New Year’s Resolution No. 22: Check my hometown newspaper out more often. Included in the Los Angeles Times end-of-year roundup on “The 11 most popular home and garden stories of 2016,” was a piece I had missed that contained some intriguing back story on a house and garden that has been casually mentioned on the blog a couple times. That cool little house I’ve been admiring on countless dog walks happens to have been built by Long Beach’s most famous architect Edward Killingsworth (1917-2004). Never heard of him? I hadn’t either. Unlike other MCM Case Study architects like Eames, Neutra, and Saarinen, Killingsworh hasn’t become a household name. From what little reading I’ve done so far, I get the sense that branding just wasn’t where he focused his energies.
(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
Not that this is a Case Study house, that experiment in residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine in the post-war years.
The Frank House in nearby Naples holds that enduring honor.
Strangely enough, my dog-walk house wasn’t meant to survive at all, but was hastily constructed in the 1950s to function as a temporary design model for a proposed project, the 12-story “Marina Towers.”
The Marina Towers condo project was ultimately abandoned, but Killingsworth couldn’t bear to tear down the little model house, so it was rented for a time then ultimately sold.
Apparently, subsequent rehab attempts were not kind to the architect’s vision.
The above photo shows the view of the house I’m familiar with from the vantage point of dog walks on the park across the street. That Yucca rostrata always catches my eye.
From a December 2013 post:
“What they say about good bones for faces and houses applies to gardens too. Good bones will see you through some tough times. I’ve posted just a couple photos on this sweet little house and garden before. The front facade is entirely of glass, so one can’t be too obnoxious with the camera under such circumstances. But walking Ein on the park across the street from this house a couple days ago, I noticed that the landscape was being worked on, and heaps of aloes and agaves were strewn on the walkways. I gave the leash to Marty and looked closer. The house was empty. No more George Nelson bubble lamps or butterfly chairs on the balcony. The house had sold! And what on earth were the new owners doing to the garden? Did they have a deep-seated aversion to desert plants? If so, I needed to talk to them about those enormous Yucca rostrata ASAP.”
(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
View through the front of house to the offshore oil islands and Bluff Park, where we used to walk the corgi. (Now 14, Ein sticks pretty close to home.)
More from the December 2013 post:
“I am normally not an overly bold person, but I found myself striding across the street and up to a couple of surprised men standing amongst masses of discarded Agave attenuata. It was the new owner and the gardener, who wasn’t removing the plants but merely thinning them. The owner was an architect and loved the house and garden but said both were in terrible shape. He told me he had been seduced by the furniture seen through the glass wall, too, but when it was all removed and he gained ownership of the house, his heart sank. The magic was gone. Now he wondered if he hadn’t made a terrible mistake. The place was a mess and had not been well cared for. Amazing what a spell all the classic mid century modern furnishings had cast, and how well even a neglected desert garden looks after itself. I told him it had always been my favorite house among the much bigger mansions that lined the street opposite the park, and this seemed to brighten him up considerably. He even showed me into the backyard, which was graveled and already had mature privacy screens of clumping bamboo. It was a gem, even if the interior’s cork floors were in terrible shape. The new owner was knowledgeable about plants (clumping vs. running bamboo) and energetic. There might be a few more dragons to slay than he bargained for, but the house and garden would no doubt surpass what was here before.”
(Check out the Los Angeles Times’ slide show on the stressful but ultimately happy renovation here.)
(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
The backyard in 2016.
The new owner/architect I interrupted that day in 2013 was Ted Hyman, a partner in the firm Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects.
He and his wife Kelly found out the house was for sale in 2013. At that point, conventional waterfront real estate wisdom was in favor of a teardown.
But the Hymans resisted the teardown route and embarked on an arduous restoration.
So I have the Hymans to thank for my continued enjoyment of this lovely house and garden on future walks (with me pushing the corgi strapped into his dog walker).
(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
And how does one accomplish a faithful restoration of a home that was never meant to last?
Lots of love and respect for the spirit of the design along with copious research, including a road trip to Santa Barbara to consult the original 7-page plans.
And everything has turned out splendidly. A daughter’s wedding has been held here, and Killingsworth’s widow Laura paid an approving visit, her first since 1958.
