For as long as I can remember, California employers and developers have marketed imagery of its beautiful landscapes and temperate weather to tourists and spectators alike. Let’s face it, I was sold. Maybe your story is like mine: your relatives moved to Los Angeles in search of a better life, compelled to chase the dream of the Golden State advertised on orange crate labels that were shipped all across the country. Today’s marketers still package Southern California through carefully crafted images of its alluring landscape, encouraging millions of new people to move to the land of fruit and honey over with the lure of money and fame.
An orange crate label of Titus Ranch. The ranch covered 550 acres in San Gabriel and San Marino, a citrus ranch that annually produced over 100 rail cars full of citrus in the early 1890’s. Image: Titus Ranch, 1906-1966 ephCL T-25, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
By the early 1900s, Henry Huntington had expanded the rail system westward by linking the electric car rail between cities in Southern California. With his wealth in hand, Huntington began a private collection of exotic desert plants in San Marino, California. The demand for agricultural goods was increasing at a rapid pace, with the population within the area tripled! Yet, San Gabriel Valley Citrus growers definitely required more labor. Growers begun manufacturing orange crate labels driven by an idealist, dreamy portrait of life on their California ranch.
Citrus growers were not only exceptional producers of healthy, fresh fruit, they also were unknowingly effective marketers of Southern California as an idyllic paradise: beautifully snowcapped mountains, rivers with clean blue water, exotic palm trees and colorful plants, portraits of happy children, rays of bright sunshine depicting exceptionally great weather, groves of citrus with their bright, healthy fruit were all represented in paintings printed into labels for orange crates. These images of temperate Southern California in the winter had a profound effect on the rest of the nation, promising a better life in “Eden”. Settlers came in droves to California, but were greeted by hard and monotonous work in packing houses or demandi ng hours picking fruit in the fields. Yet, these new arrivals were able to find better housing opportunities, a steady paycheck, and healthier environment for families to grow and achieve.
Packers at the ranch. Photo: Katharine Rudnyk
My great grandmother Katharine Martin Usrey, on the left, who rode the red line from Redondo Beach to Titus Ranch in San Gabriel, California where her father once managed the ranch. Today, I ride the Red Line to AHBE Landscape Architects. Photo: Katharine Rudnyk
Close up of a float depicting the iconic City of Beverly Hills signage in roses.
Distinct ecologies of California continue to encourage more and more visitors to travel to beaches along the Pacific Ocean, head to the desert, or take a quick drive to the local snow-capped mountains. California Adventure within Disneyland opened February 8, 2001 in celebration of all things California. One of the most popular rides, Soarin’ Over California shows visitors an idyllic view of the state’s natural wonders. This easy-going, visually dramatic video ride in a simulated hang glider safely flies visitors over beaches, grove of sequoias, citrus ranches, and other Southern California landmarks along the way. Imagineers created fragrances to reflect each unique California ecology, such as salty air from a beach or a woodlands scent emitting from the sequoia grove. Perhaps this beautiful sensual interpretation of California had the same effect as the orange crate label, but with a more modern narrative?
One floriculture phenomenon driving millions of tourists annually to California is the Rose Parade. It has a rich history in San Gabriel Valley. In 1894, my great – grandfather drove a fancy carriage with horses decorated in roses. In 1951, the parade was brought to life to the millions of viewers who saw the parade in color on their television sets. Families, like my own, still gather annually to spend the night or arrive very early morning to enjoy the fruits of California’s labor, flowers. Thousands of leaves, flowers, and seeds are glued to a structure mounted on a moving vehicle. Prior to the event, guests turn roadways into parks, riding bikes and skateboards and gathering places to eat and be merry. Like a street beach!
The pastoral image created by the citrus ranchers inspired one homeowner – Dr. Lloyd Pittman and his wife Doris – to protect his 26 bougainvillea growing on palm trees that once surrounded a sizable citrus ranch in Glendora, California. His decision to nominate the site and have it listed in the National Register of Historic Places led to it becoming the driving imagery for a new upscale condominium development called Rancho del Bougainvillea. The bougainvillea were originally planted around 1907, and to this day are still each growing up mature Washingtonia robusta. Each vine is tied to the palm tree by way of a fire hose. It is still the only plant listed on the register.
Dr. Lloyd Pittman and his wife Doris in front of Bougainvillea (1952). Photo: Bougainvillea, National Register of Historic Places NPGallery
How can dreamy imagery of a distinct California ecology increase the urban population of inner city Los Angeles when the ongoing perception of an “urban” landscape depicts crime, traffic, and homelessness? Landscape architects, landscape designers, illustrators, writers, and graphic artists have the tools to create compelling landscape images and narratives for developers. They connect people to landmarks, opportunities for better movement via transit, bicycles, and other means. And best of all, Californian creatives can depict new horticulturally relevant experiences for the next generation of Californians to enjoy for years to come.