Pleasure Gardens, Movies, and Malls: How Florence Yoch and Ruth Shellhorn Reimagined the California Landscape
Florence Yoch (1890–1972) and Ruth Shellhorn (1909–2006) exerted a remarkable influence on both the physical and fantasy landscapes of Southern California. Yoch created Classical drama in Hollywood moguls' gardens and the landscapes of their blockbusters, from Gone With the Wind to The Good Earth. Shellhorn brought Modernist precision to campuses and shopping centers and, in Disneyland, pioneered the notion that a garden could encompass an amusement park. Kelly Comras, author of Ruth Shellhorn (University of Georgia Press, 2016) and Erin Chase, associate curator of architecture and photography at the Huntington, which houses Florence Yoch's papers, assess these masterful innovators of landscape in CPF's series on California women architects.
Featured Women: Florence Yoch & Ruth Shellhorn
Florence Yoch was an American landscape architect in California who was active from 1915 through the 1950s. Her career included commissions for private residential clients, parks, public spaces, and film sets for Hollywood movies, including the grounds for Tara in Gone with the Wind.
Ruth Shellhorn (1909–2006) was a Los Angeles-based landscape architect of the post-war era. She is known for the development of the "Southern California Look". With a focus on indoor/outdoor living, she incorporated topography and nature into urban settings to create sustainable landscapes in her designs for residences, retail, city and regional parks, universities, and colleges. The Los Angeles Times named her Woman of the Year for 1955.
Her work on the Shoreline Development Study became a precedent for development along the California Coast. She designed Bullock's department store, the Fashion Square shopping centers at Santa Ana, Sherman Oaks, La Habra and Del Amo in Torrance. In 1955, she was hired by Walt Disney to create a comprehensive pedestrian circulation system for Disneyland, establishing central landscaping elements of the park.
James Papp is an architectural historian practicing in San Luis Obispo, former chair of that city's historic preservation commission, and author of the recent San Luis Obispo County Architecture (Arcadia, 2023), which covers over forty architectural and landscape architectural styles and a dozen construction types, from the Chumash qnipu to the geodesic dome.
Erin Chase is associate curator of architecture and photography at The Huntington. Chase oversees the Library's holdings related to architecture, design, and urban planning in Southern California, and she works closely with its photography collections, especially those that document the region's built and landscaped environment. Chase holds her bachelor's degree in American studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz. A fifth generation Angeleno, she serves on the board of the Los Angeles Planning History Group, which hosts popular colloquia on contemporary and historical issues related to Los Angeles urban planning.
In 2018, Chase curated the first exhibition to survey The Huntington's architecture collection, "Architects of a Golden Age: Highlights from The Huntington's Southern California Architecture Collection,” and in 2019 she co-curated The Huntington’s Centennial exhibition “What Now: Collecting for the Library in the 21st Century.”
Kelly Comras is an ASLA Fellow and a member of the California Bar Association. She was landscape architect for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, has taught park planning and design at UCLA, and is a national ASLA award winner. Comras’ present practice focuses on research and publication in the field of cultural landscape. She is a founding member of The Cultural Landscape Foundation's Stewardship Council; has served as president for the California Garden & Landscape History Society; lectured at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Modernism Week, Library of American Landscape History, and Society of Architectural Historians. Her publications include: Ruth Shellhorn, 2016; Women, Modernity, and Landscape Architecture, 2015; and she regularly publishes in Landscape Architecture Magazine.