WITH A FASCINATING PAST AND REVERED PRESENT, SHERMAN LIBRARY AND GARDENS LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
It is doubtful Arnold Haskell, founder of Sherman Library and Gardens, ever dreamed he would be establishing a historical research library and horticultural learning center in Newport Beach when, as a young man in 1914, he accepted the job as personal secretary to Moses Hazeltine Sherman, one of the most prominent and successful businessmen in Los Angeles.
Sherman made his fortune in railroads and by investing in and developing land in the San Fernando Valley. Thanks to his efforts, the cities of Canoga Park, Encino and Van Nuys were created. In the years that Haskell worked for Sherman, he co-founded the Los Angeles Steamship Company and created a partnership that developed Hollywoodland, 1,000 acres of his San Fernando Valley holdings that became Sherman Oaks. The Hollywoodland sign (now the Hollywood sign) was a gimmick to sell the real estate.
By the time Sherman passed away in 1932, Haskell had become his closest confidant, working with him on every aspect of his businesses. It could have been because Sherman had lost his only son early in life that he considered Haskell his son. Whatever the reason, he made Haskell successor to his business interests.
Unfortunately, the estate was deeply in debt, due to Sherman’s ill health at the end of his life. Haskell worked diligently as trustee of the estate and President of the M. H. Sherman Company to turn things around, and he did. He then expanded the company’s real estate investments by purchasing land in Newport Beach, Los Angeles and Dana Point, and by 1951, he formed the Sherman Foundation with Sherman’s daughters Lucy and Hazeltine to begin his life as a philanthropist.
Library Director Paul Wormser relates the next step in Haskell’s journey:
“In 1955, Haskell moved his business offices from Los Angeles to Corona del Mar after purchasing a parcel of land at the corner of Coast Highway and Dahlia from Norman’s Nursery. The lot had a small adobe house dating from the 1930s, which he used as his office.”
Over the next few years, Haskell quietly acquired the balance of the property making up the entire 2.2-acre block and, in 1966, the Sherman Foundation opened the first part of the Gardens, named after Haskell’s mentor and benefactor. Between 1967 and 1974, Haskell oversaw construction of the conservatory, central garden, gift shop, café and library.
Gardens and Library
The gardens include patios and conservatories and seasonal flower beds and fountains. Collections range from over 100 species of palm trees to Mediterranean climate plants and tropical vegetation. Adjacent to the Cactus and Succulent Garden is the oldest tree on site, a California pepper tree. The tropical conservatory displays orchids from the 2,500 orchid collection. It also showcases heliconias, gingers and an inviting koi pond and waterfall. The Rose Garden features coastal roses, while the Japanese Garden includes a bo tree and a 200-year-old ceramic container from China. The Herb Garden supplies Café Jardin fresh herbs and shows a variety, including chocolate and orange-mint, tri-color and society garlic.
The Library is a historical research library specializing in the history of the Pacific Southwest. The collections document the development of the region through books, archival collections, photographs, maps, aerial photographs and newspapers. Sherman Library is also the home to a collection of California impressionist art, including works by William Wendt, and others. The book collections encompass more than 15,000 volumes, including the papers of M. H. Sherman, and it boasts a significant collection of materials relating to Newport Beach.
Café Jardin, a hidden oasis in full view of the central flower gardens, features French and Mediterranean cuisine overseen by one of Southern California’s most respected chefs, Pascal Olhats. Lunch is served weekdays, with a tasty brunch on Sundays. The Tea Garden Creperie, open during lunch hours on Saturdays and Sundays, features delicious handmade crepes in the tea garden, and afternoon tea can be enjoyed the second and last Wednesdays of the month in the floral gardens.
The Garden/Gift Shop carries items of interest for all garden visitors, home gardening enthusiasts, landscape and interior designers, horticulturists and plant lovers. In addition, there is a wonderful selection of greeting cards, note cards, kitchenware, recipe and garden books, beautifully designed paper goods and a fun and educational children’s corner.
Volunteers and Docents
The 100-member Volunteer Association, formed in 1972 by a nucleus of five women, is instrumental in the success of Sherman Library and Gardens. They donate thousands of hours annually tending baskets and flower beds and working in the Garden Shop and greenhouse. Volunteers also contribute hours in the library maintaining files and organizing materials.
The Docent Guild was founded in 1980 and over time has grown to 60 full-time members. Their primary function is to provide educational tours of the Gardens for kindergarten through college-age students, as well as senior citizen groups and historical and garden societies. They also maintain an informational table as part of their “Docent on Duty” program.
“We even have a cell phone garden tour,” says Sherman Gardens Director Scott LaFleur, who has been with the organization for four years, following Founding Director Wade Roberts’ passing.
Events and Classes
The Sherman Library and Gardens offers a full schedule of classes and events–everything from painting workshops for kids, photography classes, floral and garden classes, how to create a “She Shed,” movie nights, yoga classes, among the many offerings. Special exhibits are a mainstay, such as “Glasscapes,” which just opened for five months. Created by Viscosity Studios of Boulder Creek, California, the exhibit features contemporary glass sculptures artfully displayed throughout the gardens.
Sherman’s premier fundraiser, “Nights of a 1,000 Lights,” is approaching its fourth year this December and offers a dazzling array of unique light displays for one week during the holiday season.
The Vision for the Future campaign has been launched in the 50th anniversary year to raise funds to improve and update the Library and Gardens’ brand logo and to create a strategic plan for future growth and expansion of its cultural and educational programs. The Volunteers have dedicated proceeds from their annual Private Gardens Tour (now in its 22nd year) to help facilitate the redevelopment and enhancement of the entrance on Coast Highway. And, thanks to the their donation of $50,000, Ruben Flores of Laguna Nursery has been retained to re-imagine, design and facilitate the new frontage project. Students from the Laguna College of Art & Design are helping create a new look for the Library and Gardens that will be incorporated into improved signage and updated print and digital materials.
“Some people call us a ‘hidden gem,’ but we don’t want to be hidden,” LaFleur says. “Paul (Wormser) and I have opened up the organization to the public more than ever before with expanded programming and extended hours.”
The Library is featuring a special exhibit in the adobe gallery showcasing artifacts, art from its plein air collection and a display of library holdings specific to M. H. Sherman’s history to close out the 50th anniversary year.
Excited about the future, LaFleur says:
It is an amazing organization, and with our plans for the future, we are anticipating the community loving us even more.