Tag Archive for: HABS

Virginia Robinson Gardens

HALS Documentation

During the past few decades, the concept of historic preservation has grown beyond protecting a single building or urban district to include the historic landscape that provides the setting and context for a property as well as much larger landscapes that have regional and national significance. In response to this growing interest in the historic preservation and documentation of landscapes, the American Society of Landscape Architects worked with the National Park Service to create a national program, and in October 2000, the National Park Service established the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) to document historic landscapes in the United States and its territories to serve as tangible evidence of our nation’s heritage and development.

In early 2001, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the National Park Service, and the Library of Congress entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that established a framework of cooperation, and in 2010, the three organizations signed a new Tripartite Agreement that made HALS a permanent federal program. The Library of Congress accepts and preserves HALS documents and makes records available to the public.

Historic landscapes vary in size from small gardens to several thousand-acre national parks. In character they range from designed to vernacular, rural to urban, and agricultural to industrial spaces. Vegetable patches, estate gardens, cemeteries, farms, quarries, nuclear test sites, suburbs, and abandoned settlements all may be considered historic landscapes. Like its sister programs, HABS and HAER, HALS produces written, graphic and photographic records of interest to educators, land managers, and preservation planners, as well as the general public.

In the NPS Guidelines for photography, they give detailed information regarding archival black and white film and prints (life expectancy of 500 and 150 years respectively). What comes as a surprise to many is that all three programs also accept color prints and transparencies. Color prints made from digital capture can be submitted in the fields notes portion of the document. They need to be clearly labeled. Color transparencies duplicate the same view taken with black and white film. They are then added to the “Index of Photographs” in their own section, “Index of Color Transparencies” which follows the “Index to Black and White Photographs.” The caption to the color views must then reference back to the black and white image that it duplicates.

For more information

Eden is the Journal of the California Garden and Landscape History Society

Heritage Documentation Programs

HALS Guidelines



Virginia Robinson Garden

View of the Pool House and Rose Garden

Black and White view of the Virginia Robinson Gardens

A view from the main house overlooking the sunken garden with city views in the distance

Virginia Robinson Gardens

This is the award winning view of the Pool house and adjacent rose garden at the Virginia Robinson Gardens

HALS Black and White Photo

The rose garden and pool house, Virginia Robinson Gardens

I Photograph Ugly Buildings

As I go about photographing historic buildings and sites, I often hear comments such as “why would they want to save that?” or “what makes that historic?”. I generally tell them “there are standards” and “it’s not arbitrary.”

The Secretary of the Interior has developed four criteria:

  1. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution
    to the broad patterns of our history; or
  2. That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
  3. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or
    method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or
    that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and
    distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual
    distinction; or
  4. That have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history

I think the most confusing and least understood criteria by the general public are A and B. Just by looking one cannot know what historic significance is associated with any structure or site. It is the responsibility of architectural historians and cultural resource consultants to make it known. It is my job as a HABS HAER HALS photographer to tell the story visually.

A prime example would be the Harada House and its next-door neighbor the Robinson House. The story is well told in this National Trust of Historic Places article https://savingplaces.org/stories/you-can-throw-me-in-the-sea-and-i-wont-sell-the-story-of-the-harada-house#.YQRT60BlAuU

So, how do you tell a visual story of events that took place many years ago? First and foremost, ‘original fabric’ still has to be present. If the structure or place has been so altered over time that little, if any, original features are still present, the site probably would not be considered historic. Even when a site looks like it may collapse under its own weight at any moment, if enough original defining features are present, the structure can be preserved, rehabilitated, restored or reconstructed. Please see the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards to Rehabilitation. https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/rehabilitation/rehab/stand.htm

And, to add another layer of confusion, are the alterations made during the period of significance or at another time? For example, only a portion of a building may be considered historic. In a historic district a feature may be contributing or non-contributing. These conclusions would have to be made by the historian through research.

At the Robinson House, for example, upon close examination, you could see the original size of the structure and the added and altered sections. This is done be looking at roof lines, windows and window casements and siding. No interior views were captured as nothing original (original fabric) was still visible.

At the Harada House, on the other hand, it was like walking into a time capsule. By taking a very close look at the interior doors and their hinges, you could determine which were from the original construction and which were from the major remodel in the late 1910’s. During this period the design esthetic changed from very modest Victorian to Craftsmen. Otherwise, the structure has been virtually untouched since the family reoccupied the home after their incarceration during WWII.  Even the inscription that one of the children wrote on the wall regarding the police arriving to arrest them still remains.

It is in these very small but hugely important details along with overall and contextual views that tell the complete story. The story can be short in duration, (a single event) or over many years, even into the present day.

In this view of the southern façade of the Robinson House, note the infill siding (A), different sidings (B) and roof lines (C). It might be construed that the original window at (A) was longer, befitting the Victorian style. The area could have been infilled to accommodate a standard size replacement. The front porch area has been altered as seen in historic photographs.

View of original rear entry and rear porch Harada House which has been enclosed. Note the original siding on the left-hand side (A) and different siding (B) on the portion that was enclosed.

Detail of inscription written on the morning the family was incarcerated during WWII.

Detail of interior door hinge from original Victorian construction period.



Frank Lloyd Wright Freeman House

Frank Lloyd Wright Freeman House

Commissioning Architectural Photography

Commissioning Architectural Photography

Here is a great tool for those who are considering commissioning architectural photography for their latest projects. A collaboration between AIA (American Institute of Architects) and ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), this short yet concise explanation has information for both architects and photographers.

One area I found of particular interest was the idea of shared costs. The PDF states, in part, “Inquire whether other parties in your project (such as the owner, contractors, consultants, product suppliers, financing sources, or even public agencies) might be interested in participating in the assignment and sharing the expenses. If so, all of the participants should likewise identify their needs and priorities. It is important that the participants understand which costs are shared and which are not. The total price has three components: creative/production fees, expenses and rights licenses. Expenses (e.g., travel; consumables; equipment or pr op rentals; and fees paid to assistants, models and stylists) and production fees (the photographer’s time, expertise and judgment) can be shared on any basis the participants choose. Rights licenses, in contrast, are based on the use each participant makes of the images and are not shared or transferable among the parties.”

It goes on to talk about when it might be advantageous to participate in such cost sharing and when it might be better to take a ‘wait and see’ posture. It goes on to talk about single or multiple contracts, who collects the payments, how are images distributed, etc.

Because it was written by two leading industry trade groups, it presents a very balanced viewpoint, intended to educate both the photographer as well as the architect. Other areas discussed are Selecting a Professional Photographer, Understanding the Photography Estimate, Controlling the Costs, Licensing and an On-site Check list.

In the licensing section, it talks briefly about copyright, which is a major discussion unto itself. My HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey), HAER (Historic American Engineering Record), HALS (Historic American Landscapes Survey) work, for example, is in the public domain, usable without any copyright restrictions. Remember, when commissioning architectural photography, hire local, hire experienced professionals and hire someone you enjoy working with.

Dennis Hill, Content Creation is a Los Angeles based architectural photography company with digital and film-based capture, specializing in historic buildings and industrial sites throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona.

Commissioning Architectural Photography PDF

Affordable Housing

Commissioning architecture photography for low cost housing is a specialty of Dennis Hill, Los Angeles based photographer

Historic Photography

As a mitigation requirement, the developer was required to commission an architectural photographer to create a HABS documentation of the site prior to its adaptive reuse

HABS Mitigation

‘HABS Like’ Mitigation


Historic Preservation & New Development

California Incline, Santa Monica CA HAER Report