Mayfield Park — Austin, Texas

Gregory Free and Associates. "Mayfield Park, a New Direction"
[Historic Preservation Master Plan]. TMs, 1988. Austin History Center, Austin.

The Mayfield-Gutsch Estate

A simple summer cottage converted for year-round use during the early 20th century, the Mayfield-Gutsch House stands in a botanical garden setting with much of its historic plantings and features intact. Featuring box construction clad with board-and-batten siding, the 1-story house provides the focal point of a 2-acre formal garden surrounded by a larger natural preserve. Changes to the house reflect the Arts and Crafts tradition of unifying the dwelling and its surrounding gardens. An ongoing project that evolved during the 1920s and 1930s, the garden setting incorporates native stonework landscape features, extensive plantings of native flora and diverse exotic fauna. The property retains a high degree of its historic integrity of location, design, materials, setting, workmanship, feeling and association.

On a dramatic site that encompasses limestone outcroppings, native vegetation and an intermittent drainage (Taylor’s Branch), the Mayfield-Gutsch Estate occupies 23 acres of hilly terrain overlooking the Colorado River. Approximately three miles northwest of downtown Austin, the property developed in two distinct zones. A two-acre formal garden setting enclosed by stone walls surrounds the house, with the balance of the estate preserving the natural features of the site. Built on a foundation of cedar posts, the house originally featured a U-shaped plan that additions transformed into a general L-plan configuration. Vertical board-and-batten siding sheathes the building’s box construction structural elements. The roofscape consists primarily of cross gabled forms, with shed roofs over the added porches. Two interior brick chimneys and an exterior fieldstone chimney rise above this roofscape. The primary (east) facade fronts onto the curvilinear driveway at right angles to the road. A 3-bay inset porch provides the focal point of this symmetrical facade. Porch detailing includes simple square columns with classical caps and a simple balustrade. Two sets of paired 4/4 wood sash flank the centered single door entrance. Single 4/4 windows flanked by trellises occur in each of the front facing gable ends. Shed roof porches flank these in turn, featuring continuous ribbons of vertical casement windows above tongue-in-groove wainscots. A massive cobblestone chimney in the Craftsman tradition graces the south enclosed porch, providing the sole asymmetrical element in this composition.

Facing the formal gardens, the south elevation consists primarily of the enclosed shed roof porch, detailed as on the primary facade. Limestone steps provide access to the gardens. The chimney’s presence dominates this elevation. To the rear of the house, a large pergola provides transition between the dining room and the outdoor terracing leading to the gardens. The rectangular space features five massive piers constructed of cobblestones supporting the Craftsman detailed wood superstructure of the pergola.

The rear (west) elevation faces the utility zone of the property, including the outbuilding, firewood bin and the original location of the vegetable garden. A portion of the pergola and more enclosed porch space continue the detailing seen on the south elevation. The north elevation features a full length porch that continues this same detailing.

A low limestone rubble wall fully encloses the Upper Garden, with eight openings providing access to other areas of the estate. All eight, including the original main gate and the Bell Gate, historically featured wrought iron gates. Several have been replaced by modern steel gates in keeping with the historic character of the originals. Changes in height, large stabilizing piers and stones of varying sizes enliven the wall’s appearance. An overlook graces the crest of the escarpment at the east of the Upper Garden, enclosed by a low rock wall with a ceremonial arched entry. Behind the house to the west, a square low walled enclosure historically held the fire wood supply for the estate.

Also to the west of the house, two small 1-room buildings provided shelter for a variety of garden related activities over the years, including housing for the Arredondo family at the onset of their service with the Gutsches. The simple box construction buildings feature board-and-batten exteriors capped by gable roofs. Set upon cedar post foundations, each also exhibits a chimney flue and 4/4 single-hung wood sash.

Encompassed by limestone walls, the 2-acre Upper Garden divides into two zones inspired by contrasting design aesthetics. Loosely inspired by 19th century Romantic designs, the house environs feature an emphasis on naturalism. Part of a circulation network that incorporates extensive stone paths and terracing, the curving entry drive provides the focus of this area nearest the road. Irregularly massed plant materials are scattered elsewhere throughout the zone. There is little direct connection between the house and landscape in this area, which appears to date in overall form to the earliest Gutsch occupation of the site. The earliest known photograph, dated 1924, shows the present pattern to generally have been in place. Rustic garden features such as circular stone beds and a round cast iron frog pond at the southeast corner of the house reinforce the naturalistic aesthetics at play here. The maturation of plant materials and the later inclusion of a formal palm allée along the drive are among the few changes in this area. The rear half of the Upper Garden reveals a more formal arrangement typical of the Neoclassical approach. Implemented between 1922 and about 1940, this part of the garden exhibits a formal plan coupled with garden details inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement. This portion of the garden has four major subareas, including the rose garden, rock garden, water garden and herbaceous garden.

Linked to the house via a large terraced patio and a pergola shading the dining room windows, a series of two small garden rooms extends southward along one of the garden’s primary axes. The first of these is the rose garden, a roughly square space enclosed by a low wall. This garden features four planting beds arranged in a quadpartite pattern and filled with old garden roses. Stone paths divide the beds, with a sundial on a pedestal providing the focal feature at the convergent point of the paths. Extending southward, the sight line from the dining room terminated at the rock garden. This garden features a series of raised mounds studded and edged with limestone rocks. An informal path meanders between the mounds, originally planted with bulbs such as narcissus, oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) and Lycoris radiata. Moving eastward, between these gardens and the water garden appears a transition zone of massed plantings with trees and shrubs. A series of small stone meandering paths links these gardens.

