AKA: Donnell Recreation Area, Sonoma, CA; El Novillero, Sonoma, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses; landscapes - cultural landscapes - gardens

Designers: Church, Thomas D. , Landscape Architect (firm); Thomas Dolliver Church (landscape architect); Lawrence Halprin (landscape architect); George Thomas Rockrise (architect)

Dates: constructed 1947-1948

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23570 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, CA

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Please respect the owner's privacy, and do not trespass.

Set on a hillside with sweeping views to the southeast, this biomorphic pool with its recumbent, floating sculpture, deeply resonated with designers and magazine editors from the late 1940s into the 1960s. Images of the garden appealed on many levels; first, it had an energetic modern form that was also functional; the kidney-shaped pool would influence many and became a design staple of the 1950s. Second, it integrated into the idyllic landscape of the Bay Area, and had a commanding and desirable hilltop vista of Sonoma County. Elizabeth Kassler wrote in 1964: "Related neither to builidngs nor to land form, most swimming pools are literally for swimmers only. This pool is an exception. Its fluid shaping was inspired by the winding creeks of salt marshes seen through the frame of lived oaks. The large landscape is expanded not denied." (See Elizabeth Kassler, Gardens in a Natural Landscape, [New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964), p. 69.) Third, it depicted a highly coveted middle-class residential accessory that suggested the leisure and relaxation so craved after World War II. The in-ground pool symbolized suburban wealth and status, and, during the course of the 1950s, became relatively attainable in affluent sections of CA.

The Donnell Garden stood on property once occupied by one of the over twenty Mexican ranchos that comprised Sonoma County. Most of these agricultural estates supported cattle ranching. This heritage led the Donnell's to name their place "El Novillero," the bullfighter.

Landscape architect Thomas D. Church (1902-1978) designed the Donnell Garden before aresidence was built on this section of the owner's property. In the late 1940s, Church had assembled a stellar staff, with younger designers who would become influential within the profession. His young employee, Lawrence Halprin (1916-2009), who became a titanic figure in the field, was responsible for the design of the pool. Another Church office designer, George Rockrise (1916-2000), who later cofounded the important design firm ROMA Design, designed the lanai and dressing rooms surrounding the kidney-shaped pool. Sculptor Adaline Kent Howard (1900-1957) produced the curvilinear form floating above tthe pool, a sculpture recalling contemporary work by Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth.

A late plan for the Donnell Garden was dated 09/05/1947. Lawrence Halprin wrote of the Donnell Garden in 1950: "I would like to point out that these slides all represent gardens done in this office except the Donnell garden which I designed while an associate in the office of Thomas D. Church and Associates. Credit for the Donnell Garden should therefore be given to Mr. Church's office. The sculpture in the Donnell swimming pool was done by Miss Adeline Kent of San Francisco." (See letter from Lawrence Halprin to Arthur P. Herrman, Director of the School of Architecture, University of Washington, 11/27/1950. Letter housed in the Visual Resources Collection, College of Built Environments, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.)

PCAD id: 65