Cool Outside – California’s Mid-Century Landscape

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Dinah’s Motor Hotel, Palo Alto, courtesy of JC Miller

Marin Art and Garden Center celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding in 2020, and in 2021 we are putting the spotlight on the mid-century design heritage of the Center.  The founders of the Center commissioned distinguished architects and landscape architects including Thomas Church, Gardner Dailey, and Russell Emmons of the Wurster firm to create the suite of buildings that house the Center’s activities, from The Studio (Gardner Dailey, 1948) to the Caroline Livermore Pavilion and Northgate Building (Russell Emmons, late 1950s)  These buildings share the clean lines and simple materials that are hallmarks of the postwar mid-century modern style, which swept the West Coast in the 1950s and 1960s and has experienced a revival of interest (and increase in value!) in recent years.

Plan for Pixie Park, 1958, from the collection of Royston, Hanamoto & Mayes

 In 1957, Pixie Parents commissioned a fresh design for Pixie Park, the playground at the Center, from landscape architect Robert Royston.  The recent renovation of Pixie Park has brought back elements of Royston’s playful, organic design that had been altered over time, and restored the mid-century flavor to this beloved part of the Center’s landscape.

JC Miller, landscape architect, scholar, and passionate advocate for the garden designs of this creative period, was an associate of Robert Royston, and is an expert on Royston’s work and legacy.  JC collaborated with distinguished professor Reuben Rainey to write the recent definitive book on Royston’s work, “Robert Royston”, published by the Library of American Landscape History in 2020.

We are looking forward to presenting a significant exhibition of the work of Royston and other visionary designers from this period this summer.  Postponed from 2020, “Cool Outside” will feature images and objects that define the look of outdoor design in Northern California and the shift toward outdoor living that was so influential in those decades.

As a preview to the exhibition, JC Miller will join us for a lively virtual presentation and conversation with Reuben Rainey on March 4th.  Here is some background about the Cool Outside presentation and a glimpse of the exhibition to come:

Postwar design covered the entire spectrum of creative endeavor – including landscape architecture and garden design. With Cool Outside we step outside the sliding glass doors of the modern house and explore dynamic gardens, parks, commercial spaces and public places that enlivened life in the mid twentieth-century. California played a special role in this modern garden renaissance. The years following World War II saw extraordinary population and economic growth in the Golden State. It was an exciting and experimental time when new materials and ideas guided the built environment. This presentation, and the exhibit that follows at the Marin Art and Garden Center, draws from the rich collection of the College of Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley and on research done for the recently published Robert Royston: Landscape Architect (Rainey & Miller, University of Georgia Press).

More to explore