'Landslide 2020: Women Take the Lead'  – A Century of Women-Designed Landscapes Now At-Risk Shown in Digital Exhibition and New Report

  • October 01, 2020 11:43

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Ruth Shellhorn and Walt Disney reviewing plans for Disneyland, CA, July 2, 1955. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) has released Landslide, its annual thematic report and exhibition about threatened and at-risk landscapes. Landslide 2020: Women Take the Lead, timed to the centennial of women’s right to vote, focuses on sites across the country designed by women (there are twelve entries, two of which include multiple sites). The sites in Landslide 2020: Women Take the Lead represent achievements by women during the course of the twentieth century. The threats range from lack of recognition, insufficient funding and deferred maintenance to outright demolition. This year’s corresponding traveling photographic exhibition was derailed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. In its place, TCLF created an online exhibition featuring contemporary and newly-commissioned photography, and also produced more than twenty richly illustrated four- to eight-minute video interviews, Landslide Conversations, with designers and others associated with the sites. There are also introductory and concluding interviews with practitioners who address present-day issues and challenges women face in pursuing a career in landscape architecture. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the interviews were conducted over Zoom using iPhones, iPads, laptops and desktops. The report and exhibition includes an introduction, an illustrated history of each site, the threats posed to them, and ways for people to get involved.  

Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 2020. Photo: Allen Russ. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

First issued in 2003, Landslide has highlighted more than 300 significant at-risk parks, gardens, horticultural features, working landscapes, and other places that collectively embody our shared landscape heritage. Recently, Landslide 2018: Grounds for Democracy focused on sites associated with labor, civil and human rights, and Landslide 2019: Living in Nature highlighted sites affected by human-induced climate change. Landslide designations have resulted in advocacy that has saved numerous sites.  Moreover, once a site is enrolled in the Landslide program, it is monitored by TCLF. Landslide 2020: Women Take the Lead’s title is derived from a May 13, 1938  New York Times article about women landscape architects that includes the subheadline “Women Take Lead in Landscape Art.”     

Landslide 2020 not only raises the visibility of 20th century women landscape architects and designers, and the potential ephemerality of their built contributions,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s president and CEO, “it also features critical voices of inspiring contemporary practitioners such as Gina Ford, Alison Hirsch and Sara Zewde who address the unique issues women practitioners confront and what can be done to insure their success in the profession.”  

Today women make up the majority of both undergraduate and graduate students in university landscape architecture programs, but they are not nearly as well represented in the profession. As of 2018, women comprised only 35.5 percent of American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) members, 30.4 percent of principals at landscape architecture firms, and 20.2 percent of ASLA Fellows. The percentages for women of color are significantly smaller. The first women of color to become an ASLA Fellow was Juanita Shearer-Swink in 1995.  

The Landslide 2020: Women Take the Lead entries:   

Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, Lynchburg, Virginia   

The garden at the Anne Spencer House was created and refined over the span of six decades and was designed as a gathering space for the Harlem Renaissance poet’s family, friends and colleagues in the 1930s. Lack of funding and visitation poses a threat to the site’s future. Landslide Conversation with Spencer’s granddaughter Shaun Spencer-Hester, who is also the site’s director and curator.    

Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, Lynchburg, VA., 2020. Photo: David Lepage. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Beebe Garden, Lake Oswego, Oregon  

The Beebe Garden, designed in the 1930s by the Oregon-based firm Lord & Schryver, the first office of professional women landscape architects in the Pacific Northwest, is a premier Country Place Era garden. It is threatened with encroaching development from the Portland suburbs, and risks destruction. Two Landslide Conversations with Bobbie Dolp, Lord & Schryver Conservancy Board President.   

Children’s Park and Pond, San Diego, California  

The only project designed collaboratively by landscape architects Martha Schwartz and Peter Walker, who were once married, is slated for demolition. This 2.1-acre Postmodernist park from 1987, conceived by the designers as a work of art, is adjacent to the midpoint of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Promenade, originally Marina Linear Park. Landslide Conversation with Martha Schwartz and Peter Walker.  

Thomas Polk Park, Charlotte, NC. 2017. Photo: Larry Syverson. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Disneyland, Anaheim, California  

One of the most intact commissions by landscape architect Ruth Shellhorn, much of whose built legacy in the Los Angeles area is gone. Today, despite her vital work on the park, Shellhorn’s name is largely unknown to Disneyland visitors. Two Landslide Conversations with Kelly Comras, Shellhorn’s biographer.  

