by Carol Greentree
Horticulture Heritage Award
San Diego Historical Society 1987 Institute of History
The slender figure seated behind the fluted columns of the pergola lowered her eyelids and sighed with quiet pleasure. Behind her, narrow aromatic eucalyptus leaves rustled in the light afternoon breeze, and long rays of sunlight slanted down through the arbor overhead.1 The young woman was happy and tired after her long strolls through many gardens, and the warm sunshine made her feel drowsy.
“So many gardens!” she thought. “How many gardens?” She counted back. At the beginning of the afternoon she had explored the Bosque de las Palmas, a jungly canyon full of palms and tropical-looking plants.2 Then she had strolled through the Jardines de Montezuma, rather formal gardens filled with small carpets of brilliant red and yellow flowers.3 She had been charmed by the unusual little Japanese garden, near the Far East pavilion . . .so different from the broad Avenidas with their clipped acacias and shiny-leaved coprosmas.4 She could not count the number of vine-draped arcades which linked the sculpture-encrusted buildings. Each arcade was a garden in its own right, festooned with vivid bougainvillea in colors almost too intense to look at in the bright San Diego sunshine.5
She mused that the very last garden she had visited had been the best of all. It took her breath away when she first entered it. That garden was a lofty room, in truth, completely arched over by narrow, spaced-apart wood strips. The clear California light was softer inside the graceful structure. Lush green foliage seemed even greener in that diffuse light, and a nice, earthy scent of moist soil filled the roofed garden. There was a sort of hush, too, in the enclosed space; the garden felt like a leafy sanctuary to the girl. Harriett Barnhart opened her eyes and looked over at the Botanical Building.6 The elegant lathhouse had an aristocratic, faintly exotic appearance which cast an artful reflection in the long Laguna de las Flores before it.7
Harriett had seen all these gardens several times before, and knew that she would see them again… and again. They seemed magical places for her, each with an enchanted character of its own.
Like Harriett, many a young spirit was imprinted with the beauty and the romance of San Diego’s “Garden Fair” of 1915. Long afterward, many an adult cherished memories of its Old World magic. Yet the sentimental Spanish Colonial garden scenes of the Panama-[California] Exposition may have had an exceptional impact on the imagination of Harriett Barnhart, for this girl was to become San Diego’s best known woman landscape architect.
This place — this fresh, unspoiled San Diego of 1915, with its salubrious subtropical climate and its Mediterranean flora — surely must have set the stage for Harriett’s ultimate choice of career. She must have remembered enough of her chilly childhood winters in Corning, Iowa to truly appreciate balmy weather and palmy gardens when she moved here as a very young teenager.
Harriett’s father, a respected dentist named Harry C. Barnhart, had brought his family to San Diego in 1912, just as firm plans were being formulated for a dazzling exposition three years hence.8 The Barnharts moved straight to Hillcrest, which Kate Sessions had already established as a sort of horticultural heaven.9 There, the avenues were lined with the feather-fronded palms, called Cocos plumose, which Kate loved so much. There, the city park was fringed with residences which boasted well-established specimens of uncommon plants.10 Harriett lived not far from Kate Sessions’ Mission Hills Nursery and attended a school whose walls and patios had been planted by Kate, herself.11 Harriett might very well have learned some gardening skills from Kate Sessions, in person, during the pre-Exposition period when Kate was teaching agriculture classes in all the San Diego schools.12
Kate and Harriett shared a lifelong love of plants, and both were described as very pretty, but each had a decidedly different character from the other.13 Harriett was a rather reserved person. . .although she also had a sense of humor. Her friends called her particular kind of beauty triste; she had a faint look of sensitive sadness, even when she smiled.14 Indeed, a somewhat triste thread seems to have run through her life. That thread appears not to have dominated her spirit, yet several disappointments and losses may have subdued her early expectations.
Harriett left San Diego during her college years, and in 1922 earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford. She was popular and well-liked at Stanford, and was even reportedly a little mischievous on occasion. After graduation she returned to southern California and for several years she taught at Roosevelt Junior High School.16 In the mid-twenties, she married John Wimmer, an affluent young man who graduated from Stanford, himself, in 1927.17
During their early years of marriage the Wimmers enjoyed some travel in Europe. They acquired choice pieces of handsome antique furniture while abroad.18 Everything about Harriett bore the cachet of superb good taste, and her furnishings reflected cultivated sensibilities-as did her dress, her cuisine and her decor.19
Alas, for the Wimmers’ future, the onset of the Great Depression profoundly affected the young couple’s fortunes, for John suddenly lost his property holdings in the midwest. The young couple was stunned by this loss, and economic necessity became the dominant consideration in their lives.20
In the early 1930s they moved to Eugene, Oregon, for a year, to explore new career options together.21 They both studied landscape architecture at the University of Oregon during 1931-32.22 Harriett immersed herself in the principles of good design and plant composition, and learned the basic techniques of producing working drawings for garden installation.23
By 1934, the Wimmers had returned, to reestablish themselves in the San Diego area. They lived in Chula Vista for the next few years, in a house of French Provincial architecture. An adjacent house belonged to their friends, the Marston Burnhams, and the two couples called their joint properties “WimBurn”: “Wim” for Wimmer, and “Burn” for Burnham.24
John became a teacher at Teacher’s College. Harriett was a saleswoman, briefly, at the Lion Clothing store. Harriett’s longtime friend, Eileen Jackson, remarks that Harriett bore the couple’s financial reverses well and “took charge with grace and determination.”25
The 1930s were actually stable years for the Wimmers — a time for putting down roots and establishing enduring ties. During these years, Harriett resumed her activities with the Junior League of San Diego. She had been a charter member of that group when it was founded in 1929, and had filled the dual roles of Corresponding Secretary and Provisional Member Trainer.26 By the late thirties, the Junior League had firmly established a garden club of its own.27 John had agreed to be the interim editor of California Garden.28 Both the Wimmers had become very much involved in the garden activities they loved and shared.
Pearl Harbor changed their lives. At the onset of World War II the Wimmers moved to Hillcrest, and John donned a Navy uniform.29 Harriett taught elementary reading at Francis Parker School throughout the war. Conventional garden clubs gave way to guns for the duration, while America held its breath and hoped hard for peace.
Through both depression and wartime, Harriett’s deep interest in gardens never wavered. For many years she helped her friends design and plant their own landscapes. Her taste was considered flawless and exquisite.30 “She had an artist’s eye,” according to her good friend Everett Gee Jackson, who is himself an artist of note.31 Harriett became such a proficient garden designer that her pleased friends persuaded her to take her talents seriously and to open her own landscape architecture office. Hers was a venturesome spirit, so she did just that…when she was fifty-one years old!32
In a pre-feminist era, this was a bold move, indeed. Yet Harriett had prepared well for her enterprise. She had an excellent education, years of practical experience and a prosperous postwar clientele.33 Operating from Lloyd Ruocco’s Design Center on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest, Harriett developed strong professional alliances with several young architects during a pivotal era in the profession of landscape architecture.34 The postwar era was an extraordinary period in the annals of California design. No longer inhibited by the economic constraints of the Depression nor by the material-shortages of the war, and stimulated by a new international aesthetics awareness, California design professionals brought exciting new concepts to eager consumers.
From Japan, America had learned the value of opening whole walls of a building to a garden. From aerospace engineers, the construction industry learned how to open up those walls, using lightweight aluminum sliding glass doors.35 At the very time when San Diego buildings began to open their vistas to the outside environment, Harriett Wimmer was on hand to guide client sensibilities toward a finer use of plants and a serious appreciation of landscape design.
The benign southern California climate, which had allowed such a proliferation of exotic plants to thrive since the turn of the century, made it easy for newcomers to garden successfully in San Diego. A flurry of popular publications-especially Sunset-helped create a sophisticated design awareness on the West Coast. The Pacific region rapidly became a trend-setter in contemporary design. Harriett Wimmer found herself in the right place at the right time, professionally.36 Her practice prospered.37
In the early 1950s a more rigorous consciousness began to develop within the field of landscape architecture. Larger and more ambitious projects mandated a new image for the profession. The complexities of working closely with other disciplines and the intricacies of large-site management demanded that some constraints be placed on those who were practicing landscape architecture. As a result, in 1954 California required all persons practicing the profession to become licensed.38 Harriett was one of the earliest licensees in the state; her number is 335.39
In the same year, she made a significant move which was to determine the direction and fate of her firm. She hired a talented young Berkeley graduate named Joe Yamada as a draftsman/apprentice.40 Joe brought fresh concepts and excellent training to the firm. Together, Harriett Wimmer and Joe Yamada made a balanced design team, each contributing a unique set of skills, talents and aesthetic philosophies to their collaboration.41 Harriett became Joe’s professional mentor and in 1960 she established a partnership with the man who has since become San Diego’s best-known living landscape architect.42
In 1954 Harriett underscored her serious intent as a designer by joining the American Society of Landscape Architecture.43 She was one of several local professionals who helped establish a San Diego section of the Southern California Chapter of ASLA. In the year 1955-56, she served as the chairperson for that section.44
In 1960, the year Harriett and Joe became partners, the firm began to win important design awards-accolades from peer professionals who deemed the work of Wimmer and Yamada to be of top quality in an increasingly competitive field.45 Harriett had always demanded high standards of herself.46 “She never compromised holding to her ideals, which were clarity and simplicity,” remarks her friend Eileen Jackson. The office continued to grow in prestige.
