For my last post on the spectacular Elms Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, I wanted to highlight something I rarely feature on this page, a garden. When the mansion was completed by 1901, architect Horace Trumbauer and his firm went to work to produce plans for a natural landscape with a large lily pond at the far edge of the property. After 1907, the Berwind’s and high-society shifted and landscape ideals were influenced by newer theories in American landscape architecture, which sought influence from historical European gardens. Trumbauer reworked The Elms’ garden to reflect this new emphasis on reviving classical European garden design alongside landscape architects Ernest W. Bowditch and Jacques Greber advising on the parterre design in the sunken garden. A grand allée on the scale of 18th century French palace gardens extends across an expansive lawn toward two formal marble pavilions situated along a minor cross axis above a sunken garden. The marble pavillions appear to have been designed by Trumbauer and are inspired by 18th-century French garden pavilions. The grand context for the gardens is a park-like collection of specimen beech, elms, maples, linden and other large canopy trees. Many of the large trees have since succumbed to disease, but the formal Italian sunken garden remains one of the finest in the United States.
Located at the center of Fisher Hill, an Olmsted-designed neighborhood in Brookline, is a 10-acre park with raised earth and a depression in the middle. At first glance you may think its just been playing fields and open space for as long as the neighborhood has been around, but upon closer inspection (and geeking out over the gatehouse), you can learn much more!
The Fisher Hill Reservoir was built in 1886-87 as an early component of the Boston Water Board’s expansion of its high service system. The gatehouse was likely designed by Boston City Architect, Arthur Vinal, who also
designed the Chestnut Hill High Service Pumping Station (now the Waterworks Museum) completed the same year. The gatehouse has a granite substructure, stone main floor, and brick second story. Brownstone is used for quoins and window heads, including the oversized voussoirs above round-arched openings in the main floor.
Providing water for the area for over 60 years via a large open reservoir, the land was eventually abandoned by the state as newer facilities were constructed and distribution changed after WWII. The site and gatehouse sat abandoned for decades until the Town of Brookline purchased the parcel from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for use as a municipal park. The landscape architecture firm of Klopfer Martin Design Group kept the earth structure as a historic reference to the site’s context within Brookline and greater Boston, and conveyed the site’s history as a reservoir, using both spatial and interpretive elements and signage, as well as delivering a contemporary, and programmatically rich park, worthy of its Olmstedian context.