Honor Roll | Panorama Structure Journal

Preserving the non-public gardens of a pioneering panorama architect ought to have been a breeze.

By Timothy A. Schuler

Picture of Joe and Liz Yamada in the May 1977 issue of San Diego Magazine
Most of the panorama options seen on this portrait of Joe and Liz Yamada, from the Could 1977 subject of San Diego Journal, nonetheless exist right this moment. Picture by Zenia Cleigh, courtesy Insun Lee and Troy Wu.

When Joseph Yamada and his spouse, Elizabeth, died inside 9 days of one another in Could 2020, obituaries and appreciations appeared within the Los Angeles Instances, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and NPR. Most centered on the couple’s unbelievable story: Born two days aside in 1930, the 2 met at age 11 at a Japanese internment camp.

They later attended the identical highschool, studied collectively on the College of California, Berkeley, then moved again to San Diego, the place Joe Yamada grew to become one of the celebrated panorama architects of his technology and Liz Yamada was the primary Asian college member at San Diego Excessive College, later becoming a member of her husband’s agency, Wimmer Yamada & Associates, as a companion.

The Yamadas’ deaths touched many in San Diego’s design group. “It was proper firstly of the pandemic, and Liz did cross away from COVID, so for me, it hit onerous,” recollects Kelsey Kaline, a historic preservation specialist at IS Structure in San Diego. When the Yamada household organized an property sale on the couple’s home in La Jolla, it attracted not simply buddies and neighbors however design lovers who knew Joe Yamada by popularity. “I believe lots of people went simply to pay respects to him,” Kaline says.

Additionally put up on the market was the Yamadas’ residence, at 1676 El Camino Del Teatro, a 3,330-square-foot, Nineteen Seventies modernist wooden home designed for the couple by Liz’s brother, the architect David Kikuchi. With six decks extending the dwelling house to the outside—described in a 1978 subject of the Los Angeles Instances’s HOME journal as akin to “seashores surrounding some wooded island”—the home is about again on the steeply sloped lot, with a Joe Yamada–designed, Japanese-style entry sequence that incorporates a dry-laid stone path gently winding by way of dense plantings of Pinus thunbergii, Metrosideros excelsa, and Rhaphiolepis umbellata f. ovata. 

In 2021, the home was offered to Troy Wu and Insun Lee, who acknowledged its historic significance and commenced exploring how you can get it listed as a historic property on the native stage. They contacted Kaline’s agency, which makes a speciality of historic preservation. “They contacted us not solely to get began with the designation course of however to have a greater understanding of what they might or couldn’t—or shouldn’t—change,” Kaline says. So far as she might inform, Wu and Lee genuinely needed to “perceive their position in conserving the property sooner or later. They wish to be stewards of the useful resource, which is uncommon.”

Gardens designed by Joseph Yamada for his home in San Diego
The casual gardens designed by Joseph Yamada for his residence in San Diego had been built-in with the home designed by David Kikuchi within the Nineteen Seventies. Picture courtesy IS Structure.

Inside IS Structure, there was little doubt that the home met the standards for designation. Not solely was it an exemplar of a definite type of structure (Criterion C below town’s historic sources laws), it additionally was related to a determine—on this case, two figures—who had been “important in native, state, or nationwide historical past” (Criterion B).

A disciple of California modernists together with Thomas Church and Garrett Eckbo, Joe Yamada designed the landscapes for a lot of areas that grew to become San Diego landmarks: Seaport Village, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the Embarcadero Marina Parks, SeaWorld, and elements of the College of California, San Diego, campus. “I’ve all the time been all for historic landscapes, and particularly midcentury designed landscapes, and in that realm [Joe’s] sort of an enormous,” says Todd Pitman, ASLA, who, because the campus panorama architect and assistant director of planning with UC San Diego, manages landscapes initially designed by Yamada. Patrick Caughey, FASLA, who joined Wimmer Yamada in 1984 and later grew to become a reputation companion, recalled in an oral historical past produced by the Cultural Panorama Basis that throughout the Fifties by way of the Nineteen Seventies, “when you had been going to do a mission on the town, you needed Joe Yamada.”

In September 2022, the nomination for the Yamada Home, situated in part of La Jolla generally known as the Muirlands, went earlier than San Diego’s Historic Sources Board (HRB), submitted below Standards B and C. The board agreed that the home needs to be designated. There was only one drawback. “I discover it ironic that we’re designating the house of a panorama architect, and there aren’t any panorama parts within the designation,” Ann Woods, a professor of artwork historical past at San Diego State College and a member of the HRB, stated on the assembly. What few panorama parts had been talked about weren’t recognized as contributing to the historic nature of the property, one thing that struck Woods as odd. “I walked by way of that entrance yard, and clearly, it’s a part of the design of the house. It was necessary,” Woods says now. The HRB tabled a vote and requested IS Structure to stock traditionally important panorama options and to reapply for designation at a later date.

The omission of Yamada’s panorama from the unique nomination is a reminder of how closely historic preservation laws are weighted towards structure and in addition characterize a chance for the sector. “I don’t suppose we’re very effectively educated about panorama structure, basically. You’ve bought this civilian board, and we come from very various backgrounds,” Woods says (although the HRB is required to have a panorama architect on it).

The Yamada House Blueprints
Situated on a steeply sloped lot, the Yamada Home is angled to benefit from views and to create unconventional panorama areas. Picture by David Kikuchi, courtesy Insun Lee and Troy Wu.

It’s not only a matter of who sits on the board, nonetheless. The fundamental processes that govern preservation usually ignore panorama structure as a self-discipline. In San Diego, as an example, the HRB’s pointers state that Criterion C “applies to sources important for his or her bodily design or technique of building.” Though the time period “bodily design” is broad sufficient to use to panorama structure, the rules go on to say, “The useful resource should embody distinctive traits of an architectural type, a kind of building, a acknowledged building interval, or an identifiable technique of building, as established by way of accepted our bodies of scholarly {and professional} work.”

“Generally, these kind of reviews aren’t very conducive to panorama parts,” Kaline admits. A core motive is that landscapes are alive. They develop and alter, and there’s not all the time a document of when alterations are made. Though the Historic American Landscapes Survey, managed by the Nationwide Park Service, has pointers for documenting landscapes, this system was solely established in 2000, and native designations depend on native historians with panorama information.

It’s additionally an issue inside panorama structure. Pitman, the panorama architect for UC San Diego, spent six years as a member of the HRB earlier than stepping down in Could 2022. He says that metropolis employees and the HRB ought to “do their due diligence to be extra conscious of the place they’re” and educate themselves concerning the designers who formed San Diego. However he additionally argues that “architects, basically, do a greater job of championing their heroes. Everyone is aware of who Frank Lloyd Wright is, proper? We must always have fun the oldsters who do nice work that got here earlier than us.” Within the case of the Yamada Home, it was lucky that Joe Yamada’s profession is as well-documented and—largely because of the work of the Cultural Panorama Basis, whose oral histories can be found on-line without spending a dime—as accessible as it’s. And but, for each Joe Yamada, there are 10 equally necessary designers whose work just isn’t so rigorously chronicled, Pitman says.

Boulders that make up the stepped walkway that leads to the entrance of a house
Yamada supervised the location of the boulders that make up the stepped walkway that results in the doorway of the home. Picture courtesy IS Structure.

Per the HRB’s suggestion, the group at IS Structure revisited the Yamada Home panorama. With no formal plan—Yamada apparently by no means made any drawings of the backyard—the architects combed by way of footage of the Cultural Panorama Basis’s interview with Yamada within the oral historical past for clues to his unique imaginative and prescient. Based on the ultimate historic sources report, each Joe Yamada and Harriett Wimmer, his mentor and companion at Wimmer Yamada & Associates, had been “influenced by Japanese backyard panorama design,” coauthoring no less than one article on the type. For the home on El Camino Del Teatro, Yamada blended conventional Japanese parts, corresponding to pure stone, bamboo, and an lively water function, with a restrained, monochromatic plant palette. Giant, hand-placed boulders outlined areas and created planting beds, which had been stuffed with ferns and white-flowering shrubs, a nod to Wimmer.

The usage of undulating, vegetated topography to direct strains of sight is a technique Yamada used elsewhere, to an extent that it grew to become recognized in San Diego because the “Yamada roll.” “[Joe] was a grasp of landform,” Pitman says. “He used mounding and grading to create house, to protect undesirable views, and to counsel motion and circulation.” Though the Yamadas gave Kikuchi free rein as to the type of their home, Joe Yamada additionally possible had a hand in siting the home, as he repeatedly “insisted that it needs to be the panorama architect who websites the constructing earlier than the architectural design begins,” in line with the nomination. Yamada appreciated the “distinctive panorama areas” that resulted from angling a constructing on the positioning.

Remarkably, apart from the 2014 addition of a placing inexperienced within the yard, the Yamada Home’s panorama is generally intact. “Once you’re speaking about Joe Yamada, to be [considering] his personal home, along with his personal panorama and his personal aesthetic, and for it to be largely intact, was an unbelievable alternative,” Pitman says.

IS Structure’s ultimate report, accomplished in October 2022, recognized the stepped, stone walkway and waterfall and the boulder function (“positioned within the Japanese type with out concrete mortar”) as important panorama parts, together with mature sycamore, New Zealand Christmas bushes, and Japanese black pine bushes; white-flowering rhaphiolepis; nandina; and fortnight lilies.

An elegant plant palette around the Yamada House
The home’s plant palette was influenced by Joe Yamada’s mentor and companion, Harriett Wimmer. Picture courtesy IS Structure.

Inspired by Woods, the ultimate nomination additionally formally elevated Joe Yamada to the extent of “grasp panorama architect” throughout the Metropolis of San Diego, which made the property eligible below Criterion D (“consultant of the notable work of a grasp builder, designer, architect, engineer, panorama architect, inside designer, artist, or craftsman”). It additionally made the case that the Yamada Home is eligible for designation below Criterion A, as a property that displays “particular parts of town’s, a group’s, or a neighborhood’s historic, archaeological, cultural, social, financial, political, aesthetic, engineering, landscaping, or architectural growth.” The Yamadas had been the primary Asian American household to be allowed to buy land within the Muirlands, tacitly serving to finish a discriminatory apply amongst native Realtors and homeowners. “The Yamadas broke the gentleman’s settlement that individuals of Japanese descent shouldn’t personal homes in that space,” Kaline explains.

Kaline additionally made certain Elizabeth Yamada was included within the title for the Yamada Home and devoted a big part of the nomination to her many particular person accomplishments—amongst them, serving on the boards of quite a few cultural establishments, together with the Nationwide Japanese American Memorial Basis in Washington, D.C., and advocating for the preservation of Japanese American historical past. The nomination additionally notes that Elizabeth Yamada was “integral” to the success of Wimmer Yamada & Associates, which she joined as an administrator, and later companion, in 1976. “I’m an enormous proponent that the ladies needs to be introduced up simply as a lot as the lads are,” Kaline says. “So usually in preservation we solely take a look at the supply materials, however the supply materials is usually lacking the feminine part as a result of they had been neglected on the time.”

Upon reviewing the revised nomination, the HRB voted unanimously to designate the Yamada Home a historic property below all 4 standards. “I’ve gotten three standards earlier than, however to hit 4—that’s unparalleled,” Kaline says. The vote represents a significant step ahead for the visibility of panorama structure basically and of Joe Yamada particularly, Pitman says. “There have been individuals on the board who didn’t even know that you might designate below a grasp panorama architect,” he says. “That’s not willful ignorance. They only by no means come up. In order this stuff turn into extra frequent, it nearly has a snowball impact.”

Woods says she is immensely proud of the result. “To inform a marketing consultant, ‘You need to return and do all this analysis and clarify why this particular person is now a grasp,’ that may be actually onerous. It’s costly. So to have gotten this far, I’m happy,” she says.

And but as complete as the ultimate nomination is, for Kaline, it’s nonetheless simply a place to begin. “I might have spent two years engaged on this,” she says. “I might have written a ebook. Somebody ought to write a ebook.”

Timothy A. Schuler writes concerning the intersection between the constructed and pure environments. He lives within the Kansas Flint Hills.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *