Documenting Historic American Landscapes – Challenge Accepted!

The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division. 

In late November, the winners of the 2021 HALS Challenge were announced. The announcement offers a good opportunity to highlight the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) collection, including the historical reports found within this collection, as well as the National Park Service’s annual challenge to create short format histories to be added to the collection.

Ala Moana Park (Hawaii) - HALS HI-21 – a man-made landscape with a lively history of public use and development over its nearly 100 year history. 2014 Challenge: Documenting Landscapes of the New Deal – Entry. 5. Banyan Courtyard at McCoy Pavilion: Overall view of banyan courtyard. View facing southeast. – Ala Moana Park, 1201 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, Honolulu County, HI. Original photo by David Franzen, 2018. Staff copy of photographic print, 2021. From HALS Survey HI-21.

HALS was established as a permanent federal program in 2000, building on the existing traditions of heritage documentation in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) programs of the National Park Service. Since 2010 it has held a yearly competition for best HALS short format historical reports responding to a prescribed theme. The theme this year was “Historic Black Landscapes.” Twenty-six short format reports and some drawings submitted for the competition will make their way into the permanent collections at the Library of Congress. The winning submissions documented Golden Gate Village in California, River View Farm in Virginia, Beltane Ranch in California, and City Hall Park in California.

The short format history focuses on the important work of research and historical writing in the documentation and preservation of heritage sites. The HALS Challenge short format history entries must include the required standard headings: significance, description, history and sources. While the bread and butter of HABS, HAER and HALS may be the beautiful measured drawings, or the detailed photographs, some of the most useful information comes from the data pages where the historical reports appear. The reports often help identify important people, changes in proprietorship and address, names of engineers, tool makers, rail companies, etc. They can include genealogical facts, deeds, pricing and lot parceling information, and synthesize newspaper reporting about political and community conflicts. In short, they are full of factual nuggets. The final part, the sources or bibliographies in the data pages, remain one of the most valuable aspects of the surveys for those doing in-depth research.

Below I will highlight some past HALS Challenge entries that I found fascinating.

Crowell Sawmill Historic District (Louisiana) – HALS LA-10, 2016. Challenge: Documenting National Register Listed Landscapes – Entry.

The historical report delves into the history of the topography and soil, and the plant and animal species found therein, before moving on to the mill that spawned a company town, Long Leaf, named after the high-quality lumber made from the longleaf pine of the area. The landscape survey doesn’t focus on a single building or technology, but rather it highlights land use across the acreage of the district. Log ponds, railroads, drying kilns, storage sheds, and other evidence of industrial spread are part of the history. The mill operated from 1890 to 1954 when the last old growth stand of longleaf was harvested. The area is now home to a museum.

1. Title Sheet – Crowell Sawmill Historic District, 77 Long Leaf Road, Longleaf, Rapides Parish, LA. Drawing by Michael Davis, 2016. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.la0752/sheet.00001a. From HALS Survey LA-10.

Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village (California) – HALS CA-42, 2013. Challenge: Documenting the Cultural Landscapes of Women – Entry.

This survey highlights a landscape that was not the work of a well-known, professionally trained designer. The report says: “With no formal training in art or architecture, Prisbrey began Bottle Village construction at age 60, proceeding to create it by herself, mostly from materials gleaned through daily visits to the dump.”

5. Cleopatra’s Bedroom oblique with picture tube wall along walkway. Structure is made solely of amber colored bottles. Roof supported by telephone poles. Areas of bottle wall above window opening collapsed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Camera facing northeast. – Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village, 4595 Cochran Street, Simi Valley, Ventura County, CA. Photo by Stephen D. Schafer, 2009. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ca3678/photos.576577p. From HALS Survey CA-42.

McKinley Park (California) – HALS CA-133, 2017. Challenge: Documenting City and Town Parks – 2nd place.

This survey documents, “Sacramento’s first park related to the American urban parks movement of the nineteenth century and to the phenomenon of pleasure grounds created by streetcar companies.” The cover sheet is a treat because most HABS, HAER, and HALS drawings do not incorporate color, but it would be very hard to discern the different parts of the landscape if the site plan was only in grayscale.

1. Site Plan – McKinley Park, Bounded by Alhambra Boulevard, McKinley Boulevard, 35th Street, Park Way, 33rd Street, and H Street, Sacramento, Sacramento County, CA. Drawing by Douglas Nelson, 2017. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ca4325/sheet.00001a. From HALS Survey CA-133.

Bush Stadium (Indiana) – HALS IN- 6, 2011. Challenge: Celebrating Cultural Landscapes of Diversity – 2nd place

The report details the history of Black baseball in Indianapolis including three lost parks, in addition to Bush Stadium and its historical significance as a home for hosting games for both segregated and integrated leagues. The stadium is also architecturally significant for innovations in ballpark design, and the Art Deco motifs which can be seen in the drawings.

Section, Elevation, and Details – Bush Stadium and the Landscape of Black Baseball in Indianapolis, Indiana – Bush Stadium, 1501 West 16th Street, Indianapolis, Marion County, IN. Drawing by Kyle J. Boot, 2011. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.in0534/sheet.00004a. From HALS Survey IN-6.

Allegheny National Forest, CCC Camp ANF-1 (Pennsylvania) – HALS PA-25, 2014. Challenge: Documenting Landscapes of the New Deal – 1st place

This survey documents the details of a fairly well preserved example of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp from early in the history of the CCC conservation program. The site was also used as a Prisoner of War camp in World War II, and as a 4-H camp, before its current use as a recreation camp.

Allegheny National Forest, CCC Camp ANF-1 , The camp’s main entrance is located at the intersection of Duhring Road (ANF 131) and ANF 124, Pennsylvania, with the interior site road known as Trail Ride Drive., Marienville, Forest County, PA. Page 10 of historical report by Ann E. Komara, with assistance from Susan Martino, et al., 31 July 2014. pdf  From HALS Survey PA-25.

Allegheny National Forest, CCC Camp ANF-1 , The camp’s main entrance is located at the intersection of Duhring Road (ANF 131) and ANF 124, Pennsylvania, with the interior site road known as Trail Ride Drive., Marienville, Forest County, PA. Page 9 of historical report by Ann E. Komara, with assistance from Susan Martino, et al., 31 July 2014. pdf From HALS Survey PA-25.

Sunset Magazine Headquarters (California) HALS CA-115, 2015 Challenge: Documenting Modernist Landscapes – 1st place

The data pages for Sunset magazine headquarters are full of information about the magazine’s early history. From designers and architects that influenced the look and feel of the offices, to garden and demonstration area descriptions, the report provides a rich context for the indoor and outdoor spaces as used by both staff and public visitors. The sheet shows spaces for entertaining, test gardening, employee use, the kitchen patio and a list of trees. Also included are lists of plant species and planting diagrams, common features in many HALS reports.

3. Details – Sunset Headquarters, 80 Willow Road, Menlo Park, San Mateo County, CA. Drawing by Sarah Raube, 2015. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ca4186/sheet.00003a. From HALS Survey CA-115.

I hope you’ll explore more of HALS on your own or start considering whether you are up for the next challenge. The 2022 HALS Challenge will focus on Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., his firm, and the firm continued by his sons.

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