Landmark Status Honors a Historic Modern Landscape

Sam Ferris and his siblings have a passion for protecting the house where they grew up, in Spokane, Washington. Now their parents have passed away, the family has worked tirelessly to get the house in tiptop shape, record it, talk about it and obtain landmark status to safeguard it before they pass it into a new household.

The parents, Joel and Mary Ferris, owned the first modern home decor store in Spokane, called Joel, and they practiced what they preached. They hired up-and-coming architect Bruce Walker to design a modern house for them, and it was among those first in town. Because of resistance from their chosen neighborhood, they ended up building it on property given to them with a relative, on some of a larger family estate.

Walker was involved with the design of the headquarters of Washington Water Power, as was modernist landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. Both men had studied under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at Harvard. Walker recruited Halprin to style the landscape for the Ferris property.

Thanks to the efforts of the Ferris family, his landscape is extremely well preserved; in actuality, the property received landmark status from the Spokane Register of Historic Places in September 2012. This standing protects crucial elements of this landscape design. Sam Ferris is currently working to acquire national landmark status for the whole property too.

A Japanese-inspired meditative garden sits between the carport as well as the house, greeting guests.

“My mom was always very proud that Halprin picked all those boulders out himself,” states Sam Ferris. “He was quite specific in regards to the positioning.”

“The meditative garden is very calm,” Ferris says. “You feel a sense of calm as you pass it, whether you’re walking out of the house to begin your day or returning home in the end of it”

Halprin made the three steel lanterns used through the landscape. “They have perforations in them, therefore light glows not only from the top and underside, but throughout the small holes too,” Ferris points out.

This is Halprin’s unique plan for the property, dated 1955.

Halprin split the property into distinct functional spaces: the meditative garden, the drama garden and the back garden.

This vibrant wall visually separates the drama garden from the back garden. “The panels added wonderful colors to the yard in the winter, when everything was covered in snow,” Ferris says.

The drama garden, revealed here, once contained the kids’ swing set, slide and sandbox.

The picture, taken in 1956, reveals the rear sofa patio. You can view another one of those joys on the left.

Moving around to the back garden, Halprin placed this couch patio out toward the edge of this home. Years later the household got nearly a second half acre beyond it, so the flower bed you see this was expanded to match the lawn’s new scale. The Ferris family hired landscape architects that looked to Halprin’s original plans to follow his own intentions when functioning on the new yard.

Because the house sits on property that had been part of a larger household estate, there were beautiful mature trees for Halprin to design around.

“My parents amused a lot, along with the idea of free-flowing movement between inside and out was part of the modern era and their lifestyle,” says Ferris.

The idea works from the inside looking out too; perspectives of the beautiful yard can be enjoyed from all around the house.

One of Halprin’s charming sketches includes Joel and Mary Ferris enjoying their yard. “The yard was a beautiful and relaxing space that the entire family loved,” says Ferris. “My siblings and I had been very lucky to have grown up here” You can follow the narrative over at Ferris’ website, Spokane Midcentury.

The design effect of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin

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