Monday, May 7, 2012

Old California

Lush pots of begonias and geraniums greeted us as we toured La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente,
California, a wonderful example of old California architecture and gardens built in 1926.

Here in Southern California the Spanish style of architecture is significant because of the Spanish influence in the history of the state.  Recently I had the opportunity to see one of the best examples of this architectural style.   The Friends of Robinson Gardens,  a fund-raising group that helps support and maintain an historic estate and gardens in Beverly Hills -- Robinson Gardens --  organized a field trip to a very special Spanish-style home in San Clemente, California.  I joined them for a tour of La Casa Pacifica, a traditional Spanish-style courtyard residence overlooking the Pacific Ocean in San Clemente.  The current owners have spent the last two decades installing gardens that include a brick-walled double-axis garden imported directly from the grounds of the Chelsea Flowers Show in London.    I wrote about it here.

The courtyard with its colorful tiles and sturdy ceramics

The six-acre estate includes cherished plantings, such as towering palms and Monterey Cypress, that survive from the early part of the twentieth-century when the original owners lived on this property.  Built in 1926 by Hamilton H. Cotton, a real estate and cotton broker from Chicago, the house was part of a 5.000-acre estate that included a horse farm and a racetrack.  The Cottons were prominent figures in the Democratic party and brought their friends down the coast on weekends by private railway car.  During the 1930's President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a frequent guest.  In 1969 Richard Nixon moved in and turned it into the Western White House.  This house has been the scene of important historic events.  Leonid Brezhnev and President Nixon signed the historic Salt II Treaty there.  The current owners moved in shortly after the Nixons left and moved to New York.     

The fountain

La Casa Pacifica is a beautiful example of old California architecture and landscape and visiting it reminded me of many of the essential characteristics of this kind of lovely Spanish home.  The distinctive architecture and landscape design of this style of house has influenced so many homes that are being built today.  It is very exciting to see the real thing!  Both the house and the gardens exhibit the authentic details of old California style and when I was there I felt truly immersed in the gracious old California style that existed in the early twentieth century.  Here are some of the highlights of the gardens and house that we saw.

Close-up of the colorful tiles

More lovely tiles on the floor, as well as a tile "painting" set into the outdoor wall

A path through the Monterey Cypress grove

The English garden imported from England

   Roses climbing on a brick wall is such a happy sight

All the hard components of the English walled garden (pictured in the above three photos) at La Casa Pacifica, including a large quantity of 200-year-old bricks, are from a garden judged Best in Show at London's Chelsea Flower Show

This magnolia tree grew from a cutting that Pat Nixon took from a tree planted by Andrew Jackson at the White House in the early 19th century.  It is now 30 feet tall and is the focal point of the garden on the northwest side of the house.

These gardens framed in boxwood are planted with seasonal flowers and provide year-long color

Mona Lisa anemones

Iceland poppies were profuse

The rose garden

Pots of geraniums and hanging plants adorn outdoor areas of the house

Old California and English Gardens made for a fabulous day!  One of the joys of living in Southern California is year round gardening and at this time of the year gardens are at their most beautiful.  There are many wonderful garden tours coming up in the month of May which means great inspiration and enjoyment for those who love gardens.


  1. This is absolutely beautiful...thanks for sharing. You may also enjoy the monastary in Sierra Madre...there is an amazing rose garden devoted to Our Lady of Sorrows, as well as a walking garden devoted to the stations of the cross. The view is amazing and the gardens are beautiful!

  2. Fantastic Sunday...very familiar and beautiful. :) xx

  3. How stunning! I love those tile floors and the English walled garden looks charming. I also love how colourful the beds in and around the magnolia are. What a wonderful place to have had a chance to visit!

  4. Everything is beautiful! I would love to have a patio finished with those beautiful tiles....gorgeous! Bonnie

  5. Lovely pictures as always! I'm awed by the Southern California architecture and of course the year round gardening. You've provided us with a wonderful visit. I love your little details such as Pat Nixon taking a cutting from the White House Magnolia. Fun!

  6. I'm glad to see that some of Old California has been preserved.
    What a charming garden.

  7. Very beautiful - would also love to see the inside of the home.

  8. What a beautiful place to visit! I love the statues and the walking path and the huge pots of flowers...ok there was not really anything I did not like. What a wonderful way to spend the day!

  9. Those are some geraniums. I always think of them being inside and small, these are glorious.