In 1961, Harriett suffered a loss which was to rob her of her full enthusiasm for her work. John died.47 His sudden heart attack left her without the helpmate and constant companion who had so completely supported her developing interests.48 She continued to work… but never again with the same vitality.49 Wimmer and Yamada continued to win award after award for superior design, yet Harriett gradually withdrew from active participation in her firm’s projects. In 1967, she retired.50
The community continued to pay attention to Harriett’s work, even after her retirement. In 1969, San Diego Magazine accorded her a high tribute with a photograph-laced feature about the accomplishments of Wimmer and Yamada.51 Harriett continued to design occasional gardens for friends, skillfully using plants with an eye for texture and form and arrangement. Harriett particularly relished the satisfaction of a project well done; after her retirement, she liked to be chauffeured to some of her gardens and landscapes to see if they were wearing well and were receiving appropriate maintenance.52
In 1976 the American Society of Landscape Architects bestowed its highest honor upon San Diego’s first woman landscape architect in commercial practice. It decreed her a Fellow.53 Only a score of women had preceded her to this coveted position.54 Harriett was accompanied to her investiture at the Hotel del Coronado by a handful of lifetime friends and was feted by well wishers with flowers and champagne.55
In 1980, the city of San Diego declared May 19th to be Harriett Barnhart Wimmer Day, in honor of her contributions to the beauty of San Diego. A handsome proclamation, signed by the mayor, documents this special honor… one she shared with her partner, Joe Yamada.56 Less than a month later, Harriett died — after a very long illness — in her light, bright apartment, filled with her favorite books and beloved antique furniture.57
Harriett Barnhart Wimmer set a striking and effective precedent, as a woman in a non-traditional profession, nearly two decades before it became fashionable to do so. Years ahead of the feminist movement, Harriett established a durable framework of credibility and excellence for the talented women who would follow.58
Harriett’s special contribution to landscape architecture was three-fold. She helped make San Diego a lovelier place, and she helped her profession achieve dignity and influence. She also provided a pattern of initiative for other gifted women to emulate. Hers is truly a living legacy, embodied both in the dynamic firm which still bears her name and in the green, growing landscapes which bear the hallmark of Harriett Barnhart Wimmer.59
1. Many of the minor garden conceits of the Panama-[California] Exposition have been removed but the pergola mentioned, in the Jardin de Flores just west of the Botanical Building, can be seen in old photographs. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, The Architecture and the Gardens of the San Diego Exposition (San Francisco: Paul Elder & Company, 1916), p. 124, and Eugene Neuhaus, The San Diego Garden Fair (San Francisco: Paul Elder & Company, 1916), p. 72.
2. A palm-clad canyon, specially planted for the Exposition, made a semitropical foreground for views of the Pacific, through eucalyptus and acacia trees. Exposition planners carefully contrived vistas to maximize the romance and sentiment of a green city sited between blue ocean and white snow-capped peaks. Committee of 100, reprint, Official Guide Book of the Panama-[California] Exposition (San Diego: National Views Company, 1915), p. 9.
3. Richard Requa redesigned the Jardines de Montezuma for the 1935 California Pacific Exposition. They are now known as the Alcazar Gardens. There were no fountains in 1915, but the walled gardens were “a veritable riot of color, yet full of harmony.” Eugene Neuhaus, The San Diego Garden Fair, p. 63.
4. The Japanese garden was described as “one of the most remarkable pictures on the exposition grounds,” full of rare plants, as well as wistaria [sic] and Japanese cedar. Committee of 100, reprint, Official Guide Book for the Panama-[California], p. 38, on file at the Committee of 100 office at Balboa Park.
El Prado was planted with a double row of blackwood acacias (Acacia melanoxylon) in strips of lawn bordered by Coprosma repens, (known as “Mirror” plant, for its highly polished leaves). Committee of 100, reprint, Official Guide Book of the Panama-[California]Exposition, p. 36. According to Dale Ward, Offshoot Botanical tours, the last acacia was cut down in late 1984.
5. Covered walkways connected many of the Exposition buildings and were draped with bougainvillea, which was growing in boxes hidden behind parapets. One variety of bougainvillea in particular, used in abundance for the Garden Fair, has come to be known in the nursery trade as ‘San Diego Red.’ Photograph, “Birds-Eye View from California Tower,” taken in late 1914, and ongoing conversations with Barbara Jones, former president of San Diego Floral Association, and Balboa Park guide for the Committee of 100.
6. At the time of construction, the Botanical Building was reputedly the largest lath house ever built. In 1915 there was also an attached glass house/conservatory. The two structures were filled with exotic plants, many of which are today commonplace in the houseplant trade. Sharon Siegan, “From Seed to Center. . .”, The Journal of San Diego History, (Summer 1979).
