Descanso Gardens to Be Named on Historic Places Register

The California State Historical Resources Commission recently approved Descanso Gardens to be designated on the National Register of Historic Places list.
The approval was given on Jan. 31 during a commission meeting in Sacramento. The next step, considered procedural, will be final approval from the National Park Service.
“It’s exciting news,” said Jennifer Errico, Descanso Gardens’ public relations manager last week. “This makes us more an institution of significance.”
Descanso Gardens is a 149-acre botanical garden with seven buildings, five sites and one structure. The property, managed by the nonprofit organization Descanso Gardens Guild in a public-private partnership with Los Angeles County, was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under two criteria. The first was its association with “Ethnic Heritage” for its association with the Japanese American experience before and after World War II. The second criterion was in the area of “Architecture and Landscape Architecture” because of the works by master architects and landscape architects Smith & Williams, Eijiro Nunokawa and Kenneth Masao Nishimoto.
Some timelines of the property’s history, according to its website, go back to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s Pacific expedition in 1542, but Native Americans lived on the land around Descanso long before that. In the late 1930s, Elias Manchester Boddy purchased 165 acres of undeveloped land for a ranch and a new home, and in February 1942 he purchased the inventory of two Japanese-owned camellia growers F.M. Uyematsu and F.W. Yoshimura for the gardens’ first signature collection.
Errico said Los Angeles County officials, who own the land, approached garden officials last fall and asked why the property wasn’t on the National Historic Registry.
“We worked hard to pull out documentation” for the award, Errico said. “We thought it would take a year or two but we found out earlier this month we were nominated and now we’ve been approved.”
Errico said the gardens will likely get a sign acknowledging the historic designation but “it doesn’t affect anything at the gardens.”
On May 21, there will be a La Cañada Flintridge community night free for LCF residents and the designation might be celebrated then, Errico said.
Jay Correia, supervisor of Cultural Resources Programs, Registration and Project Review Units for the California Office of Historic Preservation, said anyone can nominate a property to the national register: “We receive those and review them intensively.”
With the approval of Descanso Gardens, the nomination now gets passed to the National Park Service, which “typically” approves the nominations, he said.
“We have a pretty good track record … sometimes there will be a question or two or a clarification or correction,” he said, noting that while being named to the nation’s list of historic properties is “an honor,” all the protection of the site has to come from the local level.
“We’re saying the property meets national historic criteria … it’s up to the local population and local government to make sure the property survives in the future,” Correia said.

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