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Landscape Preservation Today: From the Back Room to the Ballroom 

12-09-2015 17:35

Over the course of the past decade, the National Park Service (NPS) has begun to address historic landscape preservation as part of its mission. The Historic Landscape Initiative includes efforts within several divisions of the NPS, including the Preservation Assistance Division (PAD) and the Interagency Resources Division (IRD). These two offices provide national standards and guidelines, publications, technical assistance, and training related to historic landscape preservation in collaboration with professional organizations. The PAD hired its first historical landscape architect in 1989 to coordinate this initiative. Many of the technical publications, bibliographies, indexes, and databases included in the discussion that follows were generated as a result of this initiative.

Also within the NPS, the Park Historic Architecture Division (PHAD) in 1990 hired a historical landscape architect to manage its cultural landscape program. According to Robert R. Page, "The greatest challenge in perception of cultural landscapes in the national park system over the past decade involves an increased understanding of the range and diversity of these resources in the system and the recognition that these resources are as significant to our heritage as archaeological resources, structures, and museum objects." The change in perception over the past few years is obvious through the initiation of a service-wide cultural landscape program, the establishment of a number of professional positions (this includes regional historical landscape architects in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and North-Atlantic regions) and an escalation in the level of research, inventory, documentation, and treatment in the system.

Finally, the Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) has experienced a greater level of interest in historic landscapes as evidenced by a more in-depth approach to their documentation. This commitment is illustrated in the program`s threefold methodology of measured drawings, large format photography and written history that has been applied to four recent projects: Dumbarton Oaks Park`s natural "lower" garden by Beatrix Farrand in Washington, D.C., (1988-1989); the urban designs and parks, called "reservations" of the L`EnfantMcMillan Plan, Washington, D.C. (19901993); D.C.`s Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway (1991-1992); and Connecticut`s Merritt Parkway. In these new forward looking preservation projects, such historic features as vegetation, views and vistas, and spatial relationships were not only documented today, but for the landscape`s history. At Dumbarton Oaks Park, for example, the landscape`s continuum includes documentation of the preexisting situation, the original design by Farrand, and design changes and existing conditions. This greater level of detail attributes individual plant materials to their period of introduction.

The Department of Defense (DOD) manages a broad range of cultural landscapes-- from formal parade grounds and cold-war industrial sites to traditional places used by indigenous peoples. Their management is particularly challenging because it must be balanced with fulfillment of military missions. Defining Our Heritage, the 1991 preliminary report of the DOD`S Legacy Resource Management Program, recognized the importance of its cultural landscapes. It made recommendations for cultural-landscape surveys, and called for integrated natural and cultural-resource management strategies to improve stewardship of these resources.1

Since the report`s release the Legacy program has addressed these issues through policy recommendations and demonstrated project work. For example, an innovative computer land-management program has been created to combine information about natural and cultural resources on military installations. In application, for example, the system helps trainers search for alternative areas for exercise and avoid significant natural/cultural areas.

The mission of the National Trust is to foster an appreciation of the diverse character and meaning of our American cultural heritage and to preserve and revitalize the livability of our communities by leading the nation in saving America`s historic environments. As part of this mission a commitment has been made to better document the Trust`s properties in the form of historic landscape reports. Projects are well under way at Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, and Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York; considerable planning is under way at Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and plans are advancing at several other properties (see the prospect by Frank Sanchis on Pages 62-65 for a more detailed discussion).

The Trust`s Rural Heritage Program is engaged in several initiatives. Under a cooperative agreement with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), it is working with the School of Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York at Syracuse and has held a series of workshops on rural community planning. The program has also taken the lead with recent issues regarding scenic byways. Other national organizations are also expressing interest in the field of landscape preservation. For example, the Federal Highway Administration has recently cosponsored a series of workshops entitled Transportation Planning for Livable Communities and has partially funded a Historic Transportation Corridors Conference.

The Department of Veterans Affairs agreed in 1988 to prepare a Cemetery Cultural Resource Management Plan, but has yet to initiate it. Although a commitment to landscape preservation is evidenced at former branches in Kansas and Wisconsin, where preservation plans are being prepared for both medical centers including their landscape resources.

The PAD is currently addressing historic landscapes in two technical publications related to project work: the recently completed revisions to the existing Secretary of the Interior`s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (revised 1992) and the companion Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Landscapes.2 While the first project provides general treatment principles, the latter will provide more specific interpretation of the Standards as they relate to landscapes. The landscape guidelines were circulated for comment between June 1992 and March 1993 and publication is scheduled for late 1994. Says Kay Weeks, one of the principal authors of the Standards and its changes for nearly two decades, "Today we recognize that historic landscapes are of equal importance with other resources. This is evidenced by the new language of both the Standards and Guidelines."

Other recent publications include National Register Bulletins 40 and 41, which respectively provide Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Battlefields, and Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries. This increased awareness is now reflected in the considerable number of National Register listings that include landscapes. According to Carol D. Shull, the chief of registration for the National Register, "the National Register database now includes more than 1,400 properties with documented significance in landscape architecture."

In addition to technical government publications, there has been a very substantial increase in the number of recent professional works available on the topics of landscape history and preservation and these assume many forms.

Generally speaking, however, the most dramatic increase has been in the number of major published works on historically significant landscape architects. Recent publications cover Fletcher Steele, Florence Yoch, Russell Page, and Jens Jensen, to name a few. There has also been a number of monographs from a variety of organizations. This includes the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Maine published by the Maine Historical Preservation Commission, (Beatrix Farrand, Nathaniel Bowditch, and Hans Heisted), the National Association for Olmsted Parks Workbook Series (Charles Eliot) and Rochester History (Alling Stephen DeForest). Of related interest is the Journal of the New England Garden History Society, established in 1991 and published annually, and the Southern Garden History Society has just published its first occasional paper in the series, Magnolia Essays, dedicated to the work of the Olmsteds in Atlanta. The New England journal seeks to present a dialogue on issues of garden history, landscape preservation, and cross-cultural approaches to gardens and to landscape design focusing primarily on the New England states.

Probably reaching the greatest audience, American Landscape Architecture Designers and Places, edited by William H. Tishler, (The Preservation Press, 1989) includes twenty-one designers and twenty-one types of landscapes or places. There has also been a considerable increase in the number of publications on the subjects of individual landscapes (Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts, The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, Central Park in New York) and landscapes by type (cemeteries, city planning movements, parks, parkways and park systems, estates, pleasure grounds, gardens, campuses, rural communities, and battlefields).

Further testimony to this heightened interest is The Library of American History, which was founded last year. Robin Karson, the library`s executive director, notes, "The library was established to answer a growing need for information about designers and historic landscapes, and to provide publishing opportunities for researchers. Our goal, admittedly tough, is to produce monographs that conform to highest academic standards but that will be readable enough to entice the general public."

The past five years have seen significant advances in the development of research and reference aids for historic landscape information. These take many forms, including source books, databases, reference directories, dictionaries, and indexes.

Preserving Historic Landscapes (NPS, 1990) is a detailed reading list with descriptive annotations. The sources listed include books, articles, and specialized publications as well as a list of organizations, journals, and archives that provide valuable information on the topic.

The Historic Landscape Directory (1991) is a source book of agencies, organizations, and institutions that provide information on historic landscape preservation. It, too, was prepared by the NPS, in collaboration with The Catalog of Landscape Records in the United States, Wave Hill, and US/ICOMOS Historic Landscapes Committee.

Published in 1992 by the NPS, the Cultural Landscape Bibliography is an annotated bibliography of resources within the National Park System. The document is organized by region and also includes a listing by chronological date and park resource.

The Catalog of Landscape Records in the United States at Wave Hill, Bronx, New York, is a cumulative index to all documentation for landscapes, past and present. The Catalog describes the scope and content of public and private collections of landscape records. Since its founding in 1987, the number of annual queries has doubled.

The Archives of American Gardens3 at the Horticulture Services Division of the Smithsonian Institution is a unique collection of landscape images that document historic American landscapes. The collection includes more than 33,000 slides from the Garden Club of America (including 3,000 hand-colored glass lantern slides) among thousands of others. The images are presently being recorded on videodisc and are being cataloged on an on-line computer database that uses keyword access.

The Dictionary of American Landscape Vocabulary was established in 1990 by the National Gallery of Art`s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. By definition, the dictionary is a historical illustrated dictionary of landscape design terms in America from the seventeenth to mid-nineteenth centuries and employs New World images. The project traces the adaptation of terms from Old World published sources and newly arrived colonists and the transformation of that terminology into an American landscape vocabulary. The project also considers indigenous terms as they were applied to local environmental and regional/cultural traditions. Publication of the Dictionary is anticipated next year.

Other current databases under development include the NPS`s Pioneer Landscape Architects in the United States. This database contains a biographical profile, annotated period and contemporary sources, and a statement on archival collections for historical figures that have exerted a significant influence on the American landscape. The product is taking the form of a draft publication (1993) and ultimately, a nationally accessible database. The NPS has also initiated Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI). This database is a computerized, evaluated inventory of all historic cultural landscapes in the national park system in which the NPS has plans or plans to acquire any legal interest. Finally, a horticulture-based bibliography is being considered by the Massachusetts Horticulture Society.

Underutilized or once forgotten landscape archives in universities, museums, libraries, local historical societies, and municipal archives are also experiencing a resurgence of interest. By way of research requests, these collections are capturing the attention of students, academics, historians, landscape architects, preservation professionals, professional writers, and community/friends groups. Today, they are stimulating innovative research related to individual landscapes, designers, or movements. Additionally, they are exerting a profound influence on the landscape preservation movement in the form of scholarly research, books and journal articles, public exhibitions, videos, informational brochures/guides, and interpretive displays for historic landscape resources. Ultimately, they have the ability to lead to sympathetic landscape preservation project work.

Catha Grace Rambusch, the director of the Catalog of Landscape Records, notes that "the archival records have such power that they communicate the story that makes people look at what is there today, and may have been there historically. They possess an immediacy that eventually leads them back to the land. Ultimately, people will look at what has happened over time, which will result in preservation-treatment applications."

There has also been a tremendous increase in the conservation and cataloging of these materials. The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, the largest collection of any single landscape architecture firm, contains more than one million pieces of paper and approximately 150,000 drawings. In 1989 a ten-year project was started to conserve the collection. As a result of this recent commitment, there has been a 500-percent increase in the number of drawings conserved annually, bringing the total to approximately 12,000 a year. Although the number of requests has remained consistent--roughly 1,000 a year-- "today we are seeing more forward-thinking planning, and less research out of threat to the resource," say Elizabeth Banks, the site`s curator.

Universities are now more readily providing homes to landscape architecture collections. Examples include recent acquisitions by Cornell University, the University of Southern California at Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania. The archives of Warren H. Manning at Iowa State University were the recipient of a 1988 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The project, which lasted until March 1991, conserved more than 500 of Manning`s drawings. This was the first time that the NHPRC awarded such a conservation grant to a landscape architecture archive. On a community scale, the Muskeegon County Museum in Muskeegon, Michigan, recently accepted the Williard B. Gebhard collection.4 The collection includes more than 200 projects and more than 1,000 drawings.

The influence of publicly displayed archives can be measured in other ways. First, exhibitions are providing the necessary catalysts for drawing conservation. Recent shows of original materials by Olmsted, Eliot, Jensen, Jenny, Steele, Yoch, DeBoer, and others have resulted in the curation of rediscovered archival materials. In the case of recent Jens Jensen (1860-1951) and George E. Kessler (1862-1923) exhibitions, national and friends groups celebrating these masters have been formed or have benefitted from increased membership and a more educated community constituency.5

Technical assistance and training in historic landscape preservation increased dramatically during the past five years. This surge is reflected in the number of annual historic preservation symposiums held in collaboration with the American Society of Landscape Architects, and educational sessions sponsored with the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation. Several other conferences and educational sessions have been sponsored by the NPS within the past five years in cooperation with such other organizations as the National Trust, National Association for Olmsted Parks, The Catalog of Landscape Records, Historic Massachusetts, Inc., Preservation League of New York, Kentucky Heritage Council, the Georgia State Preservation Office, and others.6

Additionally, such allied organizations as the Garden Conservancy, the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, the American Culture Association, the Victorian Society in America recently sponsored presentations on historic landscape preservation for their memberships.

Historic landscape preservation has taken hold in many universities in recent years in widely diverse ways. The growth of the discipline mirrors the national recognition of its importance. Its diversity is a product of the breadth of the discipline combined with the great variety of academic resources (including related disciplines) available at universities (as well as their physical locations and historic and economic contexts). Each program has its own emphasis.7 But as the subject takes hold nationally, more campuses will want and need to respond to public demand.

