All photos by Seth Babb

All photos by Seth Babb

1922-planRalph Cornell was an early Los Angeles landscape architect and plantsman who left a large mark on Southern California’s landscape. I believe he will be the topic of a number of articles in the foreseeable future. But before we get into who he was, let us begin with one of his projects that has endured and is still here today.

Washington Park was an empty lot and natural stream basin that was turned into a sunken garden by Ralph Cornell and horticulturalist Theodore Payne in 1922. The park is characterized by its grade changes which give the landscape a unique enclosed nature that separates the park from the surrounding area.

Expanded in the 1940s under the WPA, Washington Park was redesigned in 2003 with updated amenities, while retaining the historic nature of the park and its surrounding area. The update included the planting to a largely California native palette with the help of the Theodore Payne Foundation.

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The update was completed in 2006, and the planting has fared well in some areas, but not so well in others (most noticeably in the native California plant demonstration garden). But Washington Park remains well used, and an experience you won’t find in the other Pasadena parks designed by Ralph Cornell.

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