7. The artistic effect of the Botanical Building is doubled because it is mirrored in the lily pond which stretches between it and the main paseo. “A most picturesque view…is seen when reflected in the Laguna de las Flores,” Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, The Architecture and the Gardens of the San Diego Exposition, p. 118.
8. Harriett’s family included her father, Harry; her mother, a “pretty woman” named Bird; her younger sister, Kathryn. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
Harry Barnhart was listed, in 1912, as living at 1141 Spruce. In 1913 his office was listed as Reinmund & Barnhart. In the following year he appeared to have started his own practice at 3872 Fifth Avenue, where he remained until 1934. After that, Harry Barnhart was no longer listed. The Barnharts had several residences during those years; all but the last, in Hillcrest. From 1913 through 1916, the family lived at 4021 First. In 1917, their address was listed at 4296 Arden. In 1918, both home and office were listed at 3968 Third. The following year Dr. Barnhart opened his office at 3872 Fifth Avenue, and his home was listed at 3969 Third. Harriett’s name is included at this address until 1927, the year of her marriage. For one year (1928) her parents are listed at 303 Brookes Avenue. The final address given was 4407 Adams, in the Kensington area. San Diego City Directories, 1911-1935 on file at the California Room, San Diego Public Library.
Harriett Wimmer was probably born on April 27, 1900, as stated on her birth certificate. Confusion about the true date arises, however, because Harriett’s investiture Program for Fellowship in the American Society of Landscape Architects (hereinafter ASLA) lists her birthdate as April 24, 1887. Harriett’s friends believe she was born on April 27,1900. Certificate of Death, San Diego County Records, and personal interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson, longtime friends of the Wimmers, October 20, 1986.
9. The years between 1912 and 1915 were marked by increasingly feverish horticultural activity, as an entire community prepared for an extraordinary year-long festival. All San Diegans were invited to grow plants in their own yards, for the exposition gardens. Such a neighborly project must have created a keen bond of shared interest among the citizens of the then-small city. Ongoing conversations with Barbara Jones.
10. Kate had been active in the Hillcrest area since 1892, when she established the city nursery at the northwest corner of Balboa Park. Her contacts with local residents and garden groups had resulted in many distinctive plantings both inside and around the park. Elizabeth MacPhail, Kate Sessions Pioneer Horticulturist (San Diego: San Diego History Center, 1976), p. 51.
In the same year Kate Sessions established the city nursery, 1892, John D. Spreckels — who owned the San Diego Electric Railway — extended the line to University Avenue, thus enhancing the value of Hillcrest as a residential area. Of course, homeowners bought their plants from nearby Kate Sessions. Elizabeth MacPhail, Kate Sessions, pp. 52-53.
11. Harriett went to school first at Florence School, and then San Diego High School. The latter had been built in 1908 and had subsequently been landscaped by Kate Sessions. Creeping fig, yellow trumpet vine and Boston ivy cloaked the walls of the “Grey Castle” in a short time. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson; and Elizabeth McPhail, Kate Sessions, p. 85.
12. In San Diego, Kate Sessions had already demonstrated that respect and prestige — even a certain power — could be commanded by a woman who was well grounded in her field of expertise. That a community which had produced a pioneer woman horticulturist of Kate Sessions’ stature would one day also generate a woman landscape architect of Harriett Wimmer’s calibre seems not at all surprising. A felicitous combination of the times and the place must have stimulated professional growth for each woman.
Interestingly, Kate Sessions’ home town (Berkeley, California) gave rise to several women who achieved world eminence in their fields. All born within six years of each other, and about 15-20 years after Kate, they were: Julia Morgan (Hearst Castle architect), Isadora Duncan (dancer), Gertrude Stein (writer), and Lillian Gilbreth (time/motion studies engineer). Elinor Richey, Eminent Women of the West (Berkeley: Howell North Books, 1975).
13. Although they were not of the same generation, the two women — Kate and Harriett — eventually came to know each other as adults, through the San Diego Floral Association. A garden historian might well speculate that Kate’s garden know-how and firmly knowledgeable personality had a profound effect upon Harriett, since the younger woman was both impressionable and discriminating. Harriett wrote a personal tribute to Kate, published nine years after Kate’s death. In the article, she refers to Lester Rowntree as “he,” indicating she was not very close to Kate Sessions; else Harriett would have known that Lester Rowntree was a woman. Harriett Wimmer, “Portrait of Kate Sessions,” California Garden, (Summer 1949), p. 6, California Garden is America’s oldest garden magazine in continuous publication — since 1909.
14. Harriett’s painter friend identifies this quality. Everett Jackson painted a portrait of her and she owned it until near the end of her life. When she knew she was dying, she wanted to give something of value to the Jacksons’ daughter. Their daughter asked for that portrait, as a memento of her parents’ friendship with Harriett. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
15. In her later years, associates characterized Harriett as dignified and ladylike, but in college she is reported to have enjoyed the fun and camaraderie that would have been normal for the young in the early twenties. Interview with Joe Yamada’s wife, Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
16. Harriett is listed as a student through 1922 and as a teacher at Roosevelt Junior High School from 1923 through 1926. While teaching, she was living with her parents, at 3969 Third Avenue. San Diego City Directories, 1917-1927.
17. The Jacksons believe that Harriett Glines Barnhart and John Duhme Wimmer were married on April 24, 1925. The City Directory, however, lists Harriett as Barnhart until 1927, the year John graduated from Stanford. Harriett’s and John’s Stanford diplomas — attractive documents highlighted with lettering in vermillion ink — are in the possession of Eileen and Everett Jackson.
John’s parents had died when he was young, and he was left in the care of wealthy-but-aged aunts and uncles. He went to Miami University, in Ohio, and also studied for a time in Stuttgart, Germany. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson, and San Diego City Directories, 1922-1927.
18. The Wimmers are not listed in the City Directories between 1927 and 1935. Travel and temporary relocation for graduate education would account for this gap in local residence. City Directories, 1927-35, and interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
19. Harriett was described as a “flawless hostess, discriminating in her guest lists. She did not limit guests to the social set. Harriett did not like superficial people. She was not snobbish or discriminatory, but was discriminating,” according to her friend, Eileen Jackson, who has been a leading San Diego society columnist for many years. “Harriett gave tastefully appointed dinner parties with quality food and decor.” Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
20. John Wimmer had owned a large block of property in Indianapolis, perhaps a department store. This had given him a substantial income, which in turn allowed freedom to travel extensively abroad. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
21. Harriett definitely received support and encouragement from John in developing her talents. He shared many of her interests and activities in art and gardening. John recognized her gift for planting and encouraged her to go to school. They often attended classes together. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
22. Among Harriett’s legacy of books is a 1931 edition of a volume which must have left an indelible imprint on both the Wimmers and perhaps directed them in their life interests. The volume is a pictorial tour of fashionable southern California gardens, which were designed by the most prestigious landscape architects of the period. In the foreword, Myron Hunt asserts:
The profession of landscape architecture is fortunately attracting an increasing number of able, highly trained, much-traveled and experienced women, who handle with firmness those broad background essentials of the good garden — the groundplan and mass planting.
Foremost among the women Hunt referred to was Florence Yoch, the first woman landscape architect in Los Angeles. Yoch may have been a model for Harriett. Based in Pasadena, Yoch and her colleague Lucile Council, designed gardens for Hollywood personalities such as George Cukor, but “disliked that fast-living crowd,” according to landscape historian David Streatfield. She “came from a patrician Pasadena family” and preferred to work with the moneyed few of that area.
Other important women designers of southern California were Katherine Bashford and Mrs. Jessie Phillips. Winnifred Starr Dobyns, California Garden; and David Streatfield, lecture for his tour, “Exploring Pasadena’s Private Gardens,” May 1, 1983, in the personal files of the author.
23. Harriett’s blueprints and notes for the classes she took at the University of Oregon are in the possession of Liz and Joe Yamada. Interviews with Liz Yamada, September 24, 1986 and November 4, 1986.
24. Neither the city directories nor the Junior League annual reports give an exact address for Wimburn.
The Wimmers also owned a small property called “Pine Hills Ranch” near Julian, They grew tulips there. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
25. If the Wimmers felt impecunious during the depression, theirs must have been a “genteel poverty,” insulated to a degree from the severe hardships many others experienced in the 1930s. John’s work carried the status of a professional and the Wimmers owned a house at a time when many young couples could not afford such a luxury. They had no children, so were not burdened with family responsibilities. Through the Junior League Harriett and her sister Kathryn were in touch with the “Smart Set” of San Diego society. Perhaps their financial losses had crimped the Wimmers’ early ambitions, but Harriett and John did enjoy the certainty of belonging in the community, and were able to develop many permanent friendships. Junior League of San Diego, Annual Reports, on file at Junior League headquarters, 210 Maple Street, San Diego, and conversations with the Jacksons and Liz Yamada.
26. Harriett was one of the core group of women who were instrumental in having the Junior League of San Diego recognized by the national organization. In 1929, the local group was accepted for associate membership by the parent organization. Junior League of San Diego, Annual Report, 1929.
27. Harriett’s continued personal interest in flowers and gardens revealed itself publicly in 1934, when she chaired the shadow-box exhibit for the San Diego Floral Association garden show. Two years later, she chaired a more ambitious event, this time for the garden club of the Junior League. In 1936 she was responsible for the Christmas decoration of an entire house – a project that required coordinating floral designs for the many rooms of a member’s home – as a benefit event. Surely these social enterprises helped Harriett hone her organizational and managerial skills to the degree of sharpness needed as a landscape architect and business woman. Junior League of San Diego Annual Reports, 1929-1950.
