Sunday, July 17, 2011

Digging in the Depression: Lord and Schryver's New Deal

For local history buffs the most interesting summer topic will surely be the reconsideration of the private garden and public park work of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver.

A while ago over at On the Way, Bonnie Hull offered a fascinating preview of the Lord & Schryver show at Hallie Ford, which she co-curated with Sharon Rose, and more recently a note about a garden tour.

Based on these previews, though, more than the gardens it's the watercolors and graphic design that look eye-opening. They look terrific, and the preview hints at a show of minor revelation - maybe more. There's the prospect for some Wow! That's pretty cool.

But the dates Lord & Schryver were active pose another question.

From On the Way, here's the watercolor plan for the Jarman House* right by the library on Gaiety Hill. It's lovely. Its date is also 1929.

The Deepwood commission followed shortly in 1930.

And what else started in 1929?

As we all struggle ourselves with the Great Recession, isn't it interesting that so much of the Lord & Schryver legacy apparently took root during the Great Depression?

In the spring of 1932 as Herbert Hoover's term in office was winding down, and unemployment was around 25% (so three times the 9% we have now!), Lord & Schryver wrote a series of articles for the Oregonian on improvements for an "average-sized city dwelling."


Who in 1932 could afford significant replanting, let alone professional landscape architecture services?** In some ways this "average-sized" lot represents a shift from the large suburban estate for Lord & Schryver, but it's average only in name.

We look forward to learning more about the "cultural landscape" Lord & Schryver did so much to influence. But we also have to ask, just how narrow a slice of culture are we actually talking about?

In his book Architecture: The Natural and the Man Made, Vincent Scully has written of the relationship between gardens and forts in 17th century Europe. He says that "the idea that the arts of fortification and of landscape architecture were almost the same was quite a logical one in the seventeenth century." And he observed that "the resurrection of the garden" in the early 1900s was also a rehabilitation of Louis XIV.

Surely it is no coincidence that Lord and Schryver met on a tour of European gardens!

(Vauban's fortification at Huningue, from Wikipedia)

To say the Lord & Schryver gardens are the products of wealth, indeed emblems of conspicuous consumption, in the middle of the Depression is not to deny their beauty. Nor is it to deny value - the creation of living, beautiful systems is a genuine act of creativity in so many ways. But we should remember they weren't victory gardens defending against the Depression, either.

We hope also that social history is not neglected in the recovery of Lord & Schryver's legacy.

* We think of it, of course, as the second Lachmund House!

** Harry Stein (in his pictorial history of Salem) suggests that with a diverse economy, Salem "endured the national Depression better than did many small cities," but it difficult to see this as much more than local pride and boosterism. He observes that Fred Meyer and Sears added stores in Salem early in the 30s, and that Salem added more people than did Portland at the same time.

Between 1930 and 1940, Salem's population increased by 18% from 26,266 to 30,908. Calling Salem a "small city" seems generous, and it's hard to know what an increase of 4,642 means. Portland was 10x larger, about 300,000.

In any case, WPA projects like the new State Capitol building, the State Library, the State Forestry Building, and the Portland Road rail overpass would certainly have a multiplier effect in the economy. But that's a government stimulus!

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