Sicilian Courtyard Restored

Early photographs of Sicilian Court at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., show the space serving as a quiet study court, a place for subdued conversations and a cup of tea.

Students enjoy the tranquility of the restored Sicilian Court at Scripps College.

And that is how we see the courtyard being used again today–after a modern interlude of 29 years.

Sicilian Court, designed by campus landscape architect Edward Huntsman-Trout in 1930, was part of the initial phase of campus construction. The college–now on the National Register of Historic Places–was designed by architect Gordon Kaufmann and Huntsman-Trout.

The design is based on Mediterranean architectural themes, skillfully implemented within a rectilinear site plan. Unique, intimate courtyards contrast with formal impressive vistas.

A simple, yet distinctive residence-like campus was created in response to the goal of its founder, Ellen Browning Scripps: “I am thinking of a college campus whose simplicity and beauty will unobtrusively seep into the student’s consciousness and quietly develop a standard of taste and judgment.”

Tracing Its Roots

Sicilian Court is important as the connecting courtyard between the Balch Hall administration building and Denison Library, among the first buildings on the campus.

The space is simple in design, but rich in quality detail. It features at center an Italian limestone wellhead donated by an early college patron. Large flagstones with grass for joints floor the space. Flagstones are irregular in shape, except for wide banding defining the rectangular lines, and diagonal seams that create a subtle “X”, focusing on the wellhead.

Rectangular planting areas with a variety of low grassy flowers complement the sides and corners. Three major trees and one smaller tree shade and shelter overhead.

What we see today is a replica of the 1930s courtyard. What happened to the original?

Refreshing The Space

In 1980, the college commissioned a new design, a modernization. The flagstone was replaced with concrete and brick. A pergola and fountain were added. The wellhead was moved to another courtyard.

It was a modern look with shade from portable space-age, canvas-covered disks instead of from oak trees. Several generations of students remember the courtyard this way.

In 2004, the college completed a “Landscape and Architectural Blueprint,” an effort funded by a campus heritage grant from the Getty. Restoring/reconstructing Sicilian Court to its original design was highly recommended.

By January 2007, David C. Streatfield, professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington, and I had completed a Restoration Report for three courtyards–Sicilian, the adjacent Iris Court, and Valencia Court, located to the north of the library.

In the 1980s, the space was modernized.

Analyzing the historic photos and plans from Scripps and UCLA archives, we came to several conclusions regarding the assets and attributes of the Huntsman-Trout design.

Making New Old Again

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