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Designer, 92, Keeps 'Green Thumb' Busy

June 14, 1987|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

At 92, Raymond E. Page feels fit and active, and retirement is the furthest thought in his mind.

The dean of California landscape architects drives a car, keeps a regular work schedule at his Canon Drive office in Beverly Hills, personally supervises the landscaping of clients' gardens and attends meetings and seminars.

A tall, gentle man, Page attributes his longevity and energy to genetics, while admitting that he has unsuccessfully attempted to quit smoking on numerous occasions. His enthusiasm for his profession, he says, stems from a lifelong romance with "botanical things."

Famous Clients

Page never bothers to impress anyone with his scholarly knowledge of botanical term. He remembers only too well how humorist Will Rogers used to tease him about his use of complex Latin plant names.

"Then he would tangle them up hopelessly. I worked on several of his gardens. He owned a great deal of property in Beverly Hills," he says.

Page's memory is filled with anecdotes about famous clients.

He once received an urgent phone call from actress Pola Negri, the femme fatale of the '20s, asking him to re-landscape Charlie Chaplin's garden over the weekend while she and the comedian took off on a trip together.

"I asked her who would pay for the job, and she replied that she would. Whereupon, out of courtesy, I called Chaplin for permission to dig up his garden.

" ' Who's paying for it?' Chaplin asked, and when I told him the job was a gift from Miss Negri, he laughed. 'In that case, go ahead.' It was a big job. The fee came to $3,000, and that was a large sum in those days. Later, when I drove to Pola Negri's to pick up my check, she and Chaplin were in the throes of a terrific fight.

"They ended their relationship that day, and I was convinced I'd never get paid. But the lady honored her commitment."

Other clients of Raymond E. Page & Associates included Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who owned the property that became known as Pickfair after he married actress Mary Pickford. Gloria Swanson, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny and Mary Livingston and Gregory Peck were longtime clients, as well.

"Jack Benny was the total opposite of his radio and television portrayal. He was generous and extravagant. Cost was never an issue with him," Page said.

Some of the stars who were his clients, also became close friends. "One of them was Clark Gable, a skeet shooter like myself. We belonged to the same club."

Beverly Hills Trees

The estate grounds of the late Jack Wrather, entertainment industry entrepreneur, are still maintained by Page for his widow, Bonita Granville Wrather. Several major jobs for the Wrathers included the landscaping of the original Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

Page's career as a landscape architect spans 67 years.

His work includes the planting of most of Beverly Hills' street trees and many of its parks. He also did landscaping of Pershing Square, and the Leimert Park and Beverlywood subdivisions.

He designed the landscaping for the Cerritos Library and City Hall, for various University of California campuses and Southland high schools, the Hollywoodland estates, Beverly Wilshire Hotel, countless courthouses and public buildings and private residences throughout the United States and in foreign countries.

A 1912 graduate of Throop Polytechnic Institute in Pasadena (the forerunner of Caltech), Page attended art schools and later became head gardener for a Pasadena estate before joining the Rodeo Land & Water Co., which developed Beverly Hills.

Landscape Licensing

The first meeting of the California Board of Landscape Architects was held in Sacramento on Dec. 14, 1953. Page was its first president and the one chiefly responsible for creating legislation to license landscape architects. At his behest, a friend and colleague who worked on the campaign received the first state landscape architecture license, and Page holds license No. 2. Landscape architecture became licensed in California in 1955 with an initial roster of 800 professionals.

"I guess I pushed so hard for legislation because I was tired of being referred to as a posie planter," he says.

For Page, his proudest role in civic life was as Los Angeles County commissioner of the Marina del Rey Design Control Board, on which he served from 1966 to 1976, exercising total design control. He later received the Los Angeles Award for Dedicated Service in this capacity.

The veteran landscape architect, an emeritus fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, is the founder of Los Angeles Beautiful and a recipient of the Man of the Year award from the California Contractors Assn.

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