Dumbarton Oaks Park, Washington, D.C.  

A 27-acre public park designed by Beatrix Farrand, the only woman founder of ASLA in 1899, which was originally part of the 53-acre Bliss estate. Storm water run-off poses an ongoing problem and funding is needed for critical infrastructure improvements. Landslide Conversations with Dumbarton Oaks Parks Conservancy Board Co-chair Elizabeth “Liza” Gilbert, President Lindsey Milstein, and landscape historian Judith Tankard.   

John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, Cambridge, Massachusetts  

Developed over the course of a decade beginning in 1976, this five-acre park designed by landscape architect Carol R. Johnson is the premier memorial dedicated to President John F. Kennedy in his home state. The park suffers from accrued, deferred maintenance: the fountain has not been functional for years; there are issues with soil composition and drainage; some replanting is needed. Landslide Conversations with Jennifer Jones, Advising Principal, Carol R. Johnson Associates, Inc. (now IBI Placemaking), and Marion Pressley, Principal, Pressley Associates; both worked for Carol Johnson.  

Genevieve Gillette, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 2015, Alger Co., MI. Photo: David Martin. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Michigan State Parks, Various Locations, Michigan  

In 1969 landscape architect Genevieve Gillette successfully spearheaded an effort to pass legislation to fund the state park system. The Detroit Free Press called Gillette “a saving angel to Michigan’s natural beauty.” Gillette described herself as “the meanest thing that ever went to Lansing [MI].” That funding is now gone and more funding is needed. Landslide Conversation with Christopher Graham, landscape architect and executor of Gillette’s estate.  

Clermont Lee, Madison Square, Savannah, GA. 2020. Photo: Daves Rossell. Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Landscapes of Clermont Lee, Savannah, Georgia  

Lee, one of the first licensed landscape architects in Georgia and the first woman to establish a practice in Savannah, worked on numerous public squares and other historic sites throughout the city. Lack of recognition in local ordinances has already resulted in the destruction of the Lee-designed landscape at the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. Landslide Conversations with historian Ced Dolder and EHT Traceries project assistant Carleigh Hessian.  

Radburn, Fair Lawn, New Jersey  

influential New Deal-era suburban development that features parks and open spaces designed by landscape architect Marjorie Sewell Cautley. While much of Cautley’s design and plantings do remain, the Radburn Association is grappling with years of deferred maintenance and increasingly the need to control erosion, enhance drainage, repair deteriorated sidewalks, and replace some landscape features. Landslide Conversations with Thaisa Way, Program Director, Garden and Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.    

South Cove, Battery Park City, New York, New York  

Public park by landscape architect Susan Child with a site-specific installation by environmental artist Mary Miss threatened by climate change. Landslide Conversations with Anita Berrizbeitia, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, MA, and Doug Reed, Principal at Reed-Hilderbrand, Cambridge, MA; both worked for Susan Child.  

“Staged Gates” at Hills & Dales, Dayton, Ohio  

Site-specific installation by environmental artist Mary Miss installed on a forested hillside in the Olmsted Brothers-designed Hills & Dales Park. Today its condition is greatly compromised, and it needs to be removed or relocated to protect the surrounding ecology of the wooded hillside. Landslide Conversation with Mary Miss.  

Thomas Polk Park, Charlotte, North Carolina  

This 1/3 acre plaza in Uptown (Charlotte’s downtown) has a rich history as an important site for indigenous peoples’ trade routes, the location of significant moments in North Carolinian and United States history, and, most recently, a civic space designed by landscape architect Angela Danadjieva featuring a signature Modernist water feature that carves out an oasis within the bustling center of the city. The site has suffered from deferred maintenance. Landslide Conversations with Alison Hirsh, Director, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urbanism, University of Southern California, and Gina Ford, Co-founder and Principal of Agency Landscape & Planning, Cambridge, MA.  

Landslide 2020 is made possible by sponsors the National Endowment for the Arts and Victor Stanley, and media partner Landscape Architecture Magazine. All of the newly commissioned photography was done pro bono by leading photographers and photojournalists

About The Cultural Landscape Foundation  

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is a Washington, D.C.-based education and advocacy non-profit established in 1998 with a mission of “connecting people to places.” The organization educates and engages the public to make our landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards. TCLF is also home to the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.  


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