By Caroline Labiner Moser, House Chair and Sara Nitikman (February 2013)
Everyone who has been to the Ebell of Los Angeles has seen the beautiful garden in the center of the building. We move around and through the garden, but we very rarely focus on the garden and patio and their rich history.
Florence Yoch, the designer of the Ebell’s garden, was a famous California landscape designer from the 1918 until 1972. Yoch is known for having designed the gardens of the Wilshire Country Club and some of the exterior film sets in the classic film Gone With The Wind, including Tara. A 1989 article from The Los Angeles Times calls her “an important link in a chain of garden design that leads from the villas of Italy and the Moorish gardens of Spain to the Mediterranean landscape of Southern California.”
Yoch was commissioned to design the garden in 1927, the year the building opened. She designed the garden to be elegant and simple, and so that it would contain areas where people could sit outside.
The garden’s design was later expanded to include the fountain. In 1930 the Ebell commissioned sculptor Henry Lion, who also designed the front doors to City Hall, to design a “Fountain of Honor” to be placed in the garden to commemorate the husbands, sons and brothers of Ebell members who served in the military during World War I. Los Angeles Times writer Nita Lelyveld describes the fountain perfectly: “At its center is a graceful bronze maiden…She is meant to inspire hope, and above her head, she holds the lamp of learning in an open palm.”The fountain still stands in the garden as beautiful symbol of loss and hope.
The patio has an interesting history as well. In 1933, Maxine Albro, a California artist specializing in fresco decoration, painted five frescoes on the patio walls. The subjects of these works were Virgil’s Four Sibyls: The Erythrean Sibyl, The Roman Sibyl, The Delphian Sibyl, and The Cumaean Sibyl. The Sibyl frescoes honored the classical tradition of a belief in the importance of literature and art. Soon after they were painted, the members voted to have the artworks removed because many felt they didn’t represent the Ebell Club in a positive light. Even though these beautiful frescoes are no longer visible, they still leave an indelible mark on the history of the Ebell’s outdoor space.