Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates NPS and the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks Centennials

Genl. Grant National Park, California. The World's Largest Tree.
California Historical Society

From Redwood National Park in the north to Joshua Tree in the south, California’s parks are as varied and diverse as the population of the Golden State itself. The oldest, Yosemite, was established in 1890; the youngest, Pinnacles, graduated from monument to park just three years ago, on January 10, 2013. Each California park has its own kind of beauty and all are a reflection of the society into which they were born—a reflection of us. With this offering in the “Mirror of Us” series, the California Historical Society celebrates Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Yosemite: A History of Presidential Attention

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite Valley, Cal (1903), Photographer: Pillsbury. California Historical Society.
This Father’s Day weekend, President Obama and the first family will pay a visit to Yosemite National Park to highlight the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and the President’s efforts to preserve natural resources, according to a release from the White House. President Obama is the first sitting President to visit the park since John F. Kennedy did so in 1962, over 50 years ago.

Prior Presidential visits to Yosemite included Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, William Howard Taft in 1909, and Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 (see above). The trip so impressed Teddy Roosevelt that it ultimately led to the expansion of Yosemite and Roosevelt establishing five other national parks, among many of his other conservation efforts. 

Interestingly, Yosemite may have received its most important attention from a President who never visited. On June 30, 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant which marked the first federal act to protect wild lands for the enjoyment of people and the first California State Park.  In honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of this Act, the California Historical Society created Yosemite: A Storied Landscape, a major public history initiative that included a powerful exhibition, eBook, and related program series. (CHS's current exhibition, Experiments is Environment—about the famous collaboration between Anna and Lawrence Halprin in the 1960s—is also connected to Yosemite, as Lawrence Halprin was inspired by the Sierra Mountains in his design of the Yosemite Falls Approach.)

As noted above, President Obama is using his trip to highlight the Centennial of the The National Park ServiceThe NPS was established in 1916 after a group organized by Stephen T. Mather and Horace M. Albright gathered at UC Berkeley in 1915 (on the sidelines of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition) to plan a future for the existing and evolving national parks in the country. (Last year, UC Berkeley celebrated the Centennial of its role in creating the national parks system with a major symposium.) 

"I want to make sure that the whole world is able to pass on to future generations the God-given beauty of this planet," Obama said in a Facebook video announcing next week's trip. The visit will certainly serve as an example of respecting our public lands and, more importantly, preserving legacy.

The California Historical Society has been celebrating the Centennial of the National Park Service with a series of essays on national parks in California. Read more from the "Mirror of Us" series below:

Sarah Lee

California Historical Society

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Bear Flag Revolt - June 14, 1846

1890 Photo of the original Bear Flag. 
Stored in the Halls of  The Society of California Pioneers 
the flag was destroyed in the
San Francisco earthquake and firestorm of 1906

In the late 18th century California was an important part of New Spain, having been colonized by the Spanish Empire primarily through the establishment of missions and presidios over the period between 1769 and 1823.  The 21 Missions established by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan order, were both military and religious settlements that functioned independently of each other and allowed for the further colonization of what was then known as Alta California.  Prior to the arrival of Portuguese, English and Spanish explorers, California had one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse populations in pre-Columbian North America including more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans.

In 1821 the Mexican War of Independence effectively freed Alta California from Spanish Control.  California was divided into huge land grants for Mexican "Californios" who established family-controlled ranchos in what was then a remote northern province of the Mexican Empire (later Republic).

On June 14, 1846 a group of American settlers declared independence from Mexican rule, this uprising was known as the Bear Flag Revolt and occurred during the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848).  As a result of the war, California was ceded to the United States by Mexico and became the 31st state admitted to the Union on September 9, 1850.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Rise of Ronald Reagan: 50 Years Ago Today

Ronald Reagan, San Francisco Airport arrival, 1966, photo ©Bob Campbell,
San Francisco Chronicle, courtesy, California Historical Society,

With conclusion of yesterday's California primary season, we look back to one of the most significant party primaries in State history: the Republican race in 1966. It was 50 years ago today when Californians awoke to the news that actor Ronald Reagan had won his party's primary on June 7, 1966, defeating San Francisco mayor George Christopher by nearly 35% percentage points.

