The theme of the 6th annual Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Challenge is to document a Modernist Landscape—preferably a site that reflects the unique landscape from the region you live in. Luckily for us Californians, we have much to choose from. Thomas Church, Garrett Eckbo, Lawrence Halprin, Robert Royston and Theodore Osmundson all lived and practiced in the San Francisco Bay Area and created memorable modernist designs. When an email went out announcing the theme of this year’s challenge, one of our HALS Northern California Chapter members responded promptly to alert us that one of Church’s most well known and most visited landscapes is potentially threatened.
If one posed the question, “what one thing has influenced California gardens more than anything?” myriad responses would result. Our varied and generally temperate climate would be one good answer. But upon reflection, I’m certain many would agree that Sunset Magazine has done more to influence how our gardens look, what plants we try, and how creatively we imagine our outdoor living spaces than anything else. Just to prove my point, try Googling Sunset Magazine—78 million hits pop up instantly.
In 1951, magazine owner Larry Lane commissioned local architect Cliff May to design the headquarters building for Sunset Magazine. At the same time, he looked to Thomas Church, the premier local Landscape Architect, to partner with May to design the setting. The result of their collaboration is a powerful representation of idealized California living. Visiting the property, one enters through oversized, wooden double doors into a high-ceilinged and spacious lobby and at the same time into Church’s landscape. Opposite the doors is a glass wall the full length of the lobby, so that upon entering the building one feels they are instantly in the garden.