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The Barnsdall Art Park Foundation and the Los Angeles Parks Foundation launch an ambitious initiative to recover and maintain the park’s historic olive grove.

By Rachel Gallaher

black and white historic photo of olive grove

Olive Hill, 1896. Security Pacific National Bank Collection / Los Angeles Public Library

2021 is a big year for anniversaries in East Los Angeles. Marking the 100th anniversary of the completion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House (the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in LA), it is also the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, and the 50th anniversary of Barnsdall Art Park being added to the National Register of Historic Places. The three institutions, which all sit on a hill along Hollywood Boulevard, make up a cultural campus that boasts sweeping city views and is a popular destination for design and architecture lovers.

Last month, to mark the centennial anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, another exciting milestone was announced: the City of Los Angeles, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation, and Los Angeles Parks Foundation revealed an ambitious community initiative to restore and sustain the park’s historic olive grove.

“The Barnsdall Olive Grove Initiative is a collaborative community partnership that is revitalizing a beloved, 130-year-old element of Los Angeles’s diverse landscape,” says Daniel Gerwin, president of the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation. “Developing and implementing a strategic plan to care for the hundreds of olive trees at Barnsdall Art Park and working together to achieve our goal to plant new olive trees at this historic site will improve the environment and contribute to a spirit of collective healing, which is necessary as we emerge from the challenging past year.”

landscape of trees in olive grove

Barnsdall Olive Grove, 2021. Photo by Katherine Pakradouni.

The park was established in 1927 when Aline Barnsdall, an oil heiress and art enthusiast donated a tract of land to the city of Los Angeles for the creation of a public park. At the time, the property, then known as Olive Hill, held about 1,225 olive trees and was used as a commercial orchard. About a decade earlier, Barnsdall had commissioned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a compound and private residence, Hollyhock House (named after her favorite flower), a Mayan-Revival style residence arranged around a central courtyard. During construction, Wright was also working on the Imperial Hotel in Japan, causing him to hand off many of the tasks and responsibilities for the Hollyhock House to his assistant, Rudolph Schindler, and his son, Lloyd Wright. Rising costs and clashes between the architect and homeowner caused Barnsdall to fire Wright, leaving Schindler to finish the home.

Over the next seven decades, the park and cultural complex grew and evolved, and by 1992 only 90 of the olive trees from the original 1890s grove remained. Three years later the Barnsdall Park Master Plan, created by Peter Walker William Johnson and Partners, Lehrer Architects, Levin & Associates Architects, and Kosmont Associates, was launched and hundreds of additional trees were added to the grove over the next decade.

aerial photograph in black and white of Barnsdall Park 1947

Barnsdall Park, 1947. © c/o Stephen & Christy McAvoy Family Trust.

In the newest step towards restoring and maintaining the grove, the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation has contributed $25,000 to the Adopt-a-Park program run by the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. Those funds are being used to pay for the horticultural survey and analysis of Barnsdall Art Park’s olive grove, the necessary care of the site’s 333 existing olive trees for one year, and the development of a comprehensive strategy for planting additional olive trees at the park.

After surveying the quantity and overall health and condition of the trees (tissue samples were taken from the roots and stems to check for disease), members of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation were able to determine that an improved irrigation plan and careful pruning strategy will be the most effective ways to restore the health of the trees that are currently struggling.

“One of the most exciting discoveries of the project was finding fifty-eight olive seedlings in the understory of the oldest fruiting olive trees in the grove,” says Katherine Pakradouni, a project manager and horticulturist with the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. “We’re hopeful that those special seedlings may be nurtured into vibrant saplings at [our] headquarters at the historic Commonwealth Nursery in Griffith Park and replanted at Barnsdall Art Park and other locations throughout the city.”

Landscape photo of staircase at Barnsdall olive grove

Barnsdall Olive Grove, 2021. Photo by Katherine Pakradouni.

In addition to raising funds for the proliferation and restoration of the original olive grove, the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation has also begun raising money to plant and maintain new olive trees through the Los Angeles Park Forest program, created and managed by the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. The mission of the Los Angeles Park Forest initiative is to add trees to city parks to offset the city’s carbon footprint, cool surface air temperatures, and educate the public about climate change. The Barnsdall Olive Grove Initiative will support the City of Los Angeles' goal to plant 90,000 new trees as part of LA's Green New Deal.

“Since it was established 130 years ago, the olive grove has been a defining feature of the community now known as East Hollywood,” notes Carolyn Ramsay, executive director of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. “People have fond memories of picking olives at the park with their families and sitting atop Olive Hill to watch the sunset. As a breathing pore in a dense community, the trees play an essential role in improving the area’s air quality and are a pivotal dimension of the region’s wildlife ecosystem.”


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