The Casa de las Conchas, in Montoro, some 20 miles west of Córdoba in Spain's Andalucía province, is for sale. This spectacular art environment, created by Francisco del Rio Cuenca (1926-2010), is ornamented with over 116 million shells from all over the world. (See SPACES's page on the site at http://www.spacesarchives.org/explore/collection/environment/casa-de-las-conchas-house-of-shells/).
--Scott Rubel with Sandra KrauseEight years have passed since our first attempt at achieving formal historic recognition for the Rubel Castle. On Thursday morning, August 2, 2013, a small group from the Glendora Historical Society (GHS) were in Sacramento to witness the California Historical Resources Commission render its final decision. We sat through discussions covering all manner of sites; a vandalized trolley car, an overgrown high-elevation Olympic training track, an average-looking restaurant petitioning to move 20 feet away from Historic Route 66 to better avoid errant automobiles. All were interesting in some way, but nothing as captivating as a Castle. The hearing process was organized and thorough, with a slide show for each issue and a professional-sounding reader to call out descriptions of each subject.When it was time to consider the Castle, the room livened up. Although the reader was delivering the descriptions as dryly as he could, there was levity and a few chuckles along the way. Then with a call for a motion, a second, and a vote, we had our answer.Seeking historic status for a site is straightforward, until you run into the esoteric aspects of what makes the site special, and here we ran into a myriad of road-blocks. How should we describe our “period of significance” or define the “distinctive characteristics in the method of construction?” The first application, completed like a pro by then GHS president John Lundstrom in 2005, made a strong case for our older buildings, but the state office decided that our relatively young Castle Complex (completed in 1986), overshadowed those buildings and did not meet the 50-year age requirement.The first rejection did not deter us, however, because we knew the Pharm had all the right ingredients to achieve recognition. We were convinced our Castle qualified under the “exceptional importance” clause, partly because there are so few sites like it with which to compare. The trick would be to narrate the history of the entire site as a complete story. The application would have to include not just the Albourne Rancho beginnings, but the activities of more recent inhabitants, Michael Rubel and his Pharm Hands. Writing such an application seemed to become more elusive the more we worked at it. It would require finesse in stringing together a couple of disparate State requirements, and we finally agreed that this would not get done without professional help.This is what led us to begin asking for advice from specialists in the field of historic preservation. All of them agreed that we had a certain winner, while admitting that the application would be tricky. Despite the impressive portfolios provided by the professionals we spoke to, all said they had never visited anything like Rubel Castle. After a few rounds of proposals, we selected Historic Resources Group (HRG) to be our consultant. For a year our own team worked closely with HRG as they peppered us with questions and spent countless hours photographing, mapping, and describing each structure in great detail.We had great confidence in the application prepared by HRG, but were determined to do all we could to convince the Commission. We appealed to Historical Society members, teachers, scholars, neighbors and Pharm Hands to help us out. A few months before the hearing date volunteers got together to draft and send out letters and emails, which resulted in about 400 letters of support for our nomination (and none in opposition). The mail received by the State included scores of drawings and writings from local school children. Some of these crayon drawings were shown as part of the slideshow at the hearing.What a gratifying morning! Quite a few volunteers worked on this project over the years. The only thing that could have made the day more complete would have been to have all the Pharm supporters, builders, and letter writers filling every seat in the auditorium.The application put together by Historic Resources Group is a remarkable document (read it here <http://bit.ly/rubelcastle_historic_district_form>). It is in the archives of the State of California, and, after final approval from the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, will be kept by the National Parks Service. We expect to learn the final verdict on our application in October 2013.
In Spain, working on finishing up the edits to the galleys on my book on Spanish art environments, I’ve also been very involved with advocating for Josep Pujiula i Vila’s art environment – what is left of it, that is. For those of you who signed the petition I started on Avaaz last spring, we are most appreciative, and your support is putting pressure on the local politicos to find a solution to save the site. They know that the world is watching!
The Glendora Historical Society has nominated Rubel Castle (Rubel Castle Historic District) as a historic resource to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The concept of a “Historic District” for the Pharm property was initiated to encompass the original Albourne Rancho historic citrus buildings in the nomination.
There’s hardly a complimentary character trait that does not apply to Bill Cartwright –gracious, generous, dedicated, passionate – the list could go on. The selfless act by Bill and Nick King in buying Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts, encouraging the formation of the committee that saved them from destruction by the city of Los Angeles, was enough to make the world aware of site-specific art environments. Though many existed at the time, it was the Tower’s battle for survival that ignited interest worldwide. Bill's passion and support continued throughout his life and was the inspiration for Seymour Rosen to devote his life to document and help preserve these sites around the world through SPACES, the organization he founded, that now continues the work he started.
Sometimes you discover an art environment in a box. Or at least, that’s how I first learned about The Hedge Garden—picking through a battered shoebox at a New Jersey postcard show in 1996. Bunched together were several photo postcard views of a topiary display that made me stop and take notice: the sculptured hedges were uncommonly delicate. One photo showed a privet clipper ship with masts so slender they resembled calligraphy. On the reverse of each card was stamped: “Yearicks Nursery, Tabernacle Road, Fishing Creek, N.J.”