Reagan's primary victory in 1966 set the stage for an epic showdown in the Fall with two-term governor, Edmund G. 'Pat' Brown, the father of current California Governor Jerry Brown. At the time, Governor Brown (who defeated Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty in the Democratic primary) was pleased that Reagan defeated Christopher, thinking that Reagan would be easy to beat in the Fall. But Reagan would end up defeating Brown in November, setting the stage for the "Reagan Revolution" nationally and foreshadowing the themes that many Republicans, including Reagan, would use against Democrats in the decades to come: soft on crime, pro-welfare, tolerant of citizen unrest.

As we noted at the very beginning of this year, the 50th anniversary of 1966 allows us to look back at a revolutionary year in California history when two opposing forces that continue to shape the State and country were unleashed. In the primary against Christopher and then against Brown, Reagan ran explicitly against the growing tide of student activism in the Bay Area, saying he "would clean up the mess at Berkeley." Meanwhile, across the Bay, student activism had merged with a growing youth culture in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury area, creating the counterculture of the "hippies" that would capture the attention of the country the following year during the infamous "Summer of Love."

Yet, just as the masses were starting to gather on Haight Street and "rock dances" were being held every weekend at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium and The Avalon, Ronald Reagan won his first significant political election. In short, California's complicated history and split personality was on full display in 1966.

Monday, June 6, 2016

California, Primarily

California Counts, 2015 
Courtesy KPBS
“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
― Theodore Roosevelt, 1913
Teddy Roosevelt made this analogy in his 1913 autobiography while expressing support for women’s suffrage. “I believe for women, as for men, more in the duty of fitting one’s self to do well and wisely with the ballot than in the naked right to cast the ballot,” he explained.

In today’s political climate, with emotions running high, voters appear to be using their votes as rifles. Once Californians have cast their votes, will they have voted “well and wisely”?

As California prepares for its primary election on June 7, we look at some reminders of past primaries, some groundbreaking, some surprising, some tragic—and some very recognizable.


Theodore Roosevelt and Hiram Johnson, 1912
California Historical Society
In the 1912 election, Progressive (Bull Moose) Party nominee Theodore Roosevelt teamed up with California Governor Hiram Johnson. It was the beginning of both the Progressive Party and the primary process in California. Prior to the primary, presidential candidates were selected by their fellow politicians.

(Left) John Nance Garner California Button Ribbon, 1932 
(Right) John (“Cactus Jack”) Nance Garner, c. 1905
California Democrats originally from the South won the day in the 1932 primary as House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas beat New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. When it became clear that Roosevelt was considered the stronger candidate in the general election—despite being short of the two-thirds votes required for nomination—Garner cut a deal and joined Roosevelt’s ticket as vice president.

(Left) Upton Sinclair, c. 1920–39
Courtesy Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library
(Right) Governor Earl Warren, 1946 
California Historical Society
Running as a Democrat, Socialist Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, campaigned against poverty in California’s 1934 gubernatorial race, receiving almost 900,000 votes. Two years later, he ran in the 1936 presidential primary against Franklin D. Roosevelt, winning 11 percent of the Democratic vote. Republican Earl Warren was favorite son in the 1936, 1948, and 1952 primaries. He never won the Republican nomination but obtained judicial influence as the fourteenth Chief Justice of the United States.

"It’s Nixon in ’60!” Bumper Sticker, 1960
California Historical Society
A 1960 California Republican Party pamphlet touted Nixon as “the most able and electable presidential prospect, of either party, in the Nation. Republicans, leading Independents and thoughtful Democrats throughout the State are swelling the ranks of one of the greatest citizens’ movements in California history.” In his closely contested race against John F. Kennedy—undermined by a poor showing during the presidential debates—Nixon lost the popular vote by .2 percent and the electoral vote by a 302–219 margin.

Victory Celebration, 1968 
Courtesy Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Democrat Robert Kennedy addressed enthusiastic supporters in the ballroom of Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, after winning the 1968 California presidential primary the previous day. Shortly after delivering his victory speech, Kennedy was critically shot in a hotel kitchen corridor. He died the next day. Kennedy’s assassination, which closely followed Martin Luther King’s (April 4, 1968), “shattered the nation,” the U.S. News & World Report observed.

