Everything Old is New Again

by Matt Hutaff

Sicilian Court

The walk from Clark Hall to Malott Commons became a stroll down memory lane in 2009 thanks to restoration efforts honoring the historic nature of Scripps College’s landscape and architecture and the generous support of trustee Gloria Holden and her husband, Ambassador Glen Holden. Three courts — Sicilian, Iris, and Valencia — have undergone extensive renovations as part of a larger plan to recapture the spirit of original designers Gordon Kaufmann and Edward Huntsman-Trout. For many, it is a fresh look at a familiar space; for others, it is like looking back in time.

Originally conceived as an outdoor amphitheater and classroom, Sicilian Court’s location, south of Denison Library, made it (and adjoining Iris Court) a popular destination for socialization and study among early Scripps students. And that’s by design: Huntsman-Trout believed such patios were at the very essence of Scripps’ unique Mediterranean landscape, a “happy marriage of outdoors” providing “a richness of tracery in green leaf and shadow.”

As the College expanded, change crept into its landscape both naturally and architecturally; Iris Court was halved by the construction of the (now) Ellen Browning Scripps Reading Room, and Valencia Court was surrounded by the North Wing of Denison Library. Oaks grew, cypress trees were removed, and junipers added.

But the biggest change came in 1980 when Scripps commissioned a new design for Sicilian Court. Planned by landscape architect Mark Von Wodtke, the new courtyard did away with the old so completely, even the name was changed to Bette Cree Edwards Court. To signal this transformation, the Venetian wellhead giving Sicilian Court its name was moved to Valencia Court.

The movement to bring these open spaces back to their original intent and design began in 2004, when the College completed a landscape and architectural blueprint funded by the Getty foundation. The report championed a return to form, with work officially beginning in January 2006. Landscape architect Ann Christoph worked in concert with landscape historian David Streatfield and Huntsman-Trout’s original drawings to do their very best in making old new again.

The end result is spectacular in its attention to detail: flagstone paving flows from Sicilian to Iris Court, which provides a quiet place for reflection and beauty. Flora for both courts once again creates landscapes of contrast and shadow. The wellhead is back in its original location at Scripps.

The job is not finished. There are more plans for Valencia Court; look for changes there and outside Denison Library, as renovation efforts begin for those spaces in the coming decade.

Ellen Browning Scripps famously said, “I am thinking of a college campus whose simplicity and beauty will unobtrusively seep into the student’s consciousness and quietly develop a standard of taste and judgment.” With the return of the original design and beauty of Sicilian Court now a part of campus life, these words increasingly ring true.

Courting the Truth

  • Sicilian Court’s distinctive and romantic name is derived from the wellhead that sits in its center, a gift from Alice Millard of Pasadena. Inscribed with the Della Torre family crest, the wellhead may be more Florentine than Sicilian, recent inquiry has revealed; however, the College intends to keep the name “Sicilian Court.”
  • Sicilian Court and the adjacent Iris Court were made possible by gifts from Mrs. William Honnold, trustee and honorary alumna of the College, in the early ’30s.
  • Mark Von Wodtke wasn’t the first person to attempt to transform Sicilian Court. A rejected 1969 plan by Thomas Church would have paved the upper tier with similar flagstones and was dubbed “Tea Terrace.”
  • Iris Court has been home to both the Motley Coffeehouse and Scripps Press throughout the years.
  • The colonnades on the east of Valencia Court were renovated in 2006 as part of an effort to preserve their beauty; this was a gift from Ambassador and Mrs. Glen Holden.
  • The vines growing inside Valencia Court (and later all of Denison) were originally introduced as a cost-saving landscaping measure during the Great depression.


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