Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., his assistant Stella Obst, project engineer H.T. Cory and team of surveyors outside of Hotel Redondo.

On January 28, Christine Edstrom O’Hara of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo joined the Olmsted Network for The Olmsted Brothers’ Western Frontier: Semi-Arid Design for California

After decades of working mostly on America’s East Coast, O’Hara explained how the Olmsted Brothers firm was given a unique opportunity to adapt their talents to one of the last large undeveloped parcels of land in Southern California. 

In October 1922, Olmsted Brothers opened their first West Coast office in Redondo Beach, California, to accommodate the firm’s growing work in the region, such as the new subdivision of Palos Verdes. Under terms required by Palos Verdes developer Frank Vanderlip, principals Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and James Frederick Dawson were required to live in the community while it was under design and construction.  

Long-term residence through the 1920s enhanced the firm’s understanding of Southern California’s regional ecology, knowledge that would be important for other major projects in the decades to come. Working closely with local architects and horticulturalists, they learned and employed many new water reclamation techniques and plant species that could withstand the semi-arid environment. 

Their work in the region’s semi-arid Mediterranean climate helped them develop new models in landscape design that were untested elsewhere in the United States. Influenced by other arid climates and cultures, buildings took on an Italian-like appearance and parks were Moorish in design. 

Watch the fascinating hour-long discussion above— or on our YouTube channel here