Chris Pattillo and HALS: Challenge and Legacy

by Chris Stevens, ASLA

Chris Pattillo stands beside first, second, and third place banners for the first annual HALS Challenge, Revisiting Cultural Landscapes of Childhood, at the 2010 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Washington, DC. / image: Chris Stevens

The following article highlights the importance of documenting historic landscapes for perpetuity. For the 13th annual HALS Challenge competition, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) invites you to document Olmsted Landscapes. 2022 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, social reformer and founder of American landscape architecture. By documenting Olmsted landscapes for HALS, you will increase public awareness of historic landscapes and illuminate Olmsted’s living legacy. Any site designed or planned in part or in full by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., his firm, and the firm continued by his sons, John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Junior, is eligible.

In October 2000, the National Park Service (NPS) permanently established the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) program for the systematic documentation of historic American landscapes. The mission of HALS is to record historic landscapes in the United States and its territories through measured drawings, historical reports, and large-format black photographs. The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division preserves the documentation for posterity and makes it available to the general public. The NPS oversees the daily operation of HALS and formulates policies, sets standards, and drafts procedural guidelines in consultation with the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). ASLA provides professional guidance and technical advice through their Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network, thus further encouraging involvement within the profession. Each ASLA chapter has one volunteer HALS Liaison, but chapters that serve multiple states may have one liaison per state. HALS Liaisons, appointed by their chapter presidents, provide technical and other types of assistance to carry out the mission of the HALS program.

The annual HALS Challenge competition for HALS short format historical reports is a valuable tool to fulfilling the HALS mission to record historic landscapes throughout the U.S., identifying and recording sites that otherwise would likely go unrecognized. It benefits the American public by engaging volunteers across the country to produce HALS baseline documentation of significant American landscapes for inclusion in the Library of Congress HALS collection.

Christine “Chris” Pattillo, FASLA, founder of PGAdesign, initiated the first HALS Challenge for the tenth anniversary of HALS in 2010. She wished to stimulate interest in the relatively new program and to get people involved around the country. She knew that if volunteers prepared their first HALS short format historic report and learned about the HALS documentation process, they would likely complete further documentation in the future. Progress had been made in identifying cultural landscapes during the first decade of HALS, but much more work was needed to document these designed and vernacular places.

Chris Pattillo meets with the Northern California HALS Chapter to plan documentation of their region’s wealth of historic landscapes. / image: Northern California HALS Chapter

Chris had been involved with HALS from the beginning. She was one of three founders of the ASLA Northern California Chapter of HALS in 2003 along with Cathy Garrett, ASLA, PGAdesign, and Betsy Flack, ASLA. Chris and the Northern California Chapter of HALS challenged landscape architecture preservation enthusiasts from every state to submit HALS short format historical reports for sites in their states. The National Trust for Historic Preservation generously sponsored first place, second place, and third place prizes the first year, and the NPS has supplied the modest prize money annually for every competition since then.

This first national challenge had a theme of “Revisiting Cultural Landscapes of Childhood,” a call to document cultural landscapes specially designed for youthful enjoyment like theme parks, fairytale parks, amusement parks, kiddy parks, miniature golf courses, playgrounds, etc. Developing a nationwide survey of these unique resources would increase awareness of historic sites created for play. Many American adults feel nostalgia for these landscapes, and this initial HALS Challenge alerted communities to the importance of preserving and interpreting them. Though some child-focused landscapes have been or will be lost, HALS now has some fine records of this much-loved aspect of 20th-century American culture. This first theme caught the imagination of many folks!

Chris Pattillo sprinkled fairy dust and established the first HALS Challenge in 2010, documenting Children’s Fairyland, HALS CA-19, herself. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The competition continues today with a different theme each year to reflect national trends and to encourage folks to document historic landscapes in their states. 2022 marks the 13th annual HALS Challenge with the theme of Olmsted Landscapes. The annual competition has yielded 287 HALS historic reports since 2010, along with many accompanying HALS measured drawings and large-format photographs submitted with some reports for bonus points. The varying themes stimulate interest and focus attention on various pertinent topics including under-represented sites to ensure that the Challenge is inclusive. The reports come from a variety of sources including professionals in the field as well as students, thus engaging the next generation of landscape preservationists.

The popular HALS Challenge has invigorated the volunteer HALS Liaison network within each of the ASLA Chapters to further encourage HALS activity in their regions. University professors from schools like the University of Arizona, the University of Arkansas, and Clemson University / College of Charleston use the HALS Challenge as a documentation teaching tool each year, having their students prepare and submit award-winning entries. ASLA hosts the presentation of the award at their annual Conference on Landscape Architecture, adding to the profile of the award and the HALS program in general.

HALS Challenge Themes:

  • 2010 – Revisiting Cultural Landscapes of Childhood
  • 2011 – Landscapes of Diversity
  • 2012 – American Latino Landscapes
  • 2013 – Cultural Landscapes of Women
  • 2014 – New Deal Landscapes
  • 2015 – Modernist Landscapes
  • 2016 – National Register Listed Landscapes
  • 2017 – City and Town Parks
  • 2018 – Memorialization, Commemorating the Great War’s 100th Anniversary
  • 2019 – Historic Streetscapes
  • 2020 – Vanishing or Lost Landscapes
  • 2021 – Historic Black Landscapes
  • 2022 – Olmsted Landscapes

Chris Pattillo received the high honor of being inducted as a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2012 in Phoenix. The Northern California Chapter nominated her in the service category for her visionary, advocative, creative, and administrative leadership in HALS:

“Her drive and organizational skills have moved HALS to the forefront of landscape preservation in California and the United States at large. Her creative and focused efforts to build the network—and increase widespread awareness of the importance of cultural landscapes and high-quality HALS documentation—have moved the resource to an international level of high regard. Practicing what she professes, her firm, PGAdesign, has completed the single largest HALS set in the United States: San Francisco’s Doyle Drive, which traverses the Presidio. She holds a BA and MLA from UC Berkeley.”

Paul Dolinsky, former NPS HALS Chief, joined Chris Pattillo at her 2012 FASLA investiture that recognized her service to HALS. / image: courtesy of Chris Pattillo

Chris served on the ASLA HALS Subcommittee for two decades, serving as the National HALS Coordinator for part of her tenure. For more than a decade, she also served as the HALS Liaison for the Northern California ASLA Chapter. She surprised everyone at the January HALS Subcommittee meeting by humbly mentioning that she was retiring from her official HALS advisory roles to pursue other interests.

The national HALS community at ASLA and the NPS wishes to thank and commend Chris Pattillo and her colleagues at the Northern California HALS Chapter and at PGAdesign for helping to build the HALS program from the ground up and for preparing a tangible legacy of historic landscape documentation for posterity.

Chris has served as the historian, delineator, and/or project manager for 50+ HALS documentation projects. You may view them at the links below:

Chris Stevens, ASLA, is Senior Landscape Architect, Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS), National Park Service; past chair of the ASLA Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (PPN), and past ASLA HALS Subcommittee Chair / Coordinator.

For more information on the 2022 HALS Challenge, Olmsted Landscapes, please see this previous post. July 31, 2022 is the deadline for submissions.

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