A Welcome Change

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With an infusion of olive trees, drought-resistant plants, and grass, the main entrance to Occidental gets a beauty of a makeover

Jonathan Veitch has always been struck by the contrast between the beauty of the Oxy campus and the utilitarian appearance of the main entrance at Campus Road and Alumni Avenue—"something that seems more like the entrance to a business park," he says.

So last year when Oxy's president was walking through campus with Peter Mullin, Board of Trustees chair emeritus, and the conversation turned to the centennial of the Eagle Rock campus in 2014, both men recognized a unique opportunity to redesign the entrance—and reduce Oxy's water use.

"Peter is deeply appreciative of the beauty of the campus and at the same time showed an appreciation of what we could do in a sustainable way to enhance that beauty," Veitch says. "He had already funded the landscaping at the entrance of St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, and he wanted to give a 100th-birthday present to the Eagle Rock campus."

The result of that conversation is now playing out behind construction fences just beyond Gilman Fountain. Thanks to a $1.75-million gift from Mullin and his wife, Merle, asphalt and bare concrete are being replaced with a graceful allee of specimen olive trees, granite boulders, benches, drought-tolerant plants, and a lawn created by Santa Monica-based landscape designer Art Luna.

"We are grateful to Peter for having the vision to see the possibilities," Veitch says. "We didn't have an entrance that in any way signaled the beauty of the campus. Thanks to Peter, we have been able to do something appropriate that honors the great legacy of Beatrix Farrand and Myron Hunt and contributes to our ongoing effort to make Oxy a more sustainable landscape."

This is not the first time Oxy has benefited from the Mullins' generosity, Veitch notes, pointing to the Mullin Family Studio and Art Gallery across from Hillside Theater.

The 39 olive trees now in place—the entire project is scheduled for completion by the end of the semester—come from Berylwood Tree Farm near Oxnard, owned by the late Rolla Willhite, grandfather of Kristin Krantzman '85. (The jacaranda tree in the Rose Hills Plaza in front of the Oxy bookstore also comes from Berylwood.)

The use of olive trees not only reflects Farrand's use of the same trees in front of Thorne Hall as part of her late '30s landscaping of the center of campus, but helps carry out the master plan's call for the pedestrianizing of campus—moving cars and parking to the periphery—and the use of sustainable landscaping.

The new landscaping replaces the street surface that used to extend to the foot of Gilman Fountain, creating the kind of useable outdoor space also called for in the master plan. Use of plants such as sand dune sedge and the hybrid Pennesetium "Fairy Tails" together with the olive trees will reduce the amount of water used. Built into the design is a bioswale to capture runoff during the rainy season and percolate it back into the ground.

The entrance project "is just one example of the College's policy of incremental sustainability—incorporating green measures, like drought-resistant landscaping, as each opportunity presents itself," says Tom Polansky, director of facilities.

"The beauty of the Oxy campus is one of the things that almost every visitor remarks on," Veitch says. "Every now and then it's important to reinvest in that legacy in a sustainable fashion."