28. In 1937, John Wimmer filled in as editor of San Diego’s historic garden magazine, California Garden, when the previous editor retired suddenly. In January 1938, Roland Hoyt, San Diego’s foremost landscape architect, became the editor. John continued as associate editor and contributor until December 1942. The Wimmers’ association with Hoyt, who landscaped Presidio Park and many other choice sites, may have intensified their interest in garden design. Mastheads, California Garden, 1937-1942 on file at the San Diego Floral Association, Casa del Prado, Balboa Park.
29. In 1936 the Wimmers are listed at 2528 Front Street, a duplex. They lived there until 1958, when they were listed at 410 Upas. In 1965, Harriett, then a widow, moved to 8285 El Paseo Grande, in La Jolla. Two years later, she moved to 390 San Antonio, where she lived until her death. San Diego City Directories, 1935-1980, on file at the California Room, San Diego Public Library.
30. Creating beauty was probably the key motivating drive in Harriett’s life. Aesthetics were keenly important to her. She took great pride in her educated taste and demanded the highest standards of herself in this area. Harriett personally supervised the exact placement of plants in her landscapes. She was unafraid to speak up and was of firm opinion about exactly how a detail should look in a garden. Harriett was a perfectionist, and could be quite critical of results. Her contractors did not always entirely appreciate the time and effort Mrs. Wimmer invested in being precise about the exact location of a tree or walk. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986 and Pam Chapman, instructor of landscape architecture at Mesa College, October 8, 1986.
31. Harriett and John both took a class in freehand drawing at San Diego State College (now San Diego State University) with Everett Gee Jackson, head of the SDSC art department. This is how the Jacksons and the Wimmers first met. The four became firm friends during the ensuing years. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
32. Harriett may have had no specific hero or heroine upon whom she modeled her life role. She perhaps created her own model, by doing the thing she liked best. Her friends validated her as a designer, by having her plan their gardens, and her husband was ever-supportive. Harriett seems to have encountered little or no resistance to her acceptance as a serious woman in the field. The practice of landscape architecture was considered to be a rather elevated kind of work, well suited to a woman of good taste and education. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
33. As a lifetime resident who maintained friendships in upper socio-economic circles, Harriett was well connected, and had an aristocratic demeanor. Joe Yamada noted that “she studied landscape architecture not because she had to – she was well off – but because she loved it. She knew all the society people. That’s how I got to know all the people I know. They still invite me to all their parties.” By the time the Yamadas and the Wimmers met, Harriett and John had surmounted their earlier financial trauma. Dirk Sutro, “Controlled Growth,” San Diego Home/Garden, June, 1985.
34. Lloyd Ruocco’s Design Center was admirably located for Harriett’s work. Built against the slope of a small canyon in Hillcrest, the all-glass walls afford attractive views of a semi-private wooded glade just off one of Hillcrest’s busiest streets. The structure “used some unusual building materials; the semi-translucent corrugated plastic paneling on some exterior walls gave inhabitants the added delight of ever-changing shadow patterns of leaves.” Kay Kaiser, “Lloyd Ruocco: City, I am Your child,” Hidden Leaves, Fall, 1983 p. 3. Hidden Leaves is the quarterly publication for Ilan-Lael, a San Diego aesthetics awareness/action group.
Harriett helped landscape architecture become an esteemed profession in San Diego. She was very visible, as a designer, and brought a sense of polish and savoir faire to her practice. One of her chief contributions to the profession was the establishment of good working relationships with other disciplines — particularly architecture. She liked to work in tandem with architects and was effective in persuading them to include landscape design in the initial planning of a structure…rather than call in a landscape architect after the building plans were complete. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
35. Servicemen who had lived in Japan after the war were exposed to new ideas about architecture. One of the most popular concepts for Americans was the practice of opening a view to the garden by sliding away a whole section of a wall. These sections, or shojii, became the prototypes of postwar sliding glass doors. Postwar construction techniques substituted aluminum and glass for wood and rice-paper. Cliff May, a San Diegan, did much to influence postwar domestic architecture. His patio-oriented ranch style house has been extensively copied by American developers. Cliff May, Western Ranch Houses, a Sunset book, Lane Publishing Company, Menlo Dark, 1958.
36. Timing was a key factor in Harriett’s success as a landscape architect. For one thing, her education and experience were valid in a pre-license era; later she might have had to struggle to come to terms with test requirements. In addition, the growth of San Diego in particular, and southern California in general, created new opportunities to practice her craft. Winning contracts with a brand-new major university (UCSD) and an innovative theme park (Sea World) gave Wimmer and Yamada good leverage as designers. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
37. Harriett’s personal polish was an asset to her enterprise. In dealing with her clients, she was business-like, but gracious. She had a sense of humor and high professional standards. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
38. The practice of landscape architecture was viewed differently before licensure. In the 1930’s and 1940’s it was still generally regarded as the art of beautifying parks and gardens. In the 1950’s, postwar development created powerful imperatives to adopt more sophisticated views of city and regional planning and to apply broader design principles to urban and regional/environmental sites. Interview with Liz Yamada and ongoing conversations with Frank Kawasaki — now a principal of Kawasaki, Theilacker & Associates — who once worked with Wimmer & Yamada.
39. Another San Diego woman landscape architect boasts an even earlier license. Jane Min-shall, for many years the chief grounds designer for the city schools, was given license number 253. Jane, a native, returned to San Diego after graduating from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in landscape architecture. She earned her living in her chosen field from 1946 until her retirement in late 1975.
40. Joe Yamada found his niche at Harriett Wimmer’s office through a referral from Bob Mosher, an architect with whom Harriett had worked. Dirk Sutro, “Controlled Growth,” San Diego Home/Garden, June 1985 pp. 71-74, and Betty Slater, “A Meeting of Minds: Joe and Liz Yamada,” San Diego Home/Garden, March 1980, pp. 73-78.
41. Harriett’s strength was in residential garden design; Joe was well equipped to handle commercial and urban design, as well as residential landscapes. Each designer shared a special appreciation of Japanese gardens, which enjoyed great popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Harriett and both Liz and Joe Yamada were at home with the fundamental tenets of Japanese garden design. Liz and Harriet co-authored an article, “The Japanese Garden — A Work of Art,” for California Garden, February-March 1961, pp. 9-11.
Harriett’s personal design preferences were quiet and understated; she eschewed bright colors in favor of shades of green. In general, she used only white flowers, if she used flower color at all. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
42. Joe Yamada has consistently produced award-winning landscape designs which are featured in the annual award issue of ASLA’s own glossy publication. Anonymous articles in Landscape Architecture, published by ASLA, July, 1977, p. 332-3, and July, 1978 pp. 292-3.
43. 1954 was a pivotal year for landscape architecture. Many practicing designers donned the mantle of professionality through formal association with the parent organization, ASLA. Conversations with Frank Kawasaki, spring, 1986.
44. During “the early years,” San Diego was represented at ASLA as a satellite of Los Angeles. San Diego landscape architects met at each others’ homes. Later, Roland Hoyt was instrumental in creating a separate chapter for San Diego. Conversations with Frank Kawasaki.
45. The awards accorded Wimmer and Yamada came from various sources. The firm especially prized the Collaborative Arts Awards from The American Institute of Architects (biennial, 1960-1968). Others included: Housing and Urban Development Awards for Design Excellence (1964, 1966), California Landscape Contractors’ Association Sweepstakes Award (1972), Progressive Architecture Design Awards Citation (1964). Investiture Program, ASLA Fellows, July 12, 1976, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
46. “In a gentle way” she was also demanding of others. She was quiet, rather than outspoken. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
47. The day after John died, the Fine Arts Society of the Fine Arts Gallery (now the San Diego Museum of Art) announced it “had established a fund to build the west portico and reflecting pool,” in John’s honor. Anonymous, San Diego Union, May 4, 1961 p. 25, on file at the California Room, San Diego Public Library.
48. John’s own enthusiasm for landscape design had been a great boon. Among other things, John did the drafting when Harriett first opened her firm. Interview with Eileen and Everett Jackson.
49. After her husband’s death, Harriett became increasingly fearful and inflexible. She appears to have been quite dependent upon John, and perhaps she didn’t have the psychic energy to sustain — alone — the life-momentum they had generated together. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
50. “She retired as the head of the firm…in 1967, but continued to take on commissions.” Anonymous, “Harriett B. Wimmer, FASLA 1899-1980,” Land, August 1980 (Clipping on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.)
51. A long article highlights Harriett’s design philosophy, which includes her respect for working with both client and fellow architect to create satisfactory landscape. Marilyn Hagberg, “Wimmer and Yamada — Part of the Landscape,” San Diego Magazine, February 1969 pp. 26-33.
52. A rather minor automobile mishap undermined Harriett’s confidence, and she became diffident about driving, herself. Interview with Liz Yamada, November 4, 1986.
