Girl Scouts USA Resumes Plan to Destroy the Clermont Lee-Designed Garden at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace

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Girl Scouts USA Resumes Plan to Destroy the Clermont Lee-Designed Garden at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace

Girl Scouts USA Resumes Plan to Destroy the Clermont Lee-Designed Garden at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
Jun 28, 2018

Media Contact: Nord Wennerstrom | T: 202.483.0553  | M: 202.225.7076 | E: nord@tclf.org


Descendants of Juliette Gordon Low join The Cultural Landscape Foundation in expressing grave concern about the destruction of the historic character of the site

Washington, DC (June 29, 2018) – The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) today announced that descendants of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low have joined with TCLF to call for Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) to abandon plans to destroy the Clermont Lee-designed garden at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, the girlhood home of the Girl Scouts founder in Savannah, Georgia, which was designated a Landslide® nationally significant at-risk and threatened landscape in January 2016.  The Landslide designation followed attempts in early 2016 to replace the garden, an effort that has been resurrected in order to create a space that provides “more opportunities to have fundraising events,” according to a June 23, 2018, Savannah Morning News interview with Birthplace executive director Lisa Junkin Lopez.

As noted in the original Landslide designation and a recently published update, Lee (1914-2006), a Savannah native who spent most of her career in the city, was among the earliest women to practice landscape architecture professionally in Georgia and was reportedly the first professional practitioner (male or female) in Savannah. She was known as the foremost expert in recreating historic landscapes in Savannah and her design for the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, a Victorian parterre garden comprising intricate geometric shapes, is an important work in her career cannon, hence the designation as a Landslide site.  Landslide provides national visibility to significant designed landscapes that are threatened and has been instrumental in preventing the demolition of the Russell Page-designed viewing garden at the Frick Collection in New York City, the M. Paul Friedberg-designed Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, MN, and many other sites.  TCLF continues to monitor Landslide sites until there is a resolution to the threat.

Soon after purchasing the girlhood home of its founder in 1953, the Girl Scouts of the USA commissioned Lee to design a garden for the home that would be compatible with its historic character, circa 1850. In a time when it was rare to do so, Lee researched planting plans and plant types in an effort to create an historically accurate garden, and she remained actively involved in the maintenance and care of the garden she designed for more than 40 years. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 1965—the first in Savannah—but the designation does not include the Lee-designed landscape; the designation should be revisited to include Lee’s contribution.

In addition to the Birthplace, Lee developed designs and planting plans for other historic buildings in the city, including the Andrew Low House and Green-Meldrim House, along with five city squares that were integral to the colonial plan by James Oglethorpe, and she consulted on historic landscapes throughout Georgia. 

Gordon Low great-niece Margaret Seiler said: "Our family is devoted to preserving the history and legacy of our great-aunt. We are so proud of Aunt Daisy and of the work that the Girl Scouts does to nurture and support all girls everywhere. We have been trying to work cordially with GSUSA for almost three years. We've had multiple meetings and even organized a national petition to defend the Birthplace. Not only our family, but many in the local Savannah community, should be far more involved in the life of this historic home. We hope that a landscape architect can be found who can renovate the garden without destroying its historic character." 

“Girl Scouts USA sends a troubling message to present and former scouts, and women generally, with their plans to destroy the work of a pioneering and influential female practitioner just to create a space geared towards revenue generation,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s President & CEO. “Clermont Lee was an important landscape architect whose designs in her native Savannah are a unique and irreplaceable contribution to both the city’s narrative and historic fabric, which makes the potential loss of the Birthplace garden very disconcerting. That the garden is not original to the Birthplace is irrelevant. A well-informed, innovative, and sympathetic rehabilitation of the garden could maintain its historic character and address 21st-century needs, while also honoring this influential landscape architect of the second half of the 20th century.”

Lee, who was profiled in Shaping the American Landscape: New Profiles from the Pioneers of American Landscape Design Project, was educated at Barnard College in New York City and Smith College in Northampton, MA, earning a master of landscape architecture degree in 1939 from the Smith College Graduate School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (formerly the Cambridge School) near Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. She served on the boards of Historic Savannah Foundation, the Savannah Public Library, Savannah Science Museum, the Georgia Conservancy, and the Savannah Academy of Lifelong Learning.

ABOUT THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE FOUNDATION

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 1998 to connect people to places. TCLF educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards.

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