Documenting City and Town Parks

Tower Grove Park, Sailboat Pond, View looking north between balustrades, Saint Louis, MO / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HABS MO,96-SALU,46H–2

The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was created in 2000 to promote documentation of our country’s dynamic historic landscapes. Since 2010, landscape architecture preservation enthusiasts from every state have been challenged to complete at least one HALS short format history to increase awareness of particular cultural landscapes through the annual HALS Challenge competition. The deadline to enter this year’s HALS Challenge, Documenting City or Town Park(s), is July 31, 2017.

This year’s theme was inspired by the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, which was celebrated with the Find Your Park movement to spread the word about the amazing national parks and the inspirational stories they tell about our diverse cultural heritage. Find Your Park is about more than just national parks—it’s also about local parks and the many ways that the American public can connect with history and culture and make new discoveries. With more than 80% of Americans living in urban areas, urban parks are becoming more important than ever.

Three-quarter view from deck level looking southwest, Central Park, Bridge No. 27, HAER NY-193, NY / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HAER NY,31-NEYO,153D–2

As the 2017 deadline for submissions approaches, here’s a look back at past HALS Challenge themes and winners:

2010: Revisiting Cultural Landscapes of Childhood

  1. Glen Echo Park, HALS MD-17, Glen Echo, MD
  2. Enchanted Forest, HALS OR-4, Turner, OR
  3. Sonoma TrainTown Railroad, HALS CA-61, Sonoma, CA

2011: Celebrating Cultural Landscapes of Diversity

  1. Fairview Cemetery, HALS NM-6, Albuquerque, NM
  2. Bush Stadium, HALS IN-6, Indianapolis, IN
  3. Rohwer Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery,  HALS AR-4, Rohwer, AR and Emancipation Park, HALS TX-7, Houston, TX (Tie)

2012: Documenting the American Latino Landscape

  1. Mission San Francisco de Asís, HALS CA-83, San Francisco, CA
  2. El Tiradito, HALS AZ-8, Tucson, AZ
  3. Exemplary communal effort of the HALS Northern California Chapter to document 16 of the California Missions, HALS CA-66; 71-75; & 79-88

2013: Documenting the Cultural Landscapes of Women

  1. Gaiety Hollow, HALS OR-5, Salem, OR
  2. The Arizona Inn, HALS AZ-9, Tucson, AZ
  3. Gypsy Camp for Girls, HALS AR-5, Siloam Springs, AR

2014: Documenting Landscapes of the New Deal

  1. Allegheny National Forest, CCC Camp ANF-1, HALS PA-25, Duhring, PA
  2. Mount Tamalpais State Park, the Mountain Theater, HALS CA-107, Mill Valley, CA
  3. Mount Greylock State Reservation, HALS MA-2, Lanesborough, MA

2015: Documenting Modernist Landscapes

  1. Sunset Headquarters, HALS CA-115, Menlo Park, CA
  2. Marin General Hospital, HALS CA-118, Greenbrae, CA
  3. Union Bank of California Plaza, HALS CA-119, Los Angeles, CA

2016: Documenting National Register Listed Landscapes

  1. Empire Ranch, HALS AZ-19, Greaterville vicinity, AZ
  2. Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, Garden, HALS GA-4, Savannah, GA and Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Commemorative Groves, HALS VA-66, along Potomac River from McLean to Mount Vernon, VA (Tie)
  3. Lincoln Park, Lily Pool, HALS IL-15-A, Chicago, IL

2017 Documenting City or Town Park(s)

Winners will be announced at the HALS Subcommittee Meeting at the 2017 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles.

Skyline Park, HALS CO-1, Denver, CO / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HALS CO-1-19

2017 HALS Challenge Tips

Perhaps the city or town park you choose to document may:

  • be so popular that it is threatened by overuse;
  • be challenged with incompatible additions or updates;
  • suffer from neglect and deferred maintenance;
  • be unnoticed with its significance unappreciated; and/or
  • be documented to encourage its preservation.

Please contact your state ASLA Chapter’s volunteer HALS Liaison if possible when you have selected a site to document for the HALS Challenge to be sure no one else is already preparing a HALS historic report for it. HALS Liaisons’ contact information may be found online. If your chapter’s volunteer HALS Liaison position is vacant, please consider volunteering yourself or suggesting it to a colleague who may be interested.

Short format histories should be submitted to HALS at the National Park Service no later than July 31, 2017. The HALS Short Format History guidelines, brochure and digital template may be downloaded from either the NPS or ASLA HALS websites. NOTE: There are some changes to HALS Challenge rules and MS Word digital HALS Short Form History Template for the 2017 HALS Challenge! These updates are included within the template itself as well as within the 2017 HALS Challenge Brochure. Please read both thoroughly before entering the 2017 HALS Challenge.

Aerial view looking south, Linn Park, HABS AL-926, Birmingham, AL / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HABS ALA,37-BIRM,13–1

The biggest change in the rules is that no more than ten (10) digital photographs may be included at the end of each HALS Challenge entry. These may ONLY consist of digital, existing-conditions photographs taken by the author(s) of the site being documented. Your research should still include analyzing historic drawings and photos of the landscape you are documenting. Historic graphics are often the most important primary source for analytically writing about a historic landscape. Due to complicated copyright restrictions, we are banning the reproduction of all historic graphics within HALS Challenge entries. Historic graphics may still be referenced and described in the text with their repository source named. A thoroughly written analysis is even more useful to readers than a reproduced copy of historic graphic itself, and all copyright issues may be avoided. This is a writing competition!

Suspension Bridge, Boston Public Garden, HAER MA-76, Boston, MA / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HAER MASS,13-BOST,128–1

To Learn More about HALS

As part of the ASLA Online Learning series, the Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (HP PPN) will be hosting a presentation on August 30, 2017 on HALS:

The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS): An Introduction to HALS and the Short Format Historical Report
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. (Eastern)
Presented by Christopher M. Stevens, ASLA, Landscape Architect, HALS, National Park Service

Sign in with your ASLA Member ID and Password to receive the member discount.

$40 for ASLA members, $30 for Associate ASLA members, $20 for Student ASLA members, $165 for non-members

The complete list of documented HALS sites is viewable online, and we are working to get all locations on the map as well, as geographic information is added, with links to the documentation on the Library of Congress’ website:

Documented historic landscapes / image: ASLA

For more information on HALS, contact Chris Stevens, 202-354-2146,

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