Marin Art and Garden Center Listed on the National Register

We are delighted to announce that the Marin Art and Garden Center has just been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the nation’s cultural resources worthy of recognition and preservation. The decision is based on the Center’s cultural significance since its founding 75+ years ago.  The Center has also been listed on the California Register of Historical Resources as a result of being placed on the National Register.

This prestigious listing is the culmination of efforts from our Board and wider community, and follows determination of eligibility by the California Historical Resources Commission, which endorsed the listing at its meeting last October; and review by the National Park Service, the Keeper of the National Register. We are now in the company of numerous listed landmark sites in Marin County, including the Angel Island U.S. Immigration Station, China Camp, the Dipsea Trail, Muir Woods National Monument, and the Marin County Civic Center.

The Livermore Pavilion, plan and photograph, courtesy of William W. Wurster/Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons Collection, Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley

The designation results from extensive historical research into the founding of the Center in 1945 by a group of passionate advocates for conservation of open space in Marin, led by Caroline Livermore, who wished to save this 11-acre former estate property and create a center for the community to gather and celebrate the arts and gardens.  After its founding, the board of this new nonprofit organization commissioned buildings and landscape designs from eminent practitioners in the Bay Area, resulting in a site that has a rich legacy of mid-century modern design that we still enjoy today.

We are grateful to the team of historians and preservation advocates who have assisted us in the research and nomination of the site and helped develop our understanding of the Center’s illustrious history and design legacy.  Gary Scales, neighbor and former Trustee, has been a consistent advocate for the celebration of the Center’s history, and was responsible for rescuing important records from a dumpster some years back!  Fran Cappelletti, librarian for the Moya Library/Ross Historical Society, took on the enormous task of transcribing the minutes of the Center’s board 

Read more about the history of Marin Art and Garden Center from historian Carol Roland Nawi and the California Garden & Landscape History Society here.

beginning with its first meeting in July of 1945.  This document formed the basis of research by historian and former State Historic Preservation Officer Carol Roland Nawi, Ph.D, whose work formed the basis for the nomination to the National Register.

Preservation architect Valerie Nagel pulled together the information, images, and narrative that formed the nomination and shepherded it through the review process at the state and national levels.  Our team is inspired by the leadership of trustee and architect Jessica Fairchild, whose dedication to the Center and its built environment has been instrumental in the stewardship of our historic site and the success of this process.

We hope you will join us in celebrating the National Register listing on the 77th anniversary of our founding, August 3, 2022.

More About the Listing

The Marin Art and Garden Center was found to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance in the areas of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Conservation, Entertainment/Recreation, and Social History: Women’s History for its association with the conservation legacy of the women’s garden club movement.

Caroline Livermore

Many of the founding women, including Caroline Livermore, Sepha Evers, Portia Forbes, Helen Van Pelt, and Gladys Smith, were instrumental in the conservation of many of Marin’s open spaces including Samuel B. Taylor State Park, Tomales Bay, and Angel Island State Park, as well as Point Reyes National Seashore and the enlargement of Mt. Tamalpais State Park boundaries. They were also active members of the Marin Garden Club, founded in 1931, which continues to be involved with the gardens at the Center.

Marin Art and Garden Center was also found to be significant in the areas of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, serving as an excellent example of the Bay Region Modern–Second Bay Tradition. The buildings on site retain the original modern lines, exposed structure, glass walls, and wood panels characteristic of this period. They embody the modernist goals regarding informality and streamlined aesthetics that are so characteristic of that time and place, and remain popular today.

The Center’s resources are the work of locally recognized architects Gardner Dailey and Donn Emmons (Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons) and landscape architects Thomas Church and Robert Royston.

As California Historical Resources Commissioner Alan Hess noted at the October meeting, the historic buildings at the Center help bring history to life for visitors, especially children.  State Historic Preservation Officer Julianne Polanco, a Mill Valley resident, told the Commission that the Center is one of her favorite places, and commended the Center’s Board of Trustees on 

The Northgate Building, courtesy of William W. Wurster/Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons Collection, Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley

their vision to preserve and sustain this significant historical resource for the community.

We are grateful for the support of elected officials in the Town of Ross and from Supervisor Katie Rice, Second District, who wrote:

“…The Marin Art & Garden Center has been and continues to be a jewel, a refuge, a place of reflection, of natural beauty, of celebration, of memories for our community: the strong legacy of the women’s history including the birth of long-standing organizations that led to a broader conservation and environmental efforts in the Bay Area, its role as the original location of the Marin County Fair, the Center’s significance as a living memorial and the site’s Bay Region Modern – Second Bay Tradition architecture using the land itself to design buildings with expansive glass, outdoor space, overhangs and trellises…”

We hope you will join us in celebrating the National Register listing on the 77th anniversary of our founding, August 3, 2022, here at the Center.

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