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© David Martin

Conservation & Preservation

Marking a centennial, a new list highlights endangered US landscapes masterminded by women

Sites range from historic squares in Savannah to the landscape aesthetic of Disneyland

Marking the centennial of voting rights for American women, the nonprofit Cultural Landscape Foundation has devoted its 2020 list of endangered US landscapes to sites created by female designers. Accompanied by an online exhibition after the coronavirus derailed a travelling show, today's report Landslide 2020: Women Take the Lead details 12 entries, two of which include multiple sites. The online presentation includes images and historical descriptions of each landscape as well as video interviews with practitioners who discuss the sites and the challenges women still face in pursuing careers, even though they now make up a majority of students in university landscape architecture programs. The annual designations, which date back to 2003, have fostered efforts to preserve landscapes threatened by deferred maintenance and demolition; here are a few of the sites designated in this round.

Thomas Polk Park, Charlotte, North Carolina.  A one-third-acre plaza in downtown Charlotte includes a vest-pocket park designed in the late 1980s by the Bulgarian-born landscape architect Angela Danadjieva that includes a signature Modernist water feature. The surrounding plaza has fallen into disrepair, and the park suffers from a lack of programming and seating. A firm has been contracted by the city and private city-center partners to revitalise the park and fountain, but the coronavirus and ongoing protests for racial justice have thrown the timeline into uncertainty. A revitalised plaza could herald the return of performances, rallies, picnics and art displays, the foundation says.
© Larry Syverson

Thomas Polk Park, Charlotte, North Carolina. A one-third-acre plaza in downtown Charlotte includes a vest-pocket park designed in the late 1980s by the Bulgarian-born landscape architect Angela Danadjieva that includes a signature Modernist water feature. The surrounding plaza has fallen into disrepair, and the park suffers from a lack of programming and seating. A firm has been contracted by the city and private city-center partners to revitalise the park and fountain, but the coronavirus and ongoing protests for racial justice have thrown the timeline into uncertainty. A revitalised plaza could herald the return of performances, rallies, picnics and art displays, the foundation says.

Disneyland in Anaheim, California
Courtesy of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

Disneyland, Anaheim, California. The landscape architecture here is one of the most intact commissions by Ruth Shellhorn, much of whose built legacy in the Los Angeles area has disappeared. In March of 1955, months before the amusement park’s opening day, its landscape was still incomplete and Walt Disney invited landscape architect Shellhorn to finish the work. Today, despite her role in the park’s planting design and visitor experience, Shellhorn’s name is largely unknown to Disneyland visitors.

 South Cove, Battery Park City, New York City. Built almost entirely atop landfill at the southwestern edge of Manhattan along the Hudson River, Battery Park City boasts numerous parks designed in the 1970s and 80s. In 1984 local authorities commissioned a project by the landscape architect Susan Child with a site-specific installation by the environmental artist Mary Miss linked closely to Battery Park City’s residential area. The result was a two and a half acre park sited on a concrete platform extending over the water. Today it is threatened by rising tides and the threat of extreme flooding as a result of climate change.
© Barrett Doherty, courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation

South Cove, Battery Park City, New York City. Built almost entirely atop landfill at the southwestern edge of Manhattan along the Hudson River, Battery Park City boasts numerous parks designed in the 1970s and 80s. In 1984 local authorities commissioned a project by the landscape architect Susan Child with a site-specific installation by the environmental artist Mary Miss linked closely to Battery Park City’s residential area. The result was a two and a half acre park sited on a concrete platform extending over the water. Today it is threatened by rising tides and the threat of extreme flooding as a result of climate change.

Michigan State Parks, various locations, Michigan.  Shown: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Alger County. In 1969 the landscape architect Genevieve Gillette led an effort to pass legislation to fund the state park system. Today the parks are struggling to muster the financial support needed to maintain them, and none of those established during Gillette’s lifetime have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Cultural Landscape Foundation argues that listing even two would draw the national support needed to ensure funding in the future.
© David Martin

Michigan State Parks, various locations, Michigan. Shown: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Alger County. In 1969 the landscape architect Genevieve Gillette led an effort to pass legislation to fund the state park system. Today the parks are struggling to muster the financial support needed to maintain them, and none of those established during Gillette’s lifetime have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Cultural Landscape Foundation argues that listing even two would draw the national support needed to ensure funding in the future.

Pictured: Madison Square. Clermont Lee, the first woman to establish a landscape practice in Savannah, worked on historic sites throughout the city, including five of its heralded public squares in the mid-20th century. Her interventions, the Cultural Landscape Foundation says, “served as an innovative model for infusing modernity into historically informed design”. Her work, however, is threatened by neglect and even destruction unless the city moves to preserve the public landscapes of downtown Savannah and the historic buildings surrounding them. Lack of protection through local ordinances has already resulted in the demolition of a landscape that Lee designed at the birthplace of the Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low.
© Daves Rossell, courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation

Landscapes of Clermont Lee, Savannah, Georgia. Pictured: Madison Square. Clermont Lee, the first woman to establish a landscape practice in Savannah, worked on historic sites throughout the city, including five of its heralded public squares in the mid-20th century. Her interventions, the Cultural Landscape Foundation says, “served as an innovative model for infusing modernity into historically informed design”. Her work, however, is threatened by neglect and even destruction unless the city moves to preserve the public landscapes of downtown Savannah and the historic buildings surrounding them. Lack of protection through local ordinances has already resulted in the demolition of a landscape that Lee designed at the birthplace of the Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low.

The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, Lynchburg, Virginia. The garden at the Anne Spencer House, the home of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer (1882-1975) and her husband, was designed as a gathering space for family, friends and colleagues in the 1930s and refined over six decades. The 45-foot by 125-foot rectangular-shaped garden included four garden rooms and a single-room writing cottage. In the early 1980s a local garden club rehabilitated the garden and opened it to visitors, but additional rehabilitation and dedicated funds for maintenance and programming are needed.
© David Lepage, courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation

The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, Lynchburg, Virginia. The garden at the Anne Spencer House, the home of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer (1882-1975) and her husband, was designed as a gathering space for family, friends and colleagues in the 1930s and refined over six decades. The 45-by-125-foot rectangular-shaped garden included four garden rooms and a single-room writing cottage. In the early 1980s a local garden club rehabilitated the garden and opened it to visitors, but additional rehabilitation and dedicated funds for maintenance and programming are needed.