Documenting the Marston House Historic Gardens
By Vonn Marie May
50th Wedding Anniversary, George White & Anna Gunn Marston in their garden. Courtesy Marston family
Wood Lath House from the 1928 Formal Garden period (reconstructed in 1990s). Lath houses were very popular among San Diego's garden enthusiasts. They protected sensitive imported subtropical plants originating from other continents, making it possible for a full range of floral wealth. Photo May, 2016, courtesy Vonn Marie
Then and now: Porte cochère and entry landscape. Top: c. 1905/6 Hamilton and Margaret Marston Collection, SOHO archives. Bottom: Courtesy A. Hoffman, 2016
Then and now: Formal garden. Top: c. 1932 Hamilton and Margaret Marston Collection, SOHO archives. Bottom: Courtesy A. Hoffman, 2016
Recently a team of landscape savvy volunteers from the American Society of Landscape Architects San Diego Chapter and Save Our Heritage Organisation documented the historic gardens at the George White & Anna Gunn Marston House using the federal program known as HALS, Historic American Landscape Survey.
The HALS documentation technique was born out of the HABS/HAER (Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Record) program started by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1930s Depression. Over time, these documentation instruments have become vital, as-built primary records of the nation's historic resources.
The Marston House gardens, nestled at the northwest edge of Balboa Park, provide a uniquely California interpretation of the English Romantic and Arts & Crafts period landscape designs that were nationwide design movements of the day. The grounds capture both the level topography of western mesa tableland that falls gently into an undulating native canyon, which once culminated in a seasonal streambed below (now Highway 163). The landscape design surrounds the main house and garden structures are framed and accented by an exotic plant collection originating from distant continents.
The period of significance encompasses the full occupancy of the Marston family from 1905-1987, which begins with the completion of the house construction in 1905 and ends with the death of daughter Mary Marston (1879-1987). George White Marston (1850-1946) and Mary are the two notable family members most associated with the design and implementation of the Marston House gardens, et al. Nationally recognized New York landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. and his landscape engineer partner, George Cooke, were responsible for the physical design of the early 1905 period in close consultation with Kate O. Sessions, pioneer horticulturist.
During a significant upgrade in the late 1920s, John Nolen, another nationally recognized landscape architect, struck a new design for the grounds with special emphasis on the formal garden on the north side. Nolen dispatched a young California landscape architect, Thomas D. Church, to begin the design process; eventually, landscape architects Hale Walker and Justin Hartzog from the Nolen office completed the design in full collaboration with Mary and George Marston.
The George W. Marston House (George White and Anna Gunn Marston House) was historically designated by the City of San Diego on December 4, 1970, Historic Site #40. It was later listed on the National Register on December 16, 1974, accompanied by HABS recordation, initiated by Mary Marston. The Marston gardens were separately designated as historic by the City of San Diego on August 22, 1990, Historic Site #287. The Marston gardens represent the lasting legacy of one of San Diego's most important civic patrons, George White Marston. The intact home and grounds reflect the genteel taste of the Marston family, who in the early 20th century elevated landscape settings by example toward an aesthetic that continues to convey its relevance in our temperate and floral landscapes of today.
The Marston Garden HALS Team
Vonn Marie May, Landscape Historian
Amy Hoffman, Professional Landscape Architect, American Society of Landscape Architects
Jason Bingham, Landscape Designer
Gail Garbini, PLA, ASLA
Amie K. Hayes, Historic Resources Specialist, SOHO
Michelle Landis, PLA, ASLA
Joy Lyndes, PLA, ASLA, and San Diego Chapter ASLA HALS liaison
To read the HALS report, click HERE
NOTE: Several significant historic resources in San Diego County can be found on the HABS website. Just type in "San Diego", and you'll be amazed at what has been documented by way of measured drawings and archival photography. Most of the items are also within the public domain and can be downloaded.