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