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Photos by Seth Babb

A continuation of trips to the landscapes of Ralph Cornell takes us to Rancho Los Cerritos in Long Beach. Rancho Los Cerritos is already an interesting site due to its deep historical significance in Southern California; the changes that Rancho Los Cerritos has gone through are representative of the development of the region as a whole. What seems like a somewhat typical older Southern California residential landscape contains layers of history and subtle design, a surprisingly distinguishing site representing the work of Cornell throughout Southern California that illustrates his ability to elevate the landscape into an experience worthy of a historic site.

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The structures of Rancho Los Cerritos were originally built in 1844 (more information on the extensive history of the site can be found here, but I highly recommend visiting for a more complete understanding). In 1930, Ralph Cornell was hired to redesign the landscape for the new owner who was restoring the property that had fallen into disrepair with the intent of making it his permanent residence. Cornell took care to design with the existing trees wherever possible, yielding some wonderful specimens that anchor the site in history and give the gardens a character all their own.

The orchard showcases Cornell’s knowledge of horticulture, populated with trees that yield fruit at different times throughout the year. A Western Sycamore in the main courtyard defines one end of the site while drawing attention to the landscape beyond the wall and the iconic green gate. Cornell took cues from throughout the site and used them in his new design to tie the new to the old, such as the use of the aforementioned green gate as the basis of design for newer gates. Cornell’s body of work was characterized by this strong emphasis and ability to work with both the natural and historical characters of the landscapes. Rancho los Cerritos, while not the grandest of his designs, is exemplary of Cornell’s commitment to placemaking.

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