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Cultural Landscapes and Corridors


Cultural landscapes, have until recently, represented little more than the setting for a historic structure or the scene of a historic event.  Today, the phrase "cultural landscape" serves as an umbrella term that includes four general landscape types:  historic designed landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes, historic sites, and ethnographic landscapes.  This recent recognition of cultural landscapes as significant cultural resources in their own right, offers State Parks a new opportunity, and a new perspective, for exploring the intricate mosaic of California's past.

The Department will seek properties with cultural landscapes or corridors that are closely associated with an era or theme for which there is an identified deficiency in the public preservation of California's history, or that reflect under-represented cultural themes that collectively allow for broad statewide interpretation of the human experience in California history.

Examples include sites of Native American significance, heritage corridors, cultural landscapes, and their associated structures.

Cultural Landscape Definitions

As defined by the National Park Service, a Cultural Landscape is a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or that exhibits other cultural or aesthetic values.

There are four general types of cultural landscapes, not mutually exclusive:  historic sites, historic designed landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes, and ethnographic landscapes.  Complete definitions can be found in the National Park Service, Preservation Brief 36: Protecting Cultural Landscapes
Generally, they may be described as:

 Historic Site:  a landscape significant for its association with a historic event, activity, or person.  Examples include battlefields and presidential house properties.

 Historic Designed Landscape:  a landscape that was consciously designed or laid out by a landscape architect, master gardener, architect, or horticulturist according to design principles, or an amateur gardener working in a recognized style or tradition.  Examples include: estate grounds; botanical and zoological parks; church yards and cemeteries; campus and institutional grounds; fair and exhibition grounds, parks (local, state and national) and campgrounds, and parkways, drives and trails.

 Historic Vernacular Landscape:  a landscape that evolved through use by the people whose activities or occupancy shaped that landscape.  They can be a single property such as a farm, or a collection of properties such as a district of historic farms along a river valley.  Examples include: rural villages; industrial complexes reflecting mining, lumbering and milling activities; agricultural landscapes such as farms and ranches; and landscapes encompassing such linear resources as migration trails, railways, and other transportation systems.

Ethnographic Landscapes:  a landscape containing a variety of natural and cultural resources that associated people define as heritage resources.  Examples are contemporary settlements, religious sacred sites, and massive geological structures.

Recognized Cultural Resource Deficiencies:

With regard to significant properties (generally pre-1769), the following is a suggested list of themes in California human history that are recognized as cultural resource deficiencies in the State Park System:

Settlement and Subsistence Patterns (e.g., prehistoric mound sites in the Central Valley; coastal prehistoric villages between Los Angeles and San Diego; Channel Islands and Native California maritime exploitation);

 Special Adaptations and Environmental Management, (e.g., Lake Cahuilla fish traps; Owens Valley prehistoric and ethnographic irrigation systems; Native Californian environment management practices-plant manipulation, gathering, vegetation burning);

 Trade and Movement (e.g., trails; trade networks and nodes on trails; seasonal migration areas and trails); and

 Ideology (e.g., sacred sites; petroglyph and pictograph sites; intaglios).

With regard to significant historic properties (post-1769), the following is a suggested list of themes in California history that are recognized as cultural resource deficiencies in the State Park System:

 Transportation (e.g., trails, roads, highways, railroads, maritime, and riverine);

 Agricultural History (e.g., ranchos, modern agricultural development);

 Ethnic History - under-represented ethnic groups (e.g., Armenian, Basque, Korean, Portuguese, Vietnamese); post-1850's ethnic themes (e.g., African-Americans - Buffalo Soldiers; emigration to West Coast during WWII; 20th century political contributions; outstanding personages);

 Women in California History;

 Twentieth Century Military History (WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War);

 Post-World War II Developments (such as industry/technology in oil, plastics, television, electronics, computers, and aerospace, as well as suburban housing areas);

 Lumbering Industry in North Coast and Sierra Nevada;

 Environmental Movement;

 Utopian Colonies in California;

 Labor Movement;

 Mid-20th Century Popular Culture (e.g., drive-in restaurants, drive-in movies);

 Entertainment and Motion Picture Industry;

 Arts and Literature (e.g., artists, writers, photographers);

 Population Movements (e.g., Dust Bowl and WWII emigration to West Coast); and

Although these themes are the same as those listed in the "Significant Cultural Resource Properties" acquisition planning category, they also pertain to cultural landscapes.

Preferred Project Characteristics:

1. The Department is seeking various cultural landscape properties that are under-represented within the State Park System.  Examples of cultural landscapes include designed landscapes (e.g., formal gardens and parks, such as Golden Gate Park), rural or vernacular landscapes (e.g., sheep ranches, dairy ranches), ethnographic landscapes (e.g., Mt. Shasta), archaeological landscapes (e.g., prehistoric settlement-subsistence systems, trade routes and networks), or landscapes significant for their association with a historic theme, event, activity, or cultural entity (e.g., WWII maritime and aviation industry on the West Coast).  Cultural landscapes may include traditional plant gathering areas for making baskets, historic ranchos, suburban housing areas, and 20th century popular culture places (e.g., drive-in movies), as well as many other types.

Cultural landscapes may also include linear cultural systems and associated features that cross the landscape.  These might include prehistoric trails and trade routes; early military and fur trapping expedition routes (e.g., Portola-Crespi, Fages, Anza, Smith, Walker, Fremont); emigrant wagon trails (e.g., Bartleson-Bidwell, Chiles, Donner); gold rush routes; major transportation and communication routes (e.g., El Camino Real, Pony Express, Butterfield Overland Mail, Transcontinental Telegraph, Central Pacific Railroad, Southern Pacific Railroad, Lincoln Highway, Route 66); major trails used for livestock drives (e.g., California Sheep Trail); major water systems (e.g., extensive ditch and canal networks constructed for mining and logging, Owens River-Los Angeles Aqueduct, Delta-Mendota Canal, California Aqueduct, Colorado River Aqueduct, All American Canal); and major oil and gas pipelines.  Features and structures associated with these linear systems (such as camp sites, state stations, bridges, tunnels, and construction sites) would also be part of these corridors.

2. Candidate properties will contribute to important themes in California history such as transportation, agricultural history, African-American history, 20th century military activities, World War II and post-war industrial and technological developments, environmental movement, suburban housing areas, mid-20th century popular culture sites, and the motion picture industry.  These properties should also be able to convey a special significance in California's development.

3. Candidate properties will be of a sufficient scale and character to provide an accurate representation of the cultural area, time period, and human achievement for which they are being considered.  In addition, these properties should have good contexts and buffer zones for protection from modern housing, retail, and industrial developments.

4. The Department is seeking cultural properties that are strategically located to provide a complete or potential linkage to other federal, state, or local protected lands (or protective easements).

5. The Department is seeking cultural properties that complete intended original cultural acquisitions to encompass the whole theme or resource (e.g., Tomo-Kahni).

6. Candidate properties will possess some combination of the seven aspects or qualities that define physical integrity for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places criteria: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

7. Candidate properties could possess the potential for outdoor recreation that would not destroy the character of the cultural resource.

Project Ranking Criteria:

1. For the historic period, highest priority will be given to cultural landscapes in which significant cultural themes and properties are under-represented in the State Park System (e.g., 20th century).

2. For the prehistoric period, highest priority will be given to cultural landscapes that represent cultural areas, time periods, and themes not currently encompassed within the State Park System (e.g., Central Valley mound sites, trade routes, ethnographic village complexes, and traditional hunting, fishing or gathering areas).

3. High priority will be given to cultural resource properties that are threatened with destruction by development.

4. High priority will be given to undisturbed complexes of historic or prehistoric sites/properties where there is substantial preservation of the view shed and setting.

5. High priority will be given to cultural resource properties that are eligible for inclusion as a District on the National Register of Historic Places or California Register of Historical Resources.

6. High priority will be given to cultural landscape properties that are not represented within Federal, state or local protected lands.

7. High priority will be given to projects that complete intended original cultural acquisition to encompass the whole theme or resource.

8. Properties possessing cultural resource values that can be protected without great expense to the Department and possess the potential for high-valued outdoor recreational opportunities will be considered for this category, but this factor will not be counted towards their priority.  However, the focus of the acquisition should remain on the cultural resource value, not its recreational value.

9. Properties physically located so as to provide buffer space from urban areas will be given higher priority as long as they meet integrity criteria.

10. Properties located in regions with no or few California State Parks will be given priority.

11. Cultural resource properties that are consistent with other acquisition categories and priorities (e.g., natural resources, urban strategy, trail connections and corridors) should also be considered.

National Register Bulletins, which specifically address cultural landscape identification and evaluation (, are:

National Register Bulletin 18: How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic Landscapes

National Register Bulletin 30: Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Rural Historic Landscapes

National Register Bulletin 41: Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places

National Register Bulletin 42: Guidelines for Identifying, Evaluating, and Registering Historic Mining Properties