"We are at a point now where the basic battle of `are we essential?` has been won, yet before the turf wars--`who gets to teach this?`--have reached the ignition point," says Noel Dorsey Vernon, the associate dean of the College of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Vernon and other academics who attended a recent meeting concurred that faculty, at both the master`s and bachelor`s levels -- in landscape architecture, historic preservation, arts, architecture, planning, cultural geography, and all other related disciplines -- recognized the point that only by working together can we train competent teachers and practitioners, be they historical landscape architects or preservationists with a specialization (or certificate) in historic landscape preservation, or however else they are titled.

Recent developments at the University of Pennsylvania offer two options that illustrate this point. First, there is a joint-degree program in Historic Landscape Preservation designed to offer specialized courses in landscape restoration, history and conservation to candidates for the Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of Regional Planning degrees. Second, a dual-degree program established in 1991 is offered in landscape architecture and historic preservation. Kathryn Gleason, the liaison advisor, notes that "both of these programs are often guided by the individual faculty strengths and offer a good deal of flexibility."

There are also specialized and continuing-education courses available from the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, and the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Radcliffe Seminars of Radcliffe College have also just announced a new graduate program in landscape design history. It has been only in the past five years that there have been adequate print resources to support such course work.

There has been a noticeable increase in project work in the field of landscape preservation as evidenced by the 300 percent increase in attendance at this year`s ASLA Historic Landscape Symposium and by the increased number of project requests requiring "cultural landscape experience" in Commerce Business Daily project announcements over the course of the past year. This article, however, does not focus on recent landscape preservation projects because this area will be highlighted in the diverse project examples that follow in the other writers` contributions.

Probably the most generous--and most competitive--grant funding source in the field has been the National Endowment for the Arts` Design Arts Program (approximately fifteen percent funded). This program "supports work of exceptional merit that will advance the design arts and benefit the public on a local, state, or national level." Although there is not a specific category in landscape architecture or landscape preservation, a number of categories apply.8 According to NEA Leadership Specialist Peter W. Hawley, the Endowment has funded "studies of vernacular landscapes (for the Waterford Foundation in Waterford, Virginia), and the work of eminent landscape architects (LAF`S grant on the work of Thomas Church), the preparation of restoration plans for historic gardens (Sacred Hearts Mission in Oklahoma City), cemeteries (Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, Maine), and estates (Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York), exhibits (American Architectural Foundation/Octagon exhibit on Biltmore), and community-assistance programs (Vermont Agency of Natural Resources)."

The Andy Warhol Foundation has recently funded a Workbook series for such organizations as the National Association for Olmsted Parks and Scenic America in addition to funding historic landscape reports for such historic properties as The Point and Wilderstein, two nineteenth-century, Calvert Vaux-designed properties on the Hudson River. Each of these applicants received $25,000.

The Henry Luce Foundation in New York City recently awarded a $100,000 grant to the National Trust for historic landscape reports at several of their properties. Although the foundation has supported other landscape preservation proposals in the past, this may be the largest award to date. There are many other granting sources that have supported or sponsored landscape preservation in recent years. Other examples include the National Trust`s Preservation Services Fund (America`s Landscape Legacy Brochure), the landscape Architecture Foundation`s Hudson Environmental Fellowship (The Landscape Legacy of Samuel Parsons, Jr.), Harvard`s Hubbard Trust (oral history videotapes with G. Eckbo or C. Eliot II), the J.M. Kaplan Fund (Calvert Vaux Exhibit and Symposium) and the Graham Foundation (Chicago`s Parks, A Breath of Fresh Air). These are only a sampling. A growing interest is also evidenced by support from Certified Local Government Grants, state arts councils, local garden clubs, historical societies, and friends groups. These are often matched with partnering public agencies, businesses, and corporate sponsors.

There have been several recent legislative activities that offer great promise for the landscape preservation community. First, the ten enhancement categories of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act provides more than $3 billion in funding with seven of the ten categories directly related to landscape architecture or preservation. Betsy Cuthbertson, the ASLA`S director of government affairs, says that the ASLA is "very hopeful that landscape architects, preservation professionals, community groups, and others will push the envelope and come up with innovative landscape preservation projects that put the money to good use."

In 1992 the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site received an operating increase that established a base fund for the Olmsted Center, a partnership between the Olmsted Site and the Regional Cultural Landscape Program, that provides technical assistance to national parks with urgent landscape preservation and maintenance needs, conducts landscape preservation training, and that develops new technologies and maintenance procedures.

Even more recently, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training was established in the Historic Preservation Act Amendments. The act consistently recognized the importance of landscape architecture as a resource and as a professional discipline. The center is likely to conduct much-needed applied research into landscapes and other historic resources. Cuthbertson notes, "We look at this as the infrastructure needed to support the field of landscape preservation."


Not only have there been exciting developments in landscape preservation in the United States, but on an international level as well. In December 1992 the sixteenth session of the World Heritage Committee met in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At this time proposed revisions to the Operational Guidelines were accepted. As a result of these actions cultural landscape amendments were made to the six existing criteria for cultural properties and new recommendations made regarding interpretation. Subsequently, significant cultural landscapes can now be individually recognized on the World Heritage List.

Now that the mechanism for nominating landscapes to the World Heritage List exists, it seems only fitting that we undertake a National Theme Study in Landscape Architecture to enable us to establish the necessary context, and consider landscape architecture as the primary area of significance for National Historic Landmarks (NHL).9 Because NHL status is a prerequisite for World Heritage listing, if we don`t have the mechanism by which to accurately nominate these irreplaceable landscape resources at home, how may they be honestly recognized and respected in an international reservation community? Additionally, only when we establish a broader contextual knowledge base for our designed historic landscapes (e.g., the designer`s philosophy, career cannon, and extant legacy) can we achieve honest preservation project work--work that retains the contemporary cultural fabric of a landscape`s continuum.

Perhaps an even greater challenge is to begin to share a common landscape preservation language and to adopt and endorse the four-step preservation planning process outlined in the articles that follow. In past years the media has been all too quick to celebrate landscape "restorations" that stripped away contemporary cultural overlays. Such previous undertakings not only misrepresented our natural and cultural heritage, but rewrote it at significant capital cost.

Given the current knowledge and evolution of the field, new project work should be measured against new standards. If that work was considered state-of-the-art in its time, we need to document those efforts, move on, and grow from those experiences. If we can succeed and adopt this new ethic in the future, our historic landscapes will most frequently select rehabilitation or preservation as a primary treatment, with discrete areas of restoration, and only on very rare occasions, reconstruction. Has there ever been a true landscape restoration, by today`s standards in the United States? A new era is on the way, and the period for period landscapes has passed.

1The Legacy Resources Management Program was established by Congress in 1991 to provide the DOD with an opportunity to enhance stewardship of more than twenty-five million acres of land under its jurisdiction. For more information, contact US Army Engineering and Housing Support Center, ATTN: CEHSC-FN, Fort Belvoir, Virginia 22060-5516.

2These NPS publications and others are available from the NPS, U.S. Department of the Interior, P.O. Box 37127, Washington, D.C. 20013-7127, 202/343-9578.

3The collection will be open to the public by appointment in late 1993.

4Gebhard is considered by many to be the great-grandfather of the western Michigan landscape.

5Similar exhibitions over the past decade in New York City, Buffalo, and Chicago have fueled the local and national interest in Olmsted, Sr., and his successor office. The National Association for Olmstead Parks, an organization that others now emulate, was founded in 1980.

6These conferences were funded in part by the Cultural Resource Training Initiative. For more information, contact Sylvia Rose Augustus, Preservation Assistance Division, 202/343-9578.

7The Directory of College, Univeristy, Craft and Trade Programs in Cultural Resource Management, October 1992, contains information on landscape preservation education opportunities. Copies of the 100-page directory may be purchased from the National Council for Preservation Education, 210 West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853 and cost $7.50 a copy.

8For a free booklet containing application forms and guidelines for all grant categories, write to the Design Arts Program, Room 627, NEA, 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20506.

9Refer to History and Prehistory in the National Park System and the National Historic Landmarks Program, History Division, NPS, Washington, D.C., 1987 for the identification of Category XVII, Landscape Architecture. Since 1983, the need for this study has been recognized, yet to date it has not been funded

Publication Date: May/June 1993


Author(s):Charles A. Birnbaum