Thomas Dolliver Church

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Thomas Dolliver Church (April 27, 1902 – August 30, 1978) was a landscape architect.


Church was born in Boston and raised in Ojai and Berkeley, California. He received his B.A. degree in from the College of Agriculture at the University of California, Berkeley in 1923. [1] He later received his master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Church traveled to Italy and Spain for six months on a Sheldon Fellowship that he was awarded at Harvard. After returning from Europe he taught at Ohio State University for a year before returning to the San Francisco Bay area. He taught at UC Berkeley in 1929-1930 and went into private practice at Pasatiempo Estates in 1930. He moved to San Francisco in 1932 and established his practice. In 1973, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician. Church opened his office at 402 Jackson Street in 1933 San Francisco and continued to practice out of the same office until his retirement in 1977.


At the time that Church started practicing, the neoclassic movement was still the design style of choice. Thomas’s education at UC-Berkeley and Harvard, along with his travels to Europe, instilled in him a sense of the classical form. However, Church is known as one who opened the door to the Modern movement in landscape architecture with what came to be known as the “California Style.”

In his book Gardens Are For People, Church outlines four principles for his design process.[1] They are:

  • Unity, which is the consideration of the schemes as a whole, both house and garden;
  • Function, which is the relation of the practical service areas to the needs of the household and the relation of the decorative areas to the desires and pleasures of those who use it
  • Simplicity, upon which may rest both the economic and aesthetic success of the layout
  • Scale, which gives us a pleasant relation of parts to one another.

It should be pointed out that while he used the Modern idea of freedom of elements, such as form, line, and movement, Thomas never abandoned the solid design principles of the past. One of the things that made his designs both unique and influential was the seamless marriage of two opposite design principles. Another design element that Church often used was the idea of the outdoor living space or dividing the landscape into separate “rooms.”

The majority of Church’s work was residential, and he reportedly created over 2000 designs. His most noted residential work is the landscape of Parkmerced neighborhood in San Francisco, California, and the Donnell Gardens in Sonoma County, California. He also worked on a number of larger projects. He oversaw the master planning of UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Harvey Mudd College, Woodside Priory School, and the Wascana Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan. He designed the grounds of the American Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the General Motors Research Center in Detroit, the Des Moines Art Center, the Hotel El Panama in Panama City, and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Parkmerced in San Francisco. Thomas Church had a long and distinguished career as a Landscape Architect.

The modern residential landscape in California, and possibly the whole of the US, as we know it was birthed from a small group of designers, of which he was the founding father.

See also[edit]

Garrett Eckbo

Lakewold Gardens


  1. ^ Church, Thomas. Gardens Are For People: How to Plan for Outdoor Living. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1955.


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