Make City Park Paradise of the South July 5, 1910

July 5, 1910, II, 9:1-3


Samuel Parsons Makes Lengthly Report to Civic Commission; Wants More Trees Planted

After several days of exhaustive study of the various municipal parks of San Diego, plans for their beautification have been evolved by Samuel Parsons, landscape architect, under whose control is the entire parking system of the city of New York.

The trip from New York to San Diego made recently by Mr. Parsons was his second for the same purpose. His reports and recommendations, while commending the work already accomplished and complimenting the San Diego climate, provides for monster improvements all along the line, and lays out a system of improvement which is admitted by all to look toward perfection in the most minute detail.

The text of the report follows:

San Diego, Ca., June 30, ’10

To the Board of Park Commissioners, San Diego, California

Gentlemen: In accordance with your request, I have undertaken a careful examination of the following parks of San Diego, namely: the City park, the park at Old Town and the park at La Jolla, and desire to submit the following report:

In view of the study I have given the City park during the life of George Cooke, with whom I had originally associated myself in preparing plans I returned with much expectancy to a consideration of the work you have done during my absence.

Opportunities Unsurpassed

The opportunities for park making afforded by the unsurpassed climate of San Diego and the wonderful scenic advantage of its parks, led me to expect much. It is now five years since I have seen the City park. Yet, notwithstanding the fact that I had already observed during other visits something of the marvelous rapidity of the growth of vegetation in San Diego, I must confess that I have never seen anything like it. So rapid a transformation of the appearance of a park surface as that along the drive leading from Date street to Upas street, and in the neighborhood of Golden Hill and Twenty-eighth street, is a revelation to me, and I have had unusual opportunities of seeing parks in Europe and America.

But, although you have already accomplished wonders in park making at astonishingly small cost, it is to be hoped that you may be able to do even better in the future, with the assistance of previous experience and a more liberal supply of money. With the hope that they may prove helpful in carrying on future work, I desire to present you, as preliminary to more detailed notes, some general observations which I have been able to make after several days’ study of City park.

Adhere to Principles

In all landscape work, no matter how detailed and complete this study has been, new and unexpected conditions may at any time arise, forcing a revision of the original scheme. The wise thing to do in such cases is to adhere to the broad underlying principles of the plan, and modify only the minor features. It is surprising to find after one assumes this attitude, how much of the important part of the design can be retained, and in no place will this apply with more force than in San Diego. There is one good broad scheme of treatment, which can always safely be adhered to in the midst of many modifications of the original plan, and that is to plant the ridges and promontories with as high-growing suitable trees as can be found, and the low sides of the gulches or canyons with comparatively low shrubbery or bushy trees. It is well to keep all trees some little distance from the bottom of the canyons, occupying its lowest parts with vines of very low shrubbery, so as to secure as deep an effect as possible. This effect of deepness will also be increased by leading the tall pines and eucalyptus over the edge of the slope, straggling just a little downwards.

All this makes for picturesqueness and striking park scenery. For instance, all the high places of the San Diego City park should be planted with eucalyptus, pepper trees, acacias and Casuarinas. Or, on the same places could be used pines — P .Canariensis, P. Pinea, P. Muricata, and cypresses — C. Gaudaloupensis, and the ordinary Italian form, for a certain sense of park fitness prevents one from using the two classes intermixed, just as one avoids employing in the east, deciduous trees with conifers.

To Frame Picture

Another effective scheme of treatment for these as well as other parks, is to frame the picture. That is, emphasize and mark out the boundaries of the park domain with large trees like the sugar gum (E. Corynocalyx) and E. Citriodora planted not less than 150 feet apart, and in some cases even 300 feet, the distance to be determined by the character of the surrounding scenery. The eucalyptus, like all park trees, have their limitations; in other words, are rapid growing, like our eastern willows, and often exhibit naked stems and more or less ungainly forms, but the lofty grace of such kinds as E. Citriodora and sugar gums is unique in its way and especially valuable in the San Diego landscape. To overcome this weakness of the appearance of their stems, it is only necessary to surround the group, or better still, intermingle with the trees such trees as peppers, acacias — A. Baileyana, A. Floribunda, and A. Latifiola, Leptospermum, Levigatum, the bushy E. Cornuta Lehmani, etc.

I would like to say a word about the idea of using blue grass sod for the park. It is doubtless expensive, but it is not altogether the expense that makes me hesitate to advocate its general use. The fact is that it does not seem to produce an effect that really harmonizes with the general appearance of the country in Southern California. Reds and blues and the yellows predominate everywhere and the greens themselves are apt to shade off into other tints. Why not, therefore, use the native vines, the ice plants or Mesembryanthemums, in great variety, the Tecomas, the Bougainvillea, the lippia, and a number of other vines and native grasses. If properly planted, most of the ground of the park will be eventually covered with trees and shrubs, and only the borders of the paths and roads and occasional small places will need covering with such creeping plants.

In confirmation of the wisdom of the original scheme of planting a large distance apart, it is interesting to see how, after only four or five years of growth, the trees occupy already a great part of the considerable space of 25 to 30 feet allowed for their development.

Leave Borders Cleared

Care should be taken to avoid planting the borders of drives and walks with high trees so completely as to prevent sufficient outlook down the hollows of the canyons and out to the scenery beyond. Naturally, if any planting of trees is done, a certain amount of shutting off must occur, but the distant views are really more startling and impressive when seen bursting on one after a short period of eclipse. In like manner, the views down the canyons will be more attractive when framed with tall trees rising above and shutting them in , and then suddenly giving an open outlook.

One more general observation should always be borne in mind in all park making and particularly in San Diego, where, after all, the conditions are especially difficult on account of the light rainfall; which is, that a list of trees and shrubs to be successful for park making increases in value almost in the ratio of its smallness. In the east it has been said by good authorities that a park can be better planted with 12 deciduous trees, 12 deciduous shrubs, and 12 conifers, than with a greater number; for myself, it seems that the list would even then be too large. If you will think of it in the light of the experience of the last five years, would not the park have been better off and more economically maintained if there had been used a small number of trees — at least if some that had been used had been left out? A few of these which seem to me to be both beautiful and hardy are two or three species of eucalyptus and pepper trees, three or four acacias, Casuarinas, sumachs, Canary pines, Muricats, pines, Arizona cypress, Guadaloupe cypress, and Cedrus Deodara. On the other hand, the following might well be dispensed with in future planting: the Monterey cypress, the tree Grevilleas, the Blackwood acacias and similar kinds, which have not been quite satisfactory. The park is not a botanical garden or experimental station, but a spot of great natural beauty, which it is desired to make accessible by roads and paths, and ornament with trees and shrubs in the most economical and effective manner possible.

Suggestion may be shocking

If you would allow me, I would like to make another general recommendation that may at first shock. But you will have to meet the question and solve the problem eventually, and why not now? There are trees in various parts of the park that must be cut down, because either they do not suit the place or they are more of less worthless through decay or other causes. They will go eventually. They will have to be replaced by better and more fitting things. Why not have done with them now, once and for all?

As soon as possible, it will be well to develop more roads in the park with a special view to their scenic effect. Thus far roads and paths have been made largely to lead somewhere; in other words, to serve chiefly a useful purpose in going from a street on one side of the park to another street in a more or less distant region, where the home or place of business lies, or that of some neighbor; or to a golf field or athletic grounds. It is high time, however, to secure an approach to and develop more scenery like that of the Golden Hill section, where winding walks and drives run along the contours out to the extreme ends of the promontories, and one can look far away, down the canyons and over to the mountains and bay. In order to enjoy these views, it is a good idea to leave wide enough spaces between the groups of lofty trees that are planted on these eminences. There are a dozen or more promontories in the park that could be circled by winding contour drives with the result, when the planting has been done, of acquiring some of the finest panoramic effects in Southern California. As one studies the park more and more, one realizes what can be done in the way of development, but I am sure no one as yet has formed any adequate conception of the richness and beauty its scenery will display when once it reaches completion. The most vivid imagination, coupled with the utmost knowledge of parks, would fall far short of gaining a true conception of its full beauty. There is nothing with which to compare it. Nowhere in California, or in other semi-tropical countries, has such a well-organized undertaking absorbed the interest of the people. A world’s fair, astonishing and impressive as it may be, with its effective showing of the accomplishments of art and science, could never in the long run satisfy a city with its permanent results as would a fully developed park like that of San Diego.

Plea for Water Pipes

A strong plea for more water pipes on the park, I feel constrained to make. Any larger scheme of planting in the future would require a much larger water supply. At present the supply of water on the park is inadequate for the needs of the trees. Sight should never be lost of the importance of irrigation, for it lies at the bottom of all success in tree planting in this climate. This may seem a somewhat odd and trite remark, but I believe it needs repetition, for I find a tendency, even in San Diego, to think this or that tree will do well without water. This is not true. Some trees will stand better than others, but no tree will thrive well without water, especially when it is young.

And now, having considered some general ideas and experience in connection with the City park, let us take up a more detailed examination of the accompanying maps which I have prepared to explain more in detail the results of my study.

Sheet No. 1. In the neighborhood of Upas street, the plantations are somewhat gloomy and uninteresting in effect. There should be several trees removed at the end of the walk, where it touches Sixth street, and in their place should be planted bright colored peppers. To the rear of these in any opening close by that will permit it, should be set several eucalyptus. The actual removal of trees need not extend back more than 70 feet from the street, but there are several places where there is enough space to set out a pepper tree or a eucalyptus to give a better character to the growth of the region. Along Upas street in several openings, it would be well to plant specimens of Acacia Baileyana; and, opposite Seventh street, some more peppers. Following out the general scheme of outlining the boundaries of the park with sugar gums, there are three more trees planted between each street, about fifteen feet inside; a tree in front of each of the cross streets, and one half-way between. This arrangement is intended to extend, with certain variations depending on local condition, all around the park.

Several Promontories

On the east side of the drive as far as Quince street, the several promontories have already been planted to a considerable degree. They are given more character by using, in one case, E. Citriodora to lift the plantation higher. On another promontory, the strange forms of the Casuarina are used, to give a variety of effect where there are sufficient Eucalyptus to give the desired height. At intervals along the drive it will be seen that peppers are introduced to vary the somewhat somber appearance of that region. Across Pound canyon, nearly opposite Upas street, are arranged a number of Italian cypress to change radically the character of the planting in that region, and further south, opposite Spruce street, on the far side of Pound Canyon, many E. Citriodora, and, outside the group, peppers extending to the end of the promontories and somewhat down the steps.

Opposite Quince street, bordering on the winding drive running down into Pound canyon, is a high promontory on which has been placed a group of Guadaloupe cypress. The banks of this promontory, extending down to the drive, are especially raw and steep. It would be well to plant on the surface Mesembryanthemums.

Sheet No. 2. Opposite Olive street and just above is located a group of Pinus Canariensis, which is intended to extend somewhat down the slope toward the drive passing at that point. A little further down, on a high promontory overlooking a considerable stretch of Pound canyon, is a group of sugar gums surrounded by pepper trees. Somewhat further to the west and directly adjoining the boulevard is another group of sugar gums with a border of camphor trees. This group extends from Maple to Nutmeg streets.

Group of Sugar Gums

On another promontory, looking over Pound canyon, opposite Laurel street, is another group of sugar gums, bordered by a plantation of E. Cornuta Lehmani. Going southward to another point, we find still another group of sugar gums, but these are surrounded by Acacia Baileyana, with a straggling narrow group of Acacia Baileyana leading to the sugar gums bordered with E. Cornuta Lehmani.

Near Juniper street, running close to the east slope of the western boulevard, comes an irregular group of peppers. At the west corners of the boulevard, where it joins Juniper streets, are two groups of E. Cornuta Lehmani, and here and there bordering Juniper to Sixth street are several pepper trees to thicken and brighten the foliage at this point.

The treatment of Mulvey canyon extending from Juniper to Fir streets requires a good deal of planting along the slopes, leaving the extreme bottom comparatively unchanged, except by encouraging the natural growths of sumach and other wild shrubs. In the neighborhood of Juniper street, it is intended to plant around the steps a considerable mass of Acacia Baileyana. Along the borders of the canyon at intervals, the usual practice of planting sugar gums 150 feet apart is employed. Near Fir street several more sugar gums are used in order to shut out unsightly objects.

In front of Hawthorn street, extending across the canyon, are planted pepper trees. About half way up the slope of the west side of the canyon, and on both sides of the canyon in the spaces left open between the other planting, are used a number of Acacia Baileyana to correspond with similar acacias on the west side of the boulevard. At intervals among these acacias are located groups of sugar gums, especially near Juniper street. On the promontory extending out opposite Juniper street over the Pound canyon are planted a group of rubber trees, and among these are specimens of sugar gums to life [sic] the appearance of the entire group.

Find Acacia Baileyana

Going southward, we find on a neighboring promontory sugar gums and peppers and along the east side of the adjacent drive are a number of Acacia Baileyana. Still further to the south on another promontory are a number of sugar gums with pepper trees, and over the slope on the steep borders of the next canyon, opposite Fir street, are groups of Canary pines, and again on the further side of the same canyon are more of the same species. Nearing the adjacent drive, screening the head of the canyon, are a number of Acacia Baileyana. Around the children’s playground and across the junction of the two adjacent drives are pepper trees, and on a higher slope between the two drives to the north are sugar gums and a few pepper trees.

Coming up from Pound canyon in the neighborhood of Tenth street and so on around the children’s playground are more peppers. On the higher ground to the southeast are Canary pines. On both sides of Date street, three feet from the edge of the curb, are pepper trees, in no case directly opposite each other; and on the park side, among the trees in open spaces in the park and not on the sidewalk, are planted more peppers to increase the general effect of that tree. At intervals on either side of the curving walk, enclosing the space between Seventh and Ninth streets, near the children’s playground, are planted at irregular intervals, about sixty feet apart, pepper trees; and in each of the corners near Seventh and Ninth streets are added more peppers to strengthen the effect at these points.

Sheet No. 4. All the territory in the park near the entrance of Eleventh street, and extending to Date street on the north and Twelfth street on the east, having been planted with eucalyptus, peppers are used to make a border in front of them and mask the naked character of their stems.

Groups of Live Oaks

In a small canyon running along the border of the drive leading from the Pound canyon road at Eleventh street to the central boulevard, is to be planted a grove of live oaks, filling the entire hollow of the canyon. At the same time it is proposed to encourage the growth of sumachs and plant more of them. This grove is intended to be a memorial of the late Mr. George Cooke, landscape architect and former superintendent of parks.

The hill to the southwest of the high school is planted with a mass of sugar gums and pepper trees, with a group of E. Cornuta Lehmani and nearer still to the high school is a group of Guadaloupe cypress. Going down the road toward the Women’s home, we find a large part of the territory planted and in the neighborhood of the junction of the central boulevard, sugar gums with peppers along the drive, and a little further, on both sides of the road, are groups of Acacia Baileyana. Below the next junction with the Women’s home road are groups of peppers and eucalyptus. Along the south boundary between Russ high school and the Women’s home is planted an irregular mass of sugar gums and peppers, with the peppers inside looking toward the park. Entering at Eighteenth street, we find soon after passing the first road, that there are large open spaces between the gum trees. In these have been planted a considerable number of sugar gums and peppers.

Sheet No. 5. Starting at the Eighteenth street entrance and following along the road, I have used a lot of pepper trees which should be backed up along the outside boundary of the park adjoining the city with a number of sugar gums. At Twenty-fourth street, along the boundary, are fecting [sic] the mass of Monterey pines continuing along the ridge and perfecting the mass of Monterey pines above. Continuing further up the drive on the entire bare hillsides opposite Twenty-first and Twenty-third streets are planted a large group of sugar gums with peppers around the outskirts. On the level of this territory is a dry course of a winding stream over which has been erected a wooden bridge connecting a path from the Golden Hill section across to the center of the park. This bridge is planted along either side and along a considerable portion of the path nearby with wild sumach (Rhus-Laurina).

Keep Out of Certain Tract

It is the idea to keep out of this large level tract presentations (?) of eucalyptus and other lofty growing trees, confining the character of the growth to comparatively low shrubbery like sumachs, wild mahogany, Christmas holly, and Australian salt bushes. If the supply of water were sufficient, it would be good idea to have a large patch of alfalfa planted on these meadows, with outlying masses of sumach and other wild plants. This low wild shrubbery should be continued up the bottoms of all the neighboring canyons; in fact, all the bottoms of the canyons throughout the park should be planted with either vines or low shrubs of this character.

It is especially important to encourage by watering and cultivation all the native growths on the sides and in the hollows of the canyons.

Near the wooden bridge, on the main drive, is a stone bridge made of cement and cobbles. It is the idea to cover this entirely with vines such as the Ficus ripens and plant in the neighborhood a mass of Acacia Baileyana. Continuing up the grade on the steep banks, should be planted the usual lot of sumachs, and on the top of the promontory the usual mass of eucalyptus and peppers.

Sheet No. 6. The most interesting new feature of road-making and planting suggested on this sheet is a drive extending on either side of the high plateau, winding around the bold promontory and enclosing the large level athletic field. This drive being high, is planted with the usual peppers and sugar gums. This specimen of park treatment is similar in theory to that of Golden Hill section and should be carried out on many other sections of the park, thereby adding to its scenic character.

Plants in Canyon

Between Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eight streets is a shallow canyon and around this are planted in the usual way eucalyptus and peppers. As usual, the boundaries of this territory are marked with tall-growing eucalyptus. The borders of Twenty-eight street, running north from the southerly boundary of the park, are planted with mingled masses of peppers and eucalyptus.

The Golden Hill Territory is already planted with great beauty and picturesqueness, but there are certain points in it that can be improved. On two promontories, one looking north and the other looking west, it would be a good idea to plant on the slopes and the other looking west E Cornuta Lehmani. On the point and down the slope are to be planted Arizona cypresses.

Sheet No. 7. This sheet shows the bordering plantations of eucalyptus and peppers extending from Date street to Juniper and a little beyond, so as to mass the planting on both sides of the entrance. The main part of this sheet is occupied by a continuation of the promontory plantation on the other sheet, which includes the athletic grounds and gives an indication of the way in which the high promontories of the park should be encircled by drives and planted with lofty-growing trees.

The importance of adopting a name for the park has impressed me with renewed force during my present visit to San Diego. To call it the “city park” means nothing because all the park reservations are city parks. Some name that is distinctive, euphonious and that suits Southern California is what is wanted. There has been much discussion and many names have been suggested. It is not an unploughed field. Why not meet the question fairly now and settle it? There can be no better time. I would suggest the name of “Cabrillo Park.” It is distinctly euphonious and applies distinctly to this country, for was not Cabrillo even more the discoverer of San Diego than Columbus was the discoverer of America?

Fix Up La Jolla Park

La Jolla Park. The park at La Jolla is a bit of brown sand by the sea, comparatively level and about three acres in extent. The original plan has been partly carried out and I would suggest that the development be continued on the same lines, except as to the kinds of trees and shrubs. Experience has taught us much about the planting of this park. Close proximity to the seashore is trying to most trees and shrubs and for that reason many kinds have failed here. The cypresses, however, do well in such exposed places, as proven by the picturesque and vigorous Monterey specimens growing in one or two parts of the park. Even better than the Monterey cypresses, perhaps, are the Guadaloupe and Italian forms, and also the Arizona cypress, which is especially hardy wherever it has been tried. These cypresses are intended to be the chief attraction of La Jolla park. A number of the Halipensis pines also find acceptable employment. Perhaps the most satisfactory of the plants suited to this park are the lower-sized kinds, such as the Tamarisk, deciduous a very little while, which, everywhere around the world, loves the ocean. Then there is also the Australian salt bush, always vigorous in such places, the Pittisporums and the lovely Coprosomos Brewerii, with shining leaves. Wherever the trees do not occupy the ground of the park, the various beautiful kinds of Mesembryanthemums should be used, for they do particularly well on the seashore. There are other vines, like the Bougainvillea, that can also be used with success in such places. Many forms of cacti might be made to do excellent work on these seaside banks.

Along the southern side of the park is a boulevard, from which a wide opening across the lawns to the sea is carefully retained. Here, large beds of brilliant flowers are maintained. One of the best kinds that can be used for this exposure is the Agapanthus Lily, the great sky-blue flowers of which bloom a long time and give life and variety to the scenery. A park by the seashore, with cottages around it, welcomes the color of brilliant flowers provided they are properly arranged.

Old Town Plaza

Old Town Plaza. The historic interest and peculiar Mexican atmosphere which pervades Old Town, not only because the Ramona homestead is there, but also because the little group of buildings is largely Mexican in character, makes it difficult to treat the plaza in a sympathetic manner. It is a place where it would be easy to do too much and violate the harmony of the scenery which establishes the real value of the little town. Its fashion is that of the beginning of things in San Diego and it would be well if this atmosphere could be preserved to the end. There ought to be an understanding, of, if possible, a restriction of the character of all buildings hereafter erected in Old Town within a certain radius of the Ramona homestead, so that they could show the Mexican spirit. Adobe or cement walls, and flat roofs with perhaps tiles, or, at least, unpainted shingles should be used. It ought not to be difficult to do this, as the Mexican mission style of architecture is growing in favor all over California. When this idea is once accepted and enforced it ought to be easy to secure the removal of the more modern houses and have them replaced by new buildings designed in the appropriate style. Having designated the old Mexican scheme of architecture, one feels constrained also to insist on a similar restriction in respect to the character of park treatment. It is hardly a park, but a simple Mexican place or plaza, where people for various reasons gather together. Consequently, I am going to ask you to keep it as simple as possible — just the old-time space with a large well or pool in the center twenty feet wide, made with three-foot walls of rough coated cement two and one-half feet high, resting on a sandstone base perhaps six inches above the ground. This will give room for people to come together around the well or pool. The boulder with inscription could be lifted a little higher on its base so as to show above the water and be left there, or it could be moved with the flag staff just outside the pavement around the well. Across the square or plaza should run paths ten feet wide, both the long and short way of the plot, paved with the large old-fashioned Mexican brick. These paths should simply end at the extreme confines of the lot. In the four corners should be set sugar gums and peppers and also on either side of the entrance to the brick paths, with four more sugar gums along the boundaries as shown on the accompanying maps. Just enough trees are used to give a little shade, for the Mexicans were not given to trees in their squares. They seemed to want the open space.

Mission Hills Park. This park consists in large part of a deep ravine of a very picturesque character. I would suggest that two roads be led along the contours, on reasonably easy grades, to connect Washington street with Stephens Boone street and Randolph street. The conformation of the sides of this park suggests the use of live oaks on either side of the road, as shown on the accompanying map. Sumach and other wild-looking growths should be encouraged on the slopes below the oaks. Along the borders of the Catholic cemetery should be planted sugar gums with pepper trees in front of them looking toward the park. This treatment should also extend along the east side of the park.

SAMUEL PARSONS, Landscape Architect

List of trees and shrubs with numbers applying to accompanying sheets.

1. Camphor tree

2. Italian cypress

3. Torrey pine

4. Guadaloupe cypress

5. Blackwood acacia

6. Pinus Canariensis

7. Pinus Halipensis

8. Acacia Floribunda

9. Cedar of Lebanon

10. Casuarina Equisietifolia

13. Eucalyptus Polanthema

14. Ficus Nitida

17. Schinus Molle (Pepper tree)

18. Ficus Rubignosa (Rubber)

19. Eucalyptus Corynocalyx (Sugar gum)

21. Pinus Pinea

24. Eucalyptus Citriodora

25. Acacia Mollisaima

26. Cedrus Deodora

28. Eucalyptus Sideroxylon

31. Cupressus Arizonicum

35. Eucalyptus Cornuta Lehmani

36. Cupressus Fastigiata (Italian cypress)

37. Pinus Muricata

38. Tamarix Africana

39. Australian Salt Bush

40. Quercus Agrifolia (Live oak)
A. Acacia Latifolia
B. Coprosma Brewerit
C. Rhusintegrifolia
D. Pittosporum Tobira
E. Grevillea Thelmani
F. Leptospermum Levigatum
G. Acacia Baileyana
N. Hakes Pugeoformis
Q. Melalenca Lencodendron
S. Rhusiaurina
Y. Acacia Gravillis
Z. Carrisa Arduina
C. Crataegus Lalandil
G. Pittisporum Undulatum

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