Comprised of a series of lily ponds, the water garden covers an area larger than the house itself. Executed in natural materials, rock terracing links the series of ponds. Immediately south of the house, an hourglass shaped pond probably dates to the late 1920s. Anchored by a small stone turtle and a rock fountain at either end, this pond features an organic shape that may be a holdover of the Romantic gardens at the front of the property. Strongly rooted in the Neoclassical tradition, however, is a series of five ponds at the center of the rear garden. Four elliptical ponds connect with a central round pond via small water channels to create a stylized flower. This water garden represents a vernacular interpretation of the formal patterning typically found in Neoclassical design. Rather than sight lines leading to a feature or through a Neoclassical garden, however, they lead here to the center point of the circular pond, historically planted with tall aquatic plants. A number of features in the Upper Garden loosely relate to these lines of sight, including the north and south gates, the dovecote and the overlook.

To the east of the water garden is an area simply planted with irregularly arranged trees. The dovecote is the principal feature of this space. A conical roof surmounts the stone walls of the 3-tiered cylindrical structure featuring arched openings and a complex roof-truss system. An iron weather vane depicting a roadrunner, rattlesnake and cacti graces its apex. Scattered flower beds bordered by stones dot the grounds surrounding the dovecote. Housing one of the primary access points to the Lower Garden via the Bell Gate, the informal plantings of this area serve as a transition to the natural landscape of the Lower Garden.

At the southern edge of the Upper Garden, the herbaceous garden provides the final formal contrast to the rugged terrain outside the garden’s walls. This area may originally have been an extension of the rock garden, but today it is treated as a series of distinct planting beds bordered with native rocks. Some 30 beds ar currently planted with historically accurate plant materials (nothing more recent than 1950). Many naturalized stands of narcissus, day lilies, iris, oxblood lilies, Leucojum aestivum and Lycoris radiata, date back to Mary Mayfield Gutsch’ tenancy.

The Lower Garden consists of portions of the estate below the escarpment left largely wooded by the Gutsches. An area for walking and plant collecting, the Lower Garden hosts few designed features. The Gutsches probably incorporated informal seating areas, small bridges and stepping stones using natural materials. These have been replaced in kind over the years whenever possible. The primary change in the Lower Garden occurs west of the house. Currently an asphalt paved parking lot, this site once hosted the Gutsch’s extensive vegetable garden.

An excellent example of the modest suburban properties built during the early 20th century in the hills surrounding Austin, the Mayfield-Gutsch Estate still evokes the tenets of landscape architecture in vogue during the period. In 1909 prominent politician Allison Mayfield established his summer home at this property on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River. His daughter, Mary Mayfield Gutsch, her husband Milton, and their gardener, Esteban Arredondo, transformed the property into a showcase garden during the l920s and 1930s. Low rock walls define the perimeter of the house’s garden setting, encompassing a diverse landscape of outbuildings, formal gardens, lily ponds and rock gardens. As planned by the Gutsches, the surrounding acreage remains a relatively untouched preserve of native vegetation and natural landscape features.

Development of the Mayfield-Gutsch Estate

A prominent politician who served as chairman of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, Allison Mayfield purchased this property in 1909. Documentary evidence suggests that he transformed an existing dwelling for use as a summer residence. Although his will inventoried this property as "The Home Place in Austin," the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin continued to serve as his official residence until his death in January 1923. His daughter, Mary Mayfield Gutsch, continued to summer in the house and putter in the modest garden following her 1918 marriage to University of Texas history professor Milton Rietow Gutsch. Prominent in the early efforts of Austin’s Violet Crown Garden Club, the Gutsches shared an intense interest in botany. After the 1924 death of Mary’s mother, Lula Chapman Mayfield, they broadened their campaign of expanding both the house and garden.

Their partner in this campaign, Esteban Arredondo, began working for the Gutsches in 1922. He served as the Gutsches’ gardener, butler, and chauffeur, while his wife Magdalena looked after the housekeeping. The Arredondos and their children for a brief time resided in one of the surviving outbuildings behind the main house. Still living in Austin, their oldest son Steve was five years old when his family moved to the Mayfield-Gutsch Estate. Oral history interviews with him constitute the most accurate information available regarding the development of the gardens. Steve lived on the estate until his marriage in 1937, while his parents continued to work for the Gutsches until 1968.

The garden development was a collaborative effort between Esteban Arredondo and the Gutsches. He and Mary combed the land around Mount Bonnell and Lake McDonald (now Lake Austin) for native plants like mountain laurel, redbud, Mexican plum and yucca to transplant into the garden. He and Dr. Gutsch worked on heavier construction projects including the ponds, walks, and other structures. They completed the lily ponds by 1930 to house dozens of varieties of water lilies. Beginning with the front gates, they began construction of perimeter walls in 1932, finishing them by 1937. Although the Gutsches purchased local field stone for $1.50 to $3 per truckload to build the walls, they gathered native limestone on the property to outline the flower beds and build the rock garden. The Gutsches began planting native Texas palms (Sabal texana) in the l930s to give the gardens a tropical air. A 1935 Christmas gift of a pair of peafowl started a trend of animating the gardens. