Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste residents these days may take their parks and green spaces for granted, because they do not know that each green sward was carefully laid out long ago by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in a map he prepared in 1924. That map now hangs prominently in the Local History Room at Peninsula Center Library.
It is a visual testament to Olmsted’s commitment to open space as a vital rest and renewal destination for human beings. Carefully illustrated in shades of light green that define parks, open space, golf courses and school grounds, the map pays special attention to clusters of housing, school buildings and even a nursery, which Olmsted had located in Lunada Bay. (Pity it never materialized.)
Today, this landscaping philosophy that celebrates open space is unanimously invoked by environmentalists and planners throughout the country. And-if one pauses to observe and express gratitude–this philosophy is still visibly apparent throughout the Peninsula’s first city, because its virtue has been preserved by the Art Jury and the Homes Association.
In a much-belated tribute to this green-thumb genius, a small park at the corner of Palos Verdes Drive West and Via Corta in Malaga Cove was dedicated and named Olmsted Place on Feb. 8, 2000. (He had already identified and landscaped this spot of land next to the Gardner Building as a little postage-stamp park in 1925-but he hadn’t named it for himself. In fact, it had been nameless.)
About 100 people attended the 2000 dedication of the $16,000 project. The City pitched in $5,000 to get the dollar bills rolling. Palos Verdes Beautiful and private donations managed to complete the funding. Rancho de los Palos Verdes Historical Society had donated a plaque in 1991.
Members of the special committee that finally brought the mini-park plans to the City Council and won its glowing approval in late 1999 were these long-time residents: the now-deceased Jack Bauman; Ruth Gralow; Carolyn Schaeffer; Dorothy Flood, and the recently deceased Jeane Burke. The panel even endorsed the plan and tree selections Olmsted had made, some of which had existed since their original planting. Boulder benches were also recommended as “social spaces for people to come together,” according to Olmsted, who was a great fan of creating spaces where people can socialize.
As for Olmsted, he had completed his landscaping assignment for the Palos Verdes Project in 1931 and returned with his family to the firm’s headquarters and his East Coast home (one and the same) in Brookline, Mass.
After an active career in the East, Olmsted retired in 1950 and moved to Palo Alto with his wife to be near their daughter, who was their only child. He died on Christmas Day in 1957 while visiting friends in Malibu. He was 87.