those in the Smith and Elliott sketch. Also the location of the main road – now called Esplanade appears to be in the same location as shown in the sketch.

In 1877 the area north of the mansion was planted in orchards and vineyards. Today, this area has been developed as housing and commercial areas.

Lawson Cypress and a Fan Palm
 John Bidwell was born in 1819 in New York State. In 1841, at the age of 22, he was one of the first pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada in route to California. When he first arrived he served as the business manager for John Sutter and personally transported the first gold discovered in California to San Francisco to be assayed.

Shortly thereafter in 1848 Bidwell made his own gold discovery near the middle fork of the Feather River. He used his new found wealth to purchase the 26,000 acre Rancho del Arroyo Chico and began developing the agriculture of the region. At one point the Rancho was the most famous and highly diversified agricultural enterprise in California. In 1860 Bidwell laid out the town of Chico.

In 1865 he hired San Francisco architect Henry W. Cleveland to design his 10,000 square foot, 26-room Italian villa. In April of 1868 he convinced Annie Ellicott Kennedy to marry him and shortly thereafter they moved into the mansion.

Side porch, Magnolia in the background

The Bidwells remained in the mansion until their deaths in 1900 (John) and 1918 (Annie) at which time Annie Bidwell gave the mansion and grounds to the Presbyterian Church to serve as a school. Then in 1923 the site was acquired by the State College, and finally it was purchased by California State Parks and designated as a State Historic Park. The property is California Registered Historic Landmark No. 329, 1966, and HALS No. CA-63. 

Looking at the Magnolia from the front porch

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bidwell Bowl Amphitheater, Chico

Bidwell Bowl is one of those secret surprises that is nice to discover when traveling or just playing tourist in your home town. I had a note that there was a WPA – that’s Works Progress Administration – era amphitheater on the Chico State University campus and set out to find it. I stopped several students in my pursuit and was pointed in several directions and finally resorted to the library to get clear directions. The theater is actually just west of the Physical Science Building and adjacent to Big Chico Creek. After chasing all across campus to find it, I discovered a lovely footbridge, modeled on the original that led to the amphitheater from the Bidwell Mansion garden I’d visited just the day before. Ah well, had I discovered the theater from the mansion I might have skipped seeing the campus.

The stage is on the opposite side of the river
Like so many of our state’s gifts from the WPA and the vision of President Franklin Roosevelt, the theater is understated. Made from local stone the gently arced amphitheater tucks nicely into the natural slope. What is particularly appealing is the fact that the stage is on the opposite side of the river, so while watching a performance one is also enjoying the natural beauty of the turbulent blue-green water as it flows past the stage.

The decorative railing matches the original built by the Bidwell family
The space is defined by stone walls on three sides. The walls are curved on top both in section and elevation. At the top row of seats a band of cement was added to provide a smooth surface to lean against. Lichen growing on the stone adds a touch of softness. The ground surface is concrete with steps moving up the slope. The seats are simple in design and made of wood.

Like many WPA projects a bronze marker provides the date of construction – a welcome touch for those of us interested in history. I wish all buildings and designed landscapes incorporated dates of construction and the name of the designer. 

This simple bronze plaque gives the date of construction

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Anderson Marsh State Historic Park


Please excuse my absence. I have been distracted and consumed by researching and writing a book on my family history to commemorate the marriage of my cousin's eldest daughter. The wedding was yesterday and now I can get back to my blog and writing about some of California's cultural landscapes.

In May we took a week-long trip making a loop through northern California from Point Arena in Mendocino County to Chico, Oroville and over Yuba Pass to Downieville - one of California's Gold Rush towns. We visited several historic sites that I will be writing about in the next few weeks. The first is Anderson Ranch State Historic Park (SHP) - a vernacular landscape - not designed but one that tells the story of how the Anderson family lived. The site provides a view of what life was like in the late 19th century. Vernacular is defined as "a style of architecture (or landscape architecture) exemplifying the commonest techniques, decorative features, and materials of a particular historical period, region or group of people."

Anderson Marsh SHP is an excellent example of a ranch home in a stunningly beautiful setting. One approaches the cluster of buildings from the south. The west edge is defined by two barns separated by a corral. To the east is another barn, and the north side of the grouping is formed by the ranch house. A white picket fence defines front, side and backyard areas around the house, and rail fences enclose the barns and larger yard. Feed bins, hay bins and various animal stalls add to the complex. One other large barn is at the northwest corner outside the primary complex and therre are the remains of another irregularly-shaped corral. These structures and barns were built in the 1800s from hand hewn redwood and provided shelter for the family and animals in an open, windy, hot location.

The barns, ranch house and fences are laid out around a central open space and the grouping forms a cohesive compound. Throughout the building cluster, broad spreading mature oaks and willow shade the area. Distant views across the fields toward the marsh and beyond to surrounding hills are available from most places on the site, except to the east where a wooden wall has been added to screen Highway 53 from view.

The park is 1065 acres and includes freshwater marsh wetlands, native grasslands, California oak woodland and riparian woodland. Today's marsh is approximately eight percent of what was once a vast marsh that fed Clear Lake - the largest lake whooly within the borders of California.

The site was first occupied by the southeastern Pomo Native Amereicans - one of te largest groups of indigenous peoples in California. The Pomo are known as some of the best basket-makers in the country, and the marsh tule provided ample supplies of raw material for basket making. The state park includes archaeological sites from these Pomo people, some are among the oldest found in California, dating at over 10,000 years old.

Settlement first occured in this part of California in the mid 1850s. Two Grigsby brothers from Tennessee first occupied this site and built the central two-story portion of the ranch house and two barns. Grigsby raised livestock and crops.

In 1870 John Melchesadick "Mels" Grigsby sold the property to the Clear Lake Waterworks Company, in part as a result of a disagreement about how the land was being managed. In 1866 a portion of Grigsby's land was flooded when the water company dammed Cache Creek and overflow from Clear Lake flooded the Grigsby property. This conflict over water continued between Lake and Yolo Counties for over 100 years - one of many water related conflicts that have defined California. After Grigsby left, the water company planted this area in veneyards and orchards.

In 1885 Scottish immigrant, John Still Anderson purchased a portion of the property - 1300 acres and started a dairy. He also grew hay and grain for the cattle. Anderson expanded the ranch house for his wife and family of six children by adding the two-story west wing. The second and third generations of Andersons ran a successful cattle ranching operation and ramained on the property until the 1960s. The California State Parks system acquired the land in 1982 and dedicated it as a park in 1983.

Anderson Ranch is a low key state park but well worth a stop if you would appreciate a glimpse into a piece of California's ranching history. The barn is open and there is an interesting display of farm equipment.