Delle Willett | Art on the Land
The joy of being a landscape architect is having opportunities to do so many different types of projects, from private homes to entire communities. San Diego is filled with gardens and parks designed to commemorate veterans, fishermen, cancer-survivors, and city founders. Here are three examples in the heart of San Diego.
Situated near the corner of Laurel and Sixth, Founders’ Plaza is a generous gift to the citizens of San Diego from a local family who wanted to pay tribute to Alonzo Horton, Ephraim Morse, and George W. Marston, the three visionary men who dreamed of a city park that would provide enjoyment and recreation for its citizens.
The plaza serves as an entrance feature to Balboa Park, located so that the majority of park visitors would have direct access to its use, and it provides interpretive opportunities to learn about the accomplishments of these three individuals who gave of their time and money to establish this great park, initially called “City Park.”
KTU+A’s Michael Theilacker (FASLA) designed Founders’ Plaza. Now retired, he was challenged to find the most suitable site for a plaza that would meet the project’s objectives.
He was also responsible for the creative site design and layout of the founders’ sculptures in a setting that placed these men in an intimate relationship with the visitors and the park.
Theilacker’s additional assignments were the creation of a quiet, reflective lily pond, contemplative seating, and selection of natural materials and special graphics.
His leadership role was a significant contribution toward the promotion of creativity and education in the public’s interest.
The sculptures are the creative work of local sculptor, Ruth Hayward, who intensively researched the subjects to assure their historic accuracy. The posing of her sculptures adds an interactive element into the life of the plaza.
The landscape planting was organized to represent the various time periods that the founders were involved in establishing Balboa Park.
The plant arrangement begins with the native plant materials that were found in the area at the time Horton and Morse were initiating their work, and progresses to the later time of Marston and the many unique and colorful plants that were introduced into the park throughout his life.
About the Founders: In 1868, Alonzo Horton and Ephraim Morse were assigned the responsibility of identifying lots for a suitable public park. They identified nine vacant pueblo lots (1,400 acres) on the outskirts of town to be established for the park. This was a remarkable action, since only 2,300 people lived in San Diego at the time.
George Marston was appointed to the Park Improvement Committee in 1902, along with Kate Sessions, the “mother of Balboa Park.”
Ephraim Morse held a variety of public offices, but his support and commitment to the parklands he identified are his greatest and most enduring legacy.
In 1871, when local land-grabbers produced a state bill to reduce the size of public parklands to establish more land for private use, Alonzo Horton traveled to Sacramento to defend a petition signed by 366 prominent San Diego citizens demanding protection and preservation of the park.
This action merits his identification as one of Balboa Park’s first founders and one of its greatest protectors. His commitment and protection of the park continued throughout his life.
George Marston personally funded the park design and hired the former superintendent of Central Park, Samuel Parsons, Jr. This action allowed the funds raised by the public to be used for park improvements and provided the impetus needed to make the park a reality.
In July 1903, park construction began at Sixth Avenue and Date Street. George Marston was there to provide leadership and direction. His devotion, vision, leadership and financial support were an inspiration to those who followed to continue his legacy into the future.
Veteran’s Memorial Garden
Designed by David Reed, Landscape Architects with AVRP Studio, this 1.1-acre garden in Balboa Park celebrates the contributions to our freedom made by our veterans.
The design is comprised of three components: land, air and sea gardens, united by a central gathering place and a small amphitheater.
The design of the Veteran’s Circle represents the principles of honor, duty and country. Quotes from past presidents are inlaid with bronze letters in colored terrazzo paving.
An 18-foot bronze replica of the B-24 Liberator Bomber hovers above a reflecting pool, which mirrors the night sky often used by navigators during nighttime bombing runs. During the height of WWII, San Diego was churning out 100 of these bombers a week.
The amphitheater, made from local cobble and concrete, can seat up to 50 visitors for docent talks. A row of flags representing all branches of service and POW/MIAs flies high above the walk that joins the Veterans Center to the garden.
Accessible routes were designed from three directions. Five bronze plaques tell the story of the garden, its donors and the B-24s and bomb groups who donated to the garden.
Visitors are greeted by rows of red and white border roses, accented by cobalt blue Agapanthus in waves resembling our national flag. The poppy garden, designed with Flanders Poppies, the symbol of veterans’ organizations, brings a sense of annual renewal. The design required landscaping to be careful set around seven, large existing Podocarpus trees, all over 70 years old.
Designed by landscape architect Marty Schmidt, ENVIRONS, the Piazza Basilone was designed for the Little Italy Association 10 years ago.
The piazza is one of the first urban plazas or parklets to be implemented in California, where streets and small right-of-way areas are converted into public spaces or parklets.
Piazza Basilone is a war memorial to the residents of Little Italy who served or lost their lives during both World War II and the Korean War.
It’s also a personal memorial, named after the highest-decorated Italian-American from WWII, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone.
Basilone was a member of the United States Marine Corps who received the nation’s highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for heroism during the Battle of Guadalcanal in WWII. He was the only Marine enlisted man to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross in WWII.
The piazza is at the intersection of Fir and India streets. It was created by first narrowing Fir Street into a one-way street between India and Columbia streets, and then adding additional parking for the neighborhood.
Challenges included relocating some utilities and working with the fire department to be sure fire trucks and other safety vehicles had access through the streets if needed. Approvals through the city took 18 months to pass muster. It took another 12 months to get it constructed.
Plantings around the piazza include Mediterranean-climate plant material, including an olive tree (a symbol of peace), grape vines, and roses. Throughout the piazza, Italian hardscape materials were incorporated into the design.
Pride of the community, the piazza functions as the centerpiece for the association’s Festa! — an Oct. 12 celebration — as well as Art Walk, and other major events. On any day, residents and visitors to Little Italy find a place to sit and watch the world go by in the piazza’s amphitheater or on the café seating.
The Little Italy Association recently completed a renovation on the piazza and rededicated the park. It also has plans for more parklets throughout Little Italy.
“When we did this project, it was the first of its kind to develop a public roadway into a ‘parklet’, which is now in vogue, and numerous municipalities are following suit to create green opportunities wherever possible for the public,” says Schmidt.
—Delle Willett has a 30-year history of designing, writing, and marketing. She is currently PR advisor to the American Society of Landscape Architects, San Diego chapter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.