George McGovern, Dennis Weaver, and Tom Bradley, date unknown 
Courtesy Gary Leonard Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Despite a “Stop McGovern” campaign led by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, Senator George McGovern’s anti-Vietnam War platform helped him win California’s winner-take-all delegates in the 1972 California Democratic primary against Hubert Humphrey. Factors such as his  outsider status, perception by others as a left-wing extremist, and lack of party support, however, cost McGovern’s the election against incumbent President Richard Nixon by a wide margin.
Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


Monday, May 23, 2016

A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates NPS and Lassen Volcanic National Park Centennials

The Great Eruption, Lassen Peak, May 22, 1915 
California Historical Society
From Redwood National Park in the north to Joshua Tree in the south, California’s parks are as varied and diverse as the population of the Golden State itself. The oldest, Yosemite, was established in 1890; the youngest, Pinnacles, graduated from monument to park just three years ago, on January 10, 2013. Each California park has its own kind of beauty and all are a reflection of the society into which they were born—a reflection of us. 

With this offering in the “Mirror of Us” series, the California Historical Society celebrates the 100th anniversaries of the National Park Service and Lassen Volcanic National Park, featuring images from both the CHS and NPS collections.

Friday, May 20, 2016

All Aboard! Electric Rail Line to Santa Monica Officially Opens May 20, 2016

Crowd Gathers for Opening Day of the Electric Car Line in Santa Monica, April 1, 1896 
California Historical Society at University of Southern California
It is with great excitement—as suggested in the image above, when Santa Monica greeted the first electric car line in 1896—that Santa Monica welcomes the completed, 6.6-mile, $1.5-billion light rail extension of the Expo Line on May 20. Seven new stations link the existing station in Culver City to our Pacific shore.

For the first time in 63 years, it is possible to ride from downtown Los Angeles to the beach and, through Los Angeles’s rail network, to traverse some 40 miles of greater Los Angeles—from Asuza in northeastern Los Angeles County to Santa Monica in western Los Angeles County.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Visions of Los Angeles: Landscape Architect Lawrence Halprin Transforms a City

Bunker Hill Steps, Los Angeles, 2011
Photo by Charles Birnbaum / Cultural Landscape Foundation
"Great cities are not made by automobiles, freeways and high rises. Basically, they are made by open spaces and the people who use the open spaces.”
—Lawrence Halprin, c. 1987
It started in the 1950s with plans to revitalize an impoverished area of downtown Los Angeles. Bunker Hill—settled in the latter half of the nineteenth century—was once a cluster of grand Victorian mansions for the upper class. But as residents sprawled in all directions along with the city’s development in the new century, the area succumbed to poverty and neglect. By mid-century, a massive redevelopment project promised to transform Bunker Hill into a vibrant, modern place of buildings and plazas.

Drawing of Bunker Hill, c. 1870 
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California
(Left) Aerial View over Bunker Hill, 1945 
Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library 
(Right) Carlos Diniz (artist), Overview Rendering of “A Grand Avenue,” 1980 
Lawrence Halprin, A Life Spent Changing Places (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2011) 
Archive of Carlos Diniz / Family of Carlos Diniz
Development continued throughout the following decades. In 1980, a new proposal for revitalization of the Bunker Hill area, known as “A Grand Avenue,” was offered by the Maguire Brothers for a competition sponsored by the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. The Maguire Brothers drew from a diverse group of architects and designers, including the architect Frank Gehry and the landscape designer Lawrence Halprin.

Lawrence Halprin, Bunker Hill Competition, 1980
Lawrence Halprin, Changing Places (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 1986) 
Although Maguire Brothers was not awarded the project, its plan became the foundation of development for the next 12 years. Lawrence Halprin lent his own visions to these public spaces in downtown Los Angeles. “In my case,” he explained in his book A Life Spent Changing Places, “I often found that when I lost one competition or opportunity, another opened up in the same place or with the same client.”

These opportunities took form in four projects: the Crocker Court (now Wells Fargo Court), Bunker Hill Steps, Library Square (now Maguire Gardens), and Grand Hope Park. This linear group of public spaces along Hope Street is described below by Charles Birnbaum, president and founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, in the foundation’s publication What’s Out There Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Open Space Network 
by Charles Birnbaum

These designs are responsive to the topography, embellished with public art, and reflect the context of the region through materials that allude to the natural environment and past cultural influences. They also express Halprin’s impressions of the Southern California landscape and its unique cultural history.

