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The Sweet Smell of Success 

When you arrive at the Christian Theological Seminary on 42nd Street you may not immediately notice the Dan Kiley-designed grounds. But if you're there on a sunny summer day, during a special two or three-week window in June, you'll catch a whiff of its perfume floating on the light air. That's the scent of a linden tree.

Actually it's several linden trees; dozens of them, in fact. Along with dozens more sycamores and oaks, together they form the allee (lines of parallel trees flanking a walkway) that Kiley designed to skirt the edges of the campus, from north to south and then curving east to west along 42nd Street.

Kiley's work was strongly influenced by Andre Le Notre, the designer of the gardens at Versailles. - CONNIE ZEIGLER
  • Connie Zeigler
  • Kiley's work was strongly influenced by Andre Le Notre, the designer of the gardens at Versailles.

That double row of trees, bordering green lawns that sweep right up to Edward Larrabee Barnes' structures, looks ancient. That is in part because Kiley's work was strongly influenced by Andre Le Notre, the designer of the gardens at Versailles.

Charles Birnbaum, Founder and Director of the Washington, D. C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation, says that Kiley's work is "all about geometry." This is evident with the soft geometry at CTS, with the parallel lines of tall, straight trees and the square lawns that sweep right up to the low-slung main building designed by Barnes. But Kiley also provided a bit of non-geometric whimsy. Look at those twisty curving branches of the three widely spreading catalpa trees on the east side of the main building. They direct your eye to the tall Sweeney Chapel that Barnes added a couple of decades after he constructed the original building. That trio of goofy beautiful trees perfectly complements the light notes of the post-modern chapel. 

Kiley intended for his landscape to draw your eye to Barnes' buildings as you stroll. And when you walk inside the main building, you'll see that Barnes repaid Kiley's deference. The architect framed the walls of the interior courtyard with floor-to-ceiling glass. Those windows invite you to look out at Kiley's exterior room, the courtyard where a single row of small-leaf lindens border a square green lawn. 

Before he began work on the CTS site in 1962, Daniel Urban Kiley was responsible for the expansive gardens of the National Historic Landmark Miller House. - CONNIE ZEIGLER
  • Connie Zeigler
  • Before he began work on the CTS site in 1962, Daniel Urban Kiley was responsible for the expansive gardens of the National Historic Landmark Miller House.

Before he began work on the CTS site in 1962, Daniel Urban Kiley spent some time a bit south of here in Columbus, Indiana. He was responsible for the expansive gardens of the National Historic Landmark Miller House in the city to our south. It was designed by Eero Saarinen. Kiley also worked with Saarinen on the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the park land surrounding the St. Louis Arch). Their architect/landscape architect symbiosis created those nationally significant places. The Barnes and Kiley collaboration at CTS, which lasted from 1962 to 1983, did the same.

Charles Birnbaum visited the campus for the first time this year. He says the buildings and landscape are a "visionary legacy" that is so important the campus could one day also be designated a National Historic Landmark. 

So far, CTS has done a good job of maintaining the legacy of the 21-year Barnes/Kiley collaboration here. But already some elements of Kiley's landscape have been altered. Facilities director, Dick Davis, said he "only learned a few years ago that it was done by a noted landscape architect." The fountain that once graced the circular drive at the front entrance has been removed. And new beds with tall grasses and flowers now flank the entry doors. Davis also says a plan to alter Kiley's very restrained courtyard is now being considered.

This is news that worries fans of one of the nationally known modern landscape architect.

In Washington D.C. the Cultural Landscape Foundation recently discovered a cache of Kiley's original drawings for CTS in a collection of his papers at Harvard. Charles Birnbaum says this work and the long partnership between Kiley and Barnes at CTS created "a symphonic masterpiece." He's hoping the current decision-makers hear its music as they inhale the perfume of those lindens.

In Washington D.C. the - Cultural Landscape Foundation recently discovered a cache of Kiley's original drawings - for CTS in a collection of his papers at Harvard.  - CONNIE ZEIGLER
  • Connie Zeigler
  • In Washington D.C. theCultural Landscape Foundation recently discovered a cache of Kiley's original drawingsfor CTS in a collection of his papers at Harvard.

The Indianapolis Public Library's Central branch currently has a photograph exhibit of Dan Kiley's work curated by the Cultural Landscape Foundation. The exhibit moves to Columbus, Indiana next.

For even more information, on Kiley projects in Indiana, see the Cultural Landscape Foundation Website.

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About The Author

Connie Zeigler

Connie Zeigler

Bio:
Connie Zeigler is a historian and writer. She has a regular history column in a downtown Indianapolis newspaper, Urban Times. President of C. Resources, Connie provides preservation consulting and prepares nominations of buildings and sites to the National Register of Historic Places. A die-hard urbanist, she... more

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