Ralph D. Cornell, Landscape Architect: Shaping Emerging Communities in Southern California

January 24th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

Site plan for Centinela Park, Inglewood, 1945


The Ralph D. Cornell archive offers fascinating perspective on land development in southern California.  Cornell was the first landscape architect to open an office in Los Angeles. It was the early 1920’s at the start of a real estate  boom, before most people knew what landscape architecture was. The development activity of that era is amply reflected in the nitrate negative documentation of Cornell’s landscape architecture work. For example, the coverage includes plans for 20 community parks,

  12 residential subdivisions,

General plan of Monte Mar Vista, Los Angeles, 1924

and seven colleges & universities. As such, Cornell’s work became part of the fabric of daily life in many southern California communities. Many of his designs survive in full or in part in public areas such as Cheviot Hills Park and the parkway along Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills (the fountain specified in the plan, and designed by architect Ralph Carlin Flewelling, is still at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd.).

Sketch of Beverly Hills Parkway development, Beverly Hills, 1930

In addition, the nitrate images record the designs of important landscape architects for Montecito estates such as those of Wright S. Ludington (the Lansdowne Hermes, a Roman marble statue now in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, is visible at the end of a lawn),

Wright Saltus Ludington residence (Lockwood de Forest, landscape architect), view of the Lansdowne Hermes statue at end tree-bordered lawn, Montecito, 1931

George Owen Knapp (Cornell especially liked this garden, which was later destroyed by fire),

George Owen Knapp residence (Charles G. Adams, landscape architect), stairs ascending to fountain framed by eucalyptus trees with mountains in background, Montecito, 1931

John Percival Jefferson (one of the few life-size versions of Frederick William MacMonnies famous Bacchante statue was in the reflecting pool),

John Percival Jefferson residence (Paul Thiene, landscape architect), view towards house from reflection pool with statue of a bacchante by MacMonnies, Montecito, 1931

James Waldron Gillespie,

James Waldron Gillespie residence (Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, landscape architect), view from house towards fountain with pool parterre, Montecito, 1932

and Alfred E. Dieterich,

Alfred E. Dieterich residence (Lockwood de Forest, landscape architect), view of succulent garden with stone path, Montecito, 1931

and the Beverly Hills estate of Harvey Mudd.

Harvey Mudd residence (Edward Huntsman-Trout, landscape architect), sundial terrace, Beverly Hills, 1933

Although Cornell did not consider his work for private clients to be a substantial part of his practice, the nitrate images document a few private commissions such as the lovely gardens of the W. R. Dunsmore Residence which Cornell worked on over a number of years.

W. R. Dunsmore residence, exterior view towards house from driveway, Los Angeles, 1930

Cornell played a role in the ongoing preservation of missions and ranchos as well. A study of his own quite beautiful hand painted design for the reconstruction of the grounds of the San Diego Mission (planned with Arthur B. Benton), which includes stands of “scattered olive… live oaks… pines or eucalypts… sycamores… chaparral… native shrubs” in fields of  “mustard and wild oats… poppies… wild flowers,” makes one want to drive right down to see it.

Reconstruction and development of the grounds of the San Diego Mission, San Diego, 1919

He also designed the grounds of the 1844 adobe ranch house at Rancho Los Cerritos in Long Beach when the house underwent renovation in 1930-1931.

Rancho Los Cerritos, view from the forecourt towards the restored house, wall and gate, Long Beach, 1931

Cornell was an avid photographer and documented his European and California travels with images of architecture and plant species.

Desert and mountains with cactus (Yucca mojavense), shrubs, and yucca in foreground, Devil’s Garden, 1927

And he also created lovely photographic images of his family, like this one showing three generations seated on a gentle slope next to a tree and against a backdrop of shrubbery, enjoying the outdoors.

Maude, Ralph and Rosita Cornell, 1933

Martha Steele, UCLA Library Cataloging & Metadata Center