53. Her former instructor at the University of Oregon wrote to her:
It is my particular pleasure to congratulate you on being elected a Fellow…You certainly deserve the honor for your fine contributions for many years of the work to the profession and for your missionary efforts to gain recognition for landscape architecture in the San Diego region. I am proud to claim you as one of my former students. Other Fellows who were students of mine are George Huntington, Ruth Shelhorn, Lloyd Bond and Richard Bowe…
Frederick A. Cuthbert sent Harriett his sentiments in a congratulatory letter, April 28, 1976, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
Harriett’s nomination as a Fellow was followed by much correspondence from ASLA about banquet arrangements, rehearsals, appropriate dress, and guests. The investiture was a part of the annual meeting being held in San Diego. It was an important event, deserving considerable preparation and fuss. Katherine Rahn, correspondence with FASLA, April-June 1976, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
54. Beatrix Jones Farrand, the only woman among the eleven founding members of ASLA, was accorded an honorary Fellowship. Farrand was the first woman fellow. At the time of Harriett’s investiture, fewer than 20 women had been so honored. Balmore, Kostial and McPeck, Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes-Her Gardens and Campuses Sagapress, Inc., Sagaponack, NY, 1985, and S.A. Desick, “Harriet Wimmer, Noted Landscaper Dies,” San Diego Union, June 1980, pp. B-l, B-3, on file at the California Room, San Diego Public Library.
55. Harriett’s guests at her investiture were: her brother-in-law, Rear Admiral Sydney Dodds (Kathryn’s widower); her friend, architect Robert Mosher; Mr. and Mrs. George Huntington; and Liz and Joe Yamada. Harriett Wimmer, correspondence with Katherine Rahn, FASLA, June 1, 1976, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
Rae Price, of the Southern California Chapter of ASLA, then headquartered at the Gamble House in Pasadena, was responsible for congratulations at the ceremony. Harriett Wimmer, letter to Rae Price, August 31, 1976, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
After the ceremonies, Harriett wrote:
Certainly the profession of landscape architecture has changed from that of primarily garden design to that of urban design, land use, and environmental planning; I feel fortunate to have been able to participate in and contribute to the growth of the profession. . . . I deeply appreciate your support in nominating me as a Candidate for the Honor of Fellow in the ASLA and thank those who actively sought the honor for me.
Harriett Wimmer, letter to Rae Price, August 31, 1976, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
56. Harriett’s section of the dual tribute to her and to Joe Yamada reads, in part:
Whereas an artist uses a canvas and the knowledge of chromaticity to create beauty, so has Harriett Barnhart Wimmer used her palette to color San Diego’s surroundings with lasting loveliness; and…
when she opened her office in the Fifth Avenue Design Center it was one of four landscape architect firms in San Diego in 1950;. . .
BE IT PROCLAIMED THAT Harriett Wimmer is honored. . .as one of our community’s grand dames of design; and…
BE IT FURTHER PROCLAIMED. . . that this distinguished artisan’s floral flair has left a lasting patina on the landscape of San Diego County.
Proclamation, County of San Diego, May 19, 1980, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
57. Harriett died on June 8, 1980, of carcinoma. Certificate of Death, San Diego County Records, County Administration Building, San Diego.
Harriett’s obituary notes that she had no immediate survivors, but that her brother-in-law, Rear Admiral Sydney B. Dodds, lived in Coronado. S.A. Desick, “Harriett B. Wimmer, Noted Landscaper Dies,” San Diego Union, June 9, 1980, pp. B-l, B-3, on file at the California Room, San Diego Public Library.
A young aspiring landscape architect, Pam Chapman, was twice invited, with others, for cocktails at Harriett’s apartment. Pam remembers the room as being light and airy, overlooking the water, and filled with books and attractive antique furniture. Interview with Pam Chapman, October 15, 1986.
A partial inventory of books once owned by Harriett Wimmer includes many art and landscape architecture classics. Harriett’s art interests were broad and her tastes were cosmopolitan. Many books are about Japanese gardens. Other volumes focus on Mexican, Chinese, French, German, Irish, Spanish, English and Italian gardens. Specialty plant books include those on succulents, roses, native plants, vines, rock garden plants and perennials. Publication dates range from 1900-1967. Private collection of Harriett Wimmer’s books; Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
58. As a tribute to Harriett and an incentive to talented, aspiring young women landscape architecture students, Wimmer, Yamada & Associates established a $500 scholarship “to be awarded annually to a woman in her fourth year of studies who demonstrates excellence in her design ability and sensitivity for the environment and quality of life.” Anonymous, “Harriett Barnhart Wimmer Scholarship,” Agora, Vol. V, No. 1, Fall, 1985, on file at Wimmer, Yamada & Associates.
59. Among the gardens and landscape’s Harriett collaborated in designing are the entrance to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, The Copley Estate, and numerous private gardens in La Jolla and the San Diego environs. Interview with Liz Yamada, and Marily Hagbert, “Wimmer and Yamada — Part of the Landscape,” San Diego Magazine, February, 1969.
THE PHOTOGRAPH on page 223 is by Corey Braun; on page 224 by the San Diego Junior League; those on pages 226 and 227 are courtesy of Wimmer and Yamada. The painting on page 230 was reproduced through the assistance of Eileen Jackson.
[Several errors from the printed text have been corrected in this on-line article, most notably the name of San Diego’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition.]