Tag Archives: National Park Service

America’s Best Idea

Screening at Paramount Ranch

Screening at Paramount Ranch

Last Thursday, this California State Parks staffer joined a comrade from the National Park Service for a sneak preview of documentarian Ken Burns’ newest series set to air on PBS in September, “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea.” The evening was quite a treat beginning with a serendipitous brush with President Obama’s motorcade headed south on the 101 as we traveled north in the carpool lane through Burbank. An impressive show, for sure. But not to be outdone was the veritable NPS rangercade that escorted Burns through the crowd and into the screening at Paramount Ranch.

Photo by Karen Quincy Loberg, Ventura County Star

Photo by Karen Quincy Loberg, Ventura County Star

Part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Paramount Ranch is itself a National Park Unit and an ideal setting in the golden hour light to welcome visitors for park hikes, docent tours, and other activities prior to the screening.

NPS Display

NPS Display

KCET personality and friend of all California parks, Huell Howser, was on hand to moderate the evening’s events with the folksy enthusiasm we’ve all come to expect. But Huell also provided some insightful commentary. On Burns’ engaging view of history and unique storytelling he aptly stated that he “makes us feel better about who we are” as Americans. Burns, for his part was humble, thoughtful, and genuinely awed with regard to his latest subject emphasizing that preservation of land for public use and enjoyment is a uniquely American enterprise, calling it “democracy applied to the landscape.” In equal measure, he spoke appreciatively of those people, past and present, dedicated to preserving our most beautiful landscapes and endangered wildlife, making the National Park system what it is today. He spoke further of a commitment to life-long learning, service, and stewardship that is cultivated in tandem with a love of our National Parks and public landscapes reassuring the audience that “in difficult times, parks have thrived.”

Ghost Town at Paramount Ranch

Ghost Town at Paramount Ranch

From a State Parks perspective, it is notable that “America’s Best Idea” originated in California. In 1864 Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees was deeded to the State as a public trust in a land grant by President Lincoln “…to be held for public use, resort, and recreation…” a direct precursor to the modern California State Parks department and mission. Yosemite was the original California State Park and later incorporated as part of the National Park Service which was established in 1916.

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California,with it its rich landscape, was also not surprisingly home to early environmental activism. In the 1880’s Ralph Sidney Smith, editor of the Redwood City Times and Gazette began writing about the need for preservation of California’s unique redwood forests. The Sempervirens Club, formed in 1900, carried on the crusade for preservation and their vocal advocacy led to the creation of the modern State Park system with the opening of the first modern park, “Big Basin” in Santa Cruz County in 1904.

Here at LASHP the legacy of that early activism is particularly resonant. In the same spirit of preservation, LASHP was rescued from pending industrial development by a coalition of thirty-five neighborhood, urban environmental, and social justice organizations. The Chinatown Yard Alliance pulled together in joint recognition of the site’s historical significance and its potential to fulfill a tremendous need for open space and possible reconnection to the Los Angeles river. Thanks to the vision and hard work of concerned Angelenos we have this lovely space and a neighborhood poised to transform around it as opposed to blocks of warehouses and more of the industrial same-old.

Photo by Joshua White

Photo by Joshua White

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Modern Parkitecture

With much public discussion these days relating to infrastructure, economic stimulus, and job creation, the Los Angeles Times recently featured this engaging article concerning the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in our national parks during the 1930’s. In fact, the CCC was also responsible for considerable work in our state parks, exemplified by visitor centers, campgrounds, and restrooms designed in the “park rustic” style of architecture, or “parkitecture” as it has come to be known.

Humbolt Redwoods State Park

While highlighting the CCC’s significance in providing park infrastructure, the story too focused on the Corp’s dual role of creating an infrastructure for the lives and futures of the young men who joined.

“The CCC was a great deal more than a work program,” former National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy said. “It was an education and nutrition program. Most of the people who worked there got the first decent meals in their lives. You could see the people growing, literally, eating good food and working hard outside.”

The spirits of formerly hungry and downtrodden Corp members were lifted through difficult but satisfying work as they labored in the most beautiful natural settings in the nation.

“Environmentalism took its largest forward leap in this country when those people learned it with their hands and with their feet,” Kennedy said.

This newfound connection workers felt for the land appears echoed in designs by National Park Service architects. Park rustic design emphasized the use of native materials such as stone and timber, along with minimal detailing and fine craftsmanship in an effort to connect buildings to local settings and emphasize the natural beauty of the landscape.

State Park architect Amy Schuessler from our Southern Service Center, notes the significance of historical context when considering park architecture and emphasized the continued importance of “speaking to the current moment” in architectural design for our State Parks. That is exactly what she did in her design of the LASHP administrative building which is located at the northern end of the park. “Modular buildings are very popular right now due to the reduction of waste, efficiency, and cost savings associated with off-site construction,” says Amy. In designing the LASHP modular she focused on creating a “green” building through the use of natural lighting and recycled materials such as railroad ties and cemintious fiber board.

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Amy notes that in the mid-1950’s the National Park Service began a program of improvements to National Park facilities entitled Mission 66. Mission 66 sought to address the need for new and improved park facilities during the post World War II years when the population boomed and hit the road to visit state and national parks. Buildings were designed in a contemporary, Modernist style as new and eager visitors poured into parks.

In terms of State Park architectural design, Amy says, “Now is our Mission 66.” Amy’s modern design of the LASHP modular is one that speaks to new directions for California State Parks as we extend our reach to park patrons in urban areas such as downtown Los Angeles where State Parks presence has traditionally been less prominent. Amy notes however, that her design choices, like those made during the CCC era, sought stylistically to tie the building to the historical landscape. Stone gabbions provide solidity to a building that would otherwise appear raised from the surface and the reddish-orange color is reminiscent of box cars and the a nod to the railroad history of the site.

LASHP modular

LASHP modular

For those of us finding the modular a second home, we’d like to thank Amy Schuessler for a stylish design that allows us to enjoy a nice cross-breeze and days spent free of fluorescent lighting. The modular is not only a good-looking addition to our new downtown park but very much in keeping with California State Parks’ overcall focus on creating energy efficient “Cool Parks.” Well done Amy!

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