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,
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.).
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),
George Owen Knapp (Cornell especially liked this garden, which was later destroyed by fire),
John Percival Jefferson (one of the few life-size versions of Frederick William MacMonnies famous Bacchante statue was in the reflecting pool),
James Waldron Gillespie,
and Alfred E. Dieterich,
and the Beverly Hills estate of Harvey Mudd.
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.
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.
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.
Cornell was an avid photographer and documented his European and California travels with images of architecture and plant species.
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.
By Martha Steele, Nitrates Metadata Coordinator