by Elisabeth Walton Potter
Wallace Kay Huntington, A.S.L.A., distinguished landscape architect and past president of the regional chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (S.A.H.), died at home in Portland on February 3, 2015, at the age of eighty-eight. He was born in Salem, Oregon, on May 15, 1926, the son of Hollis Huntington and the former Marjorie Kay. His maternal forebears were founders of Salem’s most enduring enterprise in woolen manufacturing, the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill Company. His great grandfather, Thomas Lister Kay, a native Yorkshireman, was a leading figure in Oregon’s pioneer woolen industry. Huntington is survived by his sisters, Shirley and Crystal Huntington of Venice, Florida, and Portland, Oregon, respectively. His late wife, one-time S.A.H. board of directors member Mirza Dickel, was remembered in online “Chapter News & Notices” following her death in December, 2012.
After serving in the United States Navy 1944-1946, Huntington attended Willamette University for a year and, in 1947, transferred to the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. He graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture with concentrations in the History of Art and Landscape Architecture. Like many who followed him as students of art history at the School, Huntington was inspired by the lectures of Marion Ross, a Pennsylvania State and Harvard University-educated architectural historian recruited to the faculty in the same year Huntington arrived on the campus. The two became life-long friends. Professor Ross encouraged his former student’s active participation in the Society of Architectural Historians.
Upon graduation, Huntington lived in San Francisco and traveled extensively in Europe before returning to Oregon. He spent some time in his hometown with the Doerfler Nursery before settling in Portland, where he joined William Roth as principal in Huntington & Roth, Landscape Architects and Planners, in 1958. Some twenty years later, with Craig Kiest, he formed the firm of Huntington & Kiest, in which he remained active for the rest of his life.
For a number of years, while maintaining independent practice between partnerships, Huntington lectured at Portland State University, wrote a column for the Northwest Magazine of the Portland Oregonian in 1984-1985, and commenced consulting on many of the important early historic preservation projects of the region. He was a professional affiliate of the American Institute of Architects and member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, for which organization he chaired the Oregon chapter’s Historic Preservation Committee 1975-1976. He was sought after as a member of advisory bodies for the Portland Art Museum, Portland Beautification Association, University of Oregon Museum of Art, and the Oregon Historical Society. In 1970, Huntington was appointed by Governor Tom McCall to the first State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation created as a professionally-credentialed review panel under provisions of the federal-aid program authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Huntington was reappointed to the state review panel and served a second three-year term ending in 1976. Thereafter, he was tapped for the Capitol Planning Commission’s Technical Advisory Board. He served as an Oregon advisor for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Well-known to regional researchers are Huntington’s essays on Victorian architecture and historic parks and gardens of Oregon in the two-volume work, Space, Style and Structure: Building in Northwest America, edited by Thomas Vaughan and Virginia Ferriday (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1974). With Allen Denison, he co-authored Victorian Architecture of Port Townsend, Washington (Seattle: Hancock House, 1978).
In the period 1972 to 1974, Huntington was presiding officer of the Society of Architectural Historians regional jurisdiction then known as the Northern Pacific Coast Chapter. Before its reorganization in the 1990s, the chapter counted members in the San Francisco Bay Area and northern California as well as Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia. Over the years, he presented papers ranging from Victorian gardens and bedding out to John Yeon, the influential, innovative modernist, as landscape designer. In Eugene, during the fiftieth anniversary meeting of the chapter in 2004, Huntington gave the keynote address on the legacy of his late friend and mentor, chapter founder Marion Dean Ross, for whom the chapter had been renamed in 1995. Ross also had been among the founders of the Society, which was organized at Harvard in 1940.
In 1977, Huntington acquired the 1859 farmhouse built by William Case in Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley. With its peripteral colonnade, the building was a sizeable, superbly-crafted and original interpretation of Greek Revival architecture. The restoration which ensued, with chapter members Charles Gilman Davis as architect and Mirza Dickel as interior architect together with master carpenter Lyle Warren, was recognized in 1979 with a preservation award from the Oregon Chapter, American Institute of Architects.
Case farm became home base for Huntington and Dickel upon their marriage. To historic trees and shrubbery remaining from the historic period were added hardy native plant materials and varied ornamental specimens. Perfecting the outdoor garden spaces which provided a setting for the house became Huntington’s long-term pastime, which he prized equally with his frequent travels abroad with Mirza. In 1988, the duo hosted a memorable dinner and open house at Case Farm for members of the Society’s United States Domestic Study Tour in the Willamette Valley. Subsequent visiting colleagues, Grant Hildebrand and Miriam Sutermeister, were inspired to embark on a thorough-going documentation of the historic farmhouse which they published in 2007, assigning copyright to the S.A.H. regional chapter under the title A Greek Temple in French Prairie: The William Case House, French Prairie, Oregon 1858 -’59.
As designer or master-planning consultant, Huntington had a hand in restoration projects at such prominent historic sites and house museums as the William Keil House at Aurora; Thomas Kay Historical Park, Asahel Bush House, and Dr. Luke Port House (“Deepwood”) in Salem; Pittock Mansion, Portland; Bybee-Howell House, Sauvie Island; and, in Washington state, Sam Hill’s Maryhill Museum, Goldendale, and Officers’ Row, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. He consulted on revisions to the gardens of “Elk Rock,” the historic Peter Kerr estate in Portland which was adapted as the Bishop’s Close for the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon. Huntington admired the intimate compartmented gardens of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver which influenced the kind of elegant urban residential landscapes in which he specialized. The principals of the pioneer woman-owned landscape architectural firm founded in Salem in 1929 were his personal friends. They had encouraged his early practice. In 1980, Huntington was asked to update the garden which Lord & Schryver designed for the Portland Garden Club in 1955. Noteworthy among his honors was the Ruth McBride Powers Award for Lifetime Achievement in Historic Preservation conferred by the Historic Preservation League of Oregon (now Restore Oregon) during the Governor’s Conference on Historic Preservation in 1996.
Huntington joined with the Oregon Association of Nurserymen and other professionals to plan The Oregon Garden, a botanical garden on the southern outskirts of Silverton that would become the showplace and educational and research center for the Willamette Valley’s burgeoning horticultural industry. The master plan was completed in 1996 and the following year ground was broken for development envisioned to encompass 240 acres ultimately. The Bosque, a tree-shaded central plaza around which a variety of specialty gardens was organized, was Huntington’s particular contribution. The brick parterre centerpiece contained reflecting ponds and a Pacific Sunset Maple centered in each of forty raised planter boxes. As the trees matured, the space became the hospitable resting place for visitors and venue for outdoor gatherings. The Bosque was dedicated on September 10, 2000, during an on-site gala in tribute to Huntington, who was recognized on that occasion for excellence in his field of design as well as his part in laying the foundation for the preservation movement in Oregon.
Obituary, Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon, Feb. 15, 2015. Available online by clicking here.
Jim Jordan, “Bulldozing,” Daily Journal of Commerce, Portland, Oregon, Oct. 21, 1981.
Ron Cowan, “Salem landmarks lost: Historian gives talk Thursday,” Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon, April 25, 1990. Photograph by Ron Cooper.