Crocker Court (Wells Fargo Court)
Wells Fargo Court, 2011 
Photo by Charles Birnbaum / Cultural Landscape Foundation
Completed in 1983 with architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and sculptor Robert Graham, the space is Halprin’s only atrium design. Conceived with developer Robert Maguire as “an urban, indoor Garden of Eden,” the interior public space was designed to display Modern sculpture. It is the only Halprin project where the landscape design, including the fountain, is subservient to the sculpture designed by Robert Graham . . . and other artists including Joan Miro and Jean Dubuffet . . . .

The fountains, channels, and runnels provide the sound of running water throughout the garden. Many of the plants have been changed in recent years. They were originally planted in different sizes and scales to one another with the intent of humanizing everything in the room. With this illusionistic goal in mind, Graham was commissioned by Halprin to create four sculptural centerpieces for the fountains. Each sculpture is of the same athletic female figure in different gymnastic stances, slightly smaller than life size.

Lawrence Halprin, Crocker Garden Court, 2009 
Courtesy of Los Angeles Times
Bunker Hill Steps
Lawrence Halprin with a drawing of the Bunker Hill Steps, date unknown 
Lawrence Halprin, A Life Spent Changing Places (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2011)
Completed in 1987 with architects Pei Cobb Freed Partners and developer Robert Maguire, this grand stairway and water garden was designed by Halprin to link downtown Los Angeles to the newly developed Bunker Hill section of the city. Postmodern in style and reminiscent of Rome’s Spanish Steps, the steps are choreographed as an urban experience similar to a city street, complete with terraced landings, retail shops, and outdoor cafes with a range of activities for relaxing, dining, or shopping. The terraces can be accessed by stairs or escalator. A “museum wall,” displaying sculptured grottoes and fountains, bounds the steps on one side while the other side curves around a seven-story building.

The staircases are bisected at the center by a raised, rocky ravine, with water cascading downward to a small basin at Fifth Street. They are edged with flowering trees, shrubs, and perennial plants, which also serve to frame views and screen the escalators. The bronze sculpture Source Figure by Robert Graham was added near Hope Place in 1992.

Top of the Bunker Hill Steps, 2011 
Photo by Charles Birnbaum / Cultural Landscape Foundation
Maguire Gardens (Los Angeles Central Library)
Lawrence Halprin, Design for Los Angeles Library Garden, date unknown
Lawrence Halprin, A Life Spent Changing Places (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2011)
This project is unique in Halprin’s body of work, one of the only projects where a new design also addressed lost historic landscape features from an earlier era. Completed in 1988 with preservation architects Hardy, Holtzman + Pfeiffer, developer Robert Maguire, and several visual artists, the gardens are linked to the Bunker Hill Steps by a pedestrian and mid-block crossing. The space, occupying a former parking lot adjacent to the Central Library, was intended to be a passive public park, with a restaurant, outdoor dining terrace, fountains, pools, overlooks, site-specific public art, and a generous lawn. These elements, Postmodern in style, all contribute to a dignified setting for the iconic Egyptian Revival library building, originally designed by Bertram Goodhue in 1926.

Halprin not only restored and drew inspiration from Goodhue’s stepped reflecting pool, but extended it westward from the Central Library to South Flower Street. Building on this central spine, Halprin employed pools and associated axial walkways to spatially organize new outdoor rooms and guide people’s movements. The art in the garden was designed by Jud Fine (reflecting pools, grotto fountain) and Laddie John Dill with Mineo Mizuno (Font Fountain).

Maguire Gardens, 2011
Photo by Charles Birnbaum / Cultural Landscape Foundation
Grand Hope Park
Grand Hope Park, 2011 
Photo by Charles Birnbaum / Cultural Landscape Foundation
This Halprin-designed 2.5 acre park, completed in 1993 with the Jerde Partnership architects, anchors the southern end of the Network and serves as a gateway to the South Park residential, cultural, and commercial district. The park’s plan also incorporates the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising campus. Unique among the Open Space Network projects, this park’s client was the Community Redevelopment Agency. The center of the rectilinear park is occupied by a large lawn with a curvilinear path and edged by vine-covered pergolas, a children’s playground, and public art. The southern end of the park is more structured, with smaller lawn panels and benches set within wide paved terraces.

