Two Views of City Beautiful

May 22, 2016

Frederick-Law-Olmsted_home_1926_Palos-Verdes-Estates_CAThe City Beautiful Movement had its first “large-scale elaboration” during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago. Remember the “White City”? Architects from the East Coast, along with sculptor Augustus Saint-Gardens, were hired by architect Daniel Turnham to build a ” model city of grand scale… with modern transport and no poverty visible.”

In 1902, the McMillan Plan, so named for Michigan Senator James McMillan, was created with the objective of using “the City Beautiful ideal with the intent of creating social order through beautification.”

Frederick Law Olmsted Senior is considered the “fore-father of the profession of landscape architecture in the United States” and he was a major player in the City Beautiful Movement. His works include the physical plan for Stanford University, Central Park in New York City (Olmsted along with Calvert Vaux submitted the winning design for the park, an entry called “Greensward“), planned communities in Illinois and Georgia, and Fenway Park in Boston.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. worked with his father and Burnham in the summer of 1893 in the “White City.”


Photo: C. D. Arnold (1844-1927; H. D. Higinbotham (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

The White City, Chicago. Agricultural Building: Official View of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Photo: C. D. Arnold (1844-1927; H. D. Higinbotham (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.


Locally, the South Bay community (Old Torrance, 1911) and the Palos Verdes Estates (1920s) were designed by Olmsted, Jr. as a “City Beautiful.” It’s also reported that the master plan for “industrial Torrance” was “largely unrealized,” though Sam Gnerre writing for the Daily Breeze strongly states otherwise in his article “Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.


Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.


Entrance, Malaga Cove, Palos Verdes Estates, 1926.

Entrance, Malaga Cove, Palos Verdes Estates, 1926. Photo source:


Olmsted, Jr., Palos Verdes Estates

Olmsted, Jr. outside his Rosita Place residence, Palos Verdes Estates. Photo source:


Some critics of the City Beautiful Movement, including Jane Jacobs, thought aesthetics were taking priority over desperately-needed social reforms. She referred to the movement, according to The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Random House, 1961), as an “architectural design cult.” Learn more at The Center for the Living City: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs.




Novelist and non-fiction author Fabienne Marsh writes that the Olmsteds (Frederick Senior and Junior) actually had created design plans for not only Beverly Hills, but also Pasadena, California. As the City Beautiful Movement has its basis in the Beaux Arts philosophy, two lectures presented by Pasadena Heritage discuss “its influence on Pasadena’s Civic Center, a National Register Historic District.”

On May 24 and June 7, Pasadena Heritage‘s “Two Views on the City Beautiful”:


Professor Philip Bess

Professor Philip Bess


Tuesday, May 24, 7 p.m.: “The City Beautiful Movement – Then and Now,” a lecture by Professor Philip Bess of the University of Notre Dame will be held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium’s Gold Room.

Professor Philip Bess teaches graduate urban design and theory, with a particular interest in Catholic and classical humanist intellectual and artistic traditions in the context of modern American life and the contemporary culture of architecture and urban design. (

Bess has also authored Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred (2006) and Inland Architecture: Subterranean Essays on Moral Order and Formal Order in Chicago (2000).




Professor Laurie D. Olin

Professor Laurie D. Olin


Tuesday, June 7, 7 p.m.: “The Art of the Ensemble: the City Beautiful Movement of the early 20th Century,” a lecture by Laurie Olin, landscape architect, author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Location to be determined.

Laurie D. Olin is practice professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught for thirty years, and former chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University. Olin was chosen to serve as the landscape architect for the Barnes Foundation’s new art education center located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. He co-authored the book OLIN: Placemaking, published by Monacelli Press, which features a selection of the OLIN studio’s most celebrated landscape architecture, urban design and planning projects. (



What is “peacemaking,” you ask? Visit Project for Public Spaces at


Tickets: $18 for PH members; $20 for non-members. Purchase tickets online at Pasadena Heritage (click here) or call 1.626.441.6333.


Interior, Pasadena Civic Auditorium

Interior, Pasadena Civic Auditorium


Photo, top right: Olmsted, Jr. estate, Palos Verdes Estates, 1926. Photo source: (Palos Verdes Local History, Palos Verdes Library District); initially sourced from

Information source: and,,,,, and


View south from La Venta, Palos Verdes Estates; photo

View south from La Venta, Palos Verdes Estates; photo





Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena