Descanso Gardens to be considered for National Register of Historic Places

The California State Historical Resources Commission on Jan. 31 will review Descanso and seven other locations statewide eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
(File Photo)

Locals have for years known Descanso Gardens as an important destination, but the La Cañada botanical garden could soon be recognized with a federal distinction as one commission considers placing it on the National Register of Historic Places.

The California State Historical Resources Commission convenes Friday to review Descanso and seven other historic places across the state as candidates for the designation. The federal program distinguishes institutions that identify, evaluate and protect the nation’s historic and archaeological resources.

“For us, it’s really exciting,” said Descanso Public Relations Manager Jennifer Errico. “Part of our mission is to be a community resource and an institution of significance, and this really supports all of that.”

While much is known about the garden’s Boddy House — constructed in 1938 in the Colonial Revival and Hollywood Regency Style — and a 1950 lakeside lodge, those structures only begin to scratch the surface of Descanso’s contributions to California history.

Among the historical resources at Descanso Gardens are a Japanese Garden opened in 1966 and the Minka House, designed by architect Kenneth Masao Nishimoto.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In the nomination document submitted to the commission, garden officials pointed to the property’s camellia forest, Japanese Garden and Tea House and Minka House, among others, as examples that tell a story of Asian American history, architecture and horticulture.

“The reintegration of Japanese American families into the fabric of the United States during the 1960s after the closure of interment camps was also evident in the proliferation of Japanese style gardens during that period, including the one at Descanso Gardens,” the document states.

Should Descanso receive national historic status it would be the third La Cañada Flintridge property to earn the distinction. The city-owned Lanterman House was added to the register in 1994, and the Flintridge Avenue home of the late Disney animator Frank Thomas earned a spot in 2015.

Descanso Gardens' Boddy House was built in 1939 by James E. Dolena for Elias Manchester Boddy, the rags-to-riches publishing visionary and then-owner of the property.
(File Photo)

Lanterman House Executive Director Laura Verlaque said while a property’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places can assist with grant eligibility and other tangible benefits, it lends a certain prestige and adds to the overall appeal of the city.

“It helps raise your profile in the historic preservation community but also among the general public,” Verlaque said. “It’s another way for people to realize the historical importance of sites within their community.”

La Cañada Mayor Pro Tem Greg Brown, who serves on the city’s historic preservation subcommittee, agrees Descanso Gardens deserves recognition for its contributions to the local community.

“As I travel outside La Cañada, the two institutions most people recognize are [NASA’s] Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Descanso Gardens,” Brown said. “It definitely would be a nice recognition. We’ve known about it all along, but it’s nice to be recognized beyond our town.”

The California State Historical Resources Commission meets Friday in Sacramento. Among the other locations up for consideration are San Pedro’s Point Fermin Light Station, Los Angeles’ Edmund Anderson House, San Bernardino’s Pioneertown Mane Street Historic District and the Grace Lewis Miller House in Palm Springs. To learn more, visit the California Office of Historic Preservation at

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