Halprin's drawings articulated the locations for art opportunities. This culminated in installations by Lita Albuquerque (Celestial Source for the sunken water court), Adrian Saxe (wildlife figures), Raul Guerrero (Hope Street Fountain and decorative stenciling on pergolas), Gwynn Murrill (coyotes, hawk, snake), Tony Berlant, and Ralph McIntosh. The mosaic-adorned Clock Tower was designed by Halprin.

Grand Hope Park, 2011
Photo by Charles Birnbaum / Cultural Landscape Foundation
“‘Memorable’ and ‘intense’ and ‘passionate’ are words that I prefer to ‘pretty’ when I’m making places for people.”
—Lawrence Halprin, 1991
Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager

  • Bill Boyarsky, “The Remains of Bunker Hill,” LAObserved, February 4, 2015
  • Cultural Landscape Foundation, “What’s Out There Los Angeles”;
  • Lawrence Halprin, A Life Spent Changing Places (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2011)
  • “Los Angeles: Library Restoration Wins National Design Award,” Los Angeles Times, December 9, 1994
  • Valerie J. Nelson, “Lawrence Halprin dies at 93; designer made urban settings feel like nature,” Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2009
  • Leon Whiteson, “A Central, Revitalized Role for Landscape Architects,” Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1989

Join the California Historical Society in Los Angeles for “How Participatory Design Is Changing Los Angeles,” a special event recognizing Lawrence Halprin’s contributions to the city’s public spaces.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
6:00 pm
Gensler Los Angeles
500 South Figueroa Street

A panel discussion led by Alison Bick Hirsch, Assistant Professor at the USC School of Architecture and author of City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America will include a diverse array of architects, designers, planners, and architectural historians: Steve Rasmussen Cancian, Shared Spaces Landscape Architecture and Union de Vecinos; Jennifer Wai-Kwun Toy, Co-founder and Design Director, Kounkuey Design Initiative; Brian Glodney, Associate/Urban Designer, Gensler, Architecture, Design, and Planning Firm; Helen Leung, Co-Executive Director, LA-Más, a non-profit community design organization.

$5 for CHS members, $10 general admission



Learn more about Lawrence Halprin at the California Historical Society’s exhibition Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops, 1966–1971 (January 21–July 3, 2016)—funded by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Foundation, and the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation—and at


The architectural drawings of Lawrence Halprin are preserved at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the leading repositories of architectural drawings and records in the world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bison, Our National Mammal, at Home on California’s Catalina Island

A Male Bison on Santa Catalina Island
Courtesy of; photo by Carlos de la Rosa 
Bison, which once freely roamed the American West, has risen to a new prominence since President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law last week on May 9. The legislation designates the American bison as the national mammal of the United States.

Often confused with buffalo, according to Live Science magazine bison were called “bufello” by early American settlers due to some similarities between the American bison and the Asian and African buffalo species. Native to the Great Plains, American bison found their way to the isolated Santa Catalina Island—a 22-mile island off the coast of southern California—in 1924.

Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California Coast, 2016
Map data © 2016 Google
In the illustrated story below, we celebrate the elevated status of these dark furry mammals in our state and nation. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Golden Spike and the Golden State: Railroading in California

Joseph Hubert Becker (Artist), First Train Coming through the Central Pacific Railroad, c. 1869 (from his sketch The Snow Sheds on the Central Pacific Railroad  in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 1869) 
“The angle from which you view any object, the perspective you bring to any subject, the way you perceive any issue or idea, conditions and regulates your judgment, attitude, or feeling about whatever is under observation. Indeed, everything depends on your point of view.” —Janet Fireman, “From the Editor: Point of View,” Railroaded, California History 89, no. 1 (2011) 
The story of railroads in the West is a complex stew, often fraught with contradiction, where one’s perspective of people, events, and the relative merit of a particular railroad shifts with time.

This month we note the 147th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, at the same that Californians grapple with the benefits—or not—of a new high-speed railroad that will link northern and southern California.