Killingsworth’s Opdahl house via Dwell
Killingsworth’s Spalding House via SFCurbed
“It is so good to be in a space where the spirit can soar, and, with all of this, it must soar with the sense of balance and proportion set up by the spaces we create.”
Edward Killingsworth, “Contemporary Architects.”
I’m halfway convinced to fill my vegetable garden this summer with dahlias.
Beans and tomatoes were an epic fail last summer, and though zucchini were OK, I can find them cheap and local.
But these beauties, however, will never be found at the local market. And their cultural needs are perfectly amenable to the vegetable plot:
Floret Dahlia ‘Labyrinth’
Yes, winter marches on, but it will most assuredly end one day. And there you’ll be on a summer day, bitterly regretting the lack of foresight that separated you from armfuls of dahlias.
Dahlias in the kitchen, bedroom, dining room, overflowing from bookshelves. It’s a nice winter’s daydream anyway, isn’t it?
Floret Farm’s dahlias will be available to order in January, so get your pencils sharpened!
Now that garden designer Dustin Gimbel has branched off into ceramics, I can buy a few holiday presents and visit his incredibly inspiring garden.
Coming in the little side gate, there’s this silvery vision of Acacia pendula, faced down by a mature leucospermum loaded with flower buds. A new planting of aloes catches the light.
I still get palpitations every time I visit.
Acacia podalyrifolia on the opposite side of the porch has replaced the Arbutus ‘Marina’ that stubbornly failed to thrive here.
It was uncharacteristically windy today, the first real “weather” we’ve had in Los Angeles, starting off with the previous night’s measurable rainfall.
Note the Acacia podalyrifolia bowing in the wind.
The totem sentinels seem to have proliferated since my last visit, accentuating a really strong, syncopated flow he’s been working on in the front garden with octagonal pavers and festuca.
The view under Acacia pendula, trained beautifully on a rebar arbor, looking down the main path at the front of the house toward the driveway
In this view, to the right of the main path, is where his signature totems congregate.
The small pavers allow for a “custom” journey through the garden, an intimate, immersive engagement with the plants.
Dustin uses berms to build topographical interest into the front garden. The stones to the left rim the berm containing the leucospermum.
At the far end is a berm built up with “urbanite” aka broken concrete, which abuts the driveway. Of course, drainage in the berms is excellent too.
The berm by the driveway, planted with echium, adenanthos, centaurea, kalanchoe, and lots of other treasures.
The dark green ground cover is Frankenia thymifolia.
Luminous Yucca ‘Bright Star’ needs no introduction.
We played around with his new “tinker toy” ceramic pieces in the front garden.
I continually nag him about getting a shop website up for his ceramic pieces. He promised it will happen in the new year.
Wonderful shapes and texture from box balls, grasses, Agave mitis var. albidior through a scrim of dripping acacia.
The Gaudi-esque tinker toys among pavers, grasses, small succulents.
I’m always impressed by the captivating visual power of Dustin’s garden, the compounding effect of the pure geometric, organic shapes and forms he favors.
Just beyond that hedge, it’s almost a shock to the system when the magic quickly dissolves into ordinary sidewalk, street, cars, etc., etc.
Everywhere you look the planting is almost unbearably gorgeous.
In the back garden, I was able to check on the progress of the wood screen which hides the propagation tables.
I gathered my holiday purchases (which must remain a secret for now), very pleased with myself for combining business and inspiration in one visit.
You can find more of Dustin’s ceramics and garden designs on his Instagram feed.
Have a great weekend.
There. How’s that for proof of some holiday spirit stirring? You can keep the poinsettias. I’ll take my holiday colors in the form of Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras.’
And then there was that very festive plant swap meetup this past week with Gail & Kris that helped start the thawing of my holiday-averse heart.
My offering was pups of this variegated Agave bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost.’
Gail (Piece of Eden) brought a sackload of rare plant treats, as did Kris (Late to the Garden Party).
Kris was also entrusted with the solemn duty of dispersing pups from Pam’s whale agave Moby, who passed on in her Austin, TX garden in 2016.
(That’s my very young whale agave also in the photo above, the selection ‘Frosty Blue.’)
This weekend I plan on getting some shopping done at some of the craft fairs that are popping up.
A sure bet looks like the Renegade Craft Fair, especially since it will be held at Grand Park this year. And this Sunday is perfect timing for the Rose Bowl Flea Market too.
If you’re in Long Beach, the source of my ‘Monterrey Frost’ agave was Urban Americana, a great place, btw, for some holiday shopping.
Lots of Bauer and Gainey pottery, including this lust-inducing Bauer Hanging Indian Pot. Maybe Marty will check the blog before the 25th.
Long Beach harbor’s twinkly boat parade this Saturday night always softens me up and gets me in a holiday mood.
And If I stream the semi-holiday-themed movie “About A Boy,” maybe while baking some Molasses Crinkle cookies, I should be just about there.
Have a very merry weekend!
I’ve been up in my rainy “fort,” the open air, half-roofed lookout over the laundry shed, piles of soggy New Yorkers and Gardens Illustrated at my side, overindulging in a reading feast this blessedly stormy weekend. A copy of conversations with Robert Irwin, “seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees” has managed to stay semi-dry, and there’s also an assortment of other stuff I alternately pick up and put down, foraging for some badly needed inspiration. I found a couple pieces on the blog from several years back that coincidentally also feature Mr. Irwin in one guise or another.
photo of lookout/rainy day fort from sunny August 2012. Coincidentally, Amicia zygomeris has been ordered and planted again for 2017
So just a quick hello, wishing you a happy Sunday and offering a couple accounts of some local jaunts in case you’re in need of some rainy day reading as well.
Following is a repost from August 2012 “melianthus at the getty and other controversies.”
The incomparable Herb Ritts and Titian were also at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and some of Marie Antoinette’s hand-me-down furniture too. I think it can be safely said that gardeners are connoisseurs of the perfect moment, and last Sunday was that most exquisite of summer days, not too hot, just senusally warm and breezy, appreciated even more today for the fleeting rarity it was now that this week has brought the first real heat wave we’ve had this summer, along the coast at least. I’ve had such a strong itch to get to a museum lately. Must be all the press about the new *Barnes museum that’s been trickling in since its unveiling this spring in Philadelphia, which I hear includes a garden also, though there’s been little press so far about that. What few photos I’ve seen of the new Barnes’ garden depict a contemplative, austere space, the antithesis of Robert Irwin’s kinetic, kaleidoscopic maze at the Getty Center (to distinguish it from the Getty Villa in Malibu). But the controversy surrounding the new home of the Barnes Foundation reminds me of the raging controversy that Irwin’s garden for the Getty provoked at its unveiling in 1997.
And then there’s art controversies of the compound leafy kind. Here’s the melianthus in question. With those narrow leaflets, it’s definitely not M. major, and I’m inclined to think it’s M. comosus.
One of the lazy assumptions I’m inclined to make, and unfortunately there are many, has been to assume that the other species of melianthus are not really worth growing if you can have M. major, but this one at the Getty might be changing my mind. Slimmer leaflets, not as lush but a little more succulent in feel, create an even stronger rhythmic pattern. I’m pretty sure the dense effect must have been obtained by cutting it back hard, because although it’s reputedly smaller in size than M. major, it does tend toward lankiness. (San Marcos Growers
: “This plant looks best if pruned hard and is often treated more like a perennial than a shrub
The melianthus was planted at the top of the walkway leading down to the maze. This sylvan walkway flanking a tumbling stream is redolent with the fragrance of the London Plane trees lining either side, that strong scent of sycamore which to me will always be the perfume of summer and rivers.
The stream hidden by the London Plane trees runs the entire length of the garden, ending in a dramatic spill into the azalea labyrinth.
At the top, under the dappled shade of the sycamores, the Cor-Ten-bounded walkway plantings are filled with the strong leafy shapes of succulents, begonias, hellebores.
Hirsute Echeveria setosa, silvery dyckias, paddle plant Kalanchoe luciae, and a few blades of ophiopogon, the Black Mondo Grass.
Begonias and variegated ginger
Astelia and persicaria
That lovely sycamore scent eventually gets supplanted by the overpoweringly skunky notes of variegated tulbaghia as you descend down the walkway toward the Central Garden. The mass planting of society garlic shimmering in the shifting light amidst the slender trunks of crepe myrtle trees is an undeniably powerful effect after the complex plantings of the upper walkway.
The improbable azalea maze in blinding full sun. Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ on the left. Purple blur in the distant background on the left is tibouchina, the princess flower, whose leaves were burning in the strong sunlight. The maze garden started looking its best towards closing time
at 5:30 p.m. During the summer, this Getty is open til 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
I can’t say the summer plantings of mostly dahlias were my favorite part of the garden, probably because I had just seen dahlias grown to perfection under the kinder skies of the Pacific Northwest. The effect was more of a shabby cutting garden, but the public seemed happy enough with the results. Irwin’s design calls for these labor-intensive, concentric borders surrounding the azalea pool to provide a triumphant and dizzying swirl of shape and color under a strong Mediterranean sun, and that’s a tall order. I think it’d be fantastic as a semi-desert garden, but the public might call foul. Art critic Christopher Knight had this to say about Irwin’s “folly” when it faced a barrage of criticism at its unveiling over a decade ago, and not for the plantings but for its very existence and the exuberant, almost comic contrast it presented to Meier’s stark, monumental architecture: “The great thing about a garden folly is that it’s, well, a folly. In a world of practical decorum, rationalism suddenly doesn’t apply. When the folly is conceived as the garden itself, rather than a discrete structure within a garden, then be prepared to suspend every expectation
.” (Quote obtained here
On the path behind the massed society garlic, overlooking brugmansias, cannas, and a pomegranate tree to the giant bougainvillea rebar arbors.
Always fascinating to uncover the multiple, shifting perspectives in Robert Irwin’s garden.
This visit I was struck by the sensitive treatment of trees, whether silhouetted against Meier’s exquisite travertine limestone or weeping into clean-swept expanses of decomposed granite, like these California pepper trees.
On the upper terraces closer to the museum, a bank of large pots massed together were planted simply and effectively with tough, scrubby stuff like helichrysum and Pelargonium sidoides.
Museum fatigue usually hits me after an hour or so, but not this day. Even after five hours, I had to be reminded by security guards that the museum was closing and it was time to get a move on. The Herb Ritts photography exhibit closes September 2, 2012.
*Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, is one of the diehard defenders of Albert Barnes’ original vision for his art collection. His review of the relocation of the collection to a new building in Philadelphia includes some helpful context for some of the timeless issues encapsulated in the debate over the Barnes collection: “Typical museums juxtapose art objects according to traditional knowledge categories like period, style or place. Not Barnes. His irreverent inventiveness used formal qualities — physical context, color, line, composition, texture, scale, space, etc. — to jump-start imagination. The result demanded that a visitor look and look hard.”
For more background on the Barnes, here’s a trailer to the controversial documentary entitled “The Art of the Steal.”
More of Robert Irwin’s work at LACMA, from August 2011 “Palms & Lawn” at this link.
(This piece by Jack Handey, which appeared in The New Yorker January 9, 2006, made us laugh just as hard again this morning. Thank you, Mr. Handey!)
This is no game. You might think this is a game, but, trust me, this is no game.
This is not something where rock beats scissors or paper covers rock or rock wraps itself up in paper and gives itself as a present to scissors. This isn’t anything like that. Or where paper types something on itself and sues scissors.
This isn’t something where you yell “Bingo!” and then it turns out you don’t have bingo after all, and what are the rules again? This isn’t that, my friend.
This isn’t something where you roll the dice and move your battleship around a board and land on a hotel and act like your battleship is having sex with the hotel.
This isn’t tiddlywinks, where you flip your tiddly over another player’s tiddly and an old man winks at you because he thought it was a good move. This isn’t that at all.
This isn’t something where you sink a birdie or hit a badminton birdie or do anything at all with birdies. Look, just forget birdies, O.K.?
Maybe you think this is all one big joke, like the farmer with the beautiful but promiscuous daughter. But what they don’t tell you is the farmer became so depressed that he eventually took his own life.
This is not some brightly colored, sugarcoated piece of candy that you can brush the ants off of and pop in your mouth.
This is not playtime or make-believe. This is real. It’s as real as a beggar squatting by the side of the road, begging, and then you realize, Uh-oh, he’s not begging.
This is as real as a baby deer calling out for his mother. But his mother won’t be coming home anytime soon, because she is drunk in a bar somewhere.
It’s as real as a mummy who still thinks he’s inside a pyramid, but he’s actually in a museum in Ohio.
This is not something where you can dress your kid up like a hobo and send him out trick-or-treating, because, first of all, your kid’s twenty-three, and, secondly, he really is a hobo.
All of this probably sounds oldfashioned and “square” to you. But if loving your wife, your country, your cats, your girlfriend, your girlfriend’s sister, and your girlfriend’s sister’s cat is “square,” then so be it.
You go skipping and prancing through life, skipping through a field of dandelions. But what you don’t see is that on each dandelion is a bee, and on each bee is an ant, and the ant is biting the bee and the bee is biting the flower, and if that shocks you then I’m sorry.
You have never had to struggle to put food on the table, let alone put food on a plate and try to balance it on a spoon until it gets to your mouth.
You will never know what it’s like to work on a farm until your hands are raw, just so people can have fresh marijuana. Or what it’s like to go to a factory and put in eight long hours and then go home and realize that you went to the wrong factory.
I don’t hate you; I pity you. You will never appreciate the magnificent beauty of a double rainbow, or the plainness of a regular rainbow.
You will never grasp the quiet joy of holding your own baby, or the quiet comedy of handing him back to his “father.”
I used to be like you. I would put my napkin in my lap, instead of folding it into a little tent over my plate, like I do now, with a door for the fork to go in.
I would go to parties and laugh—and laugh and laugh—every time somebody said something, in case it was supposed to be funny. I would walk in someplace and slap down a five-dollar bill and say, “Give me all you got,” and not even know what they had there. And whenever I found two of anything I would hold them up to my head like antlers, and then pretend that one “antler” fell off.
I went waltzing along, not caring where I stepped or if the other person even wanted to waltz.
Food seemed to taste better back then. Potatoes were more potatoey, and turnips less turnippy.
But then something happened, something that would make me understand that this is no game. I was walking past a building and I saw a man standing high up on a ledge. “Jump! Jump!” I started yelling. What happened next would haunt me for the rest of my days: the man came down from the building and beat the living daylights out of me. Ever since then, I’ve realized that this is no game.
Maybe one day it will be a game again. Maybe you’ll be able to run up and kick a pumpkin without people asking why you did that and if you’re going to pay for it.
Perhaps one day the Indian will put down his tomahawk and the white man will put down his gun, and the white man will pick up his gun again because, Ha-ha, sucker.
One day we’ll just sit by the fire, chew some tobacky, toast some marshmackies, and maybe strum a tune on the ole guitacky.
And maybe one day we’ll tip our hats to the mockingbird, not out of fear but out of friendliness.
If there’s one single idea I’d like you to take away from this, it is: This is no game. The other thing I’d like you to think about is, could I borrow five hundred dollars?
(Author’s Note: Since finishing this article, I have been informed that this is, in fact, a game. I would like to apologize for everything I said above. But please think about the five hundred dollars.) ♦
Ever wonder what Huntington Botanical Garden employees display on their file cabinets?
Luisa Serrano (Crow & Raven) and I got a tiny glimpse when we visited the Huntington in early October.
The rest of these photos come from that visit as well, mostly the desert conservatory and then the new entrance garden, part of my Wednesday vignette hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum.
Some images from my visit to the Los Angeles County Arboretum last weekend.
I love that the botanical garden is big enough that they send jeeps out near closing to offer guests a ride back.
“Lucky” Baldwin’s Cottage emerges as if from an old home movie reel, nestled deep in the Arboretum.
I visited the geese and ducks for quite a while at Baldwin Lake (now at a perilously shallow 24 inches).
And named this palm Narcissus.
Every Wednesday I look forward to the musings of Anna at Flutter & Hum, our host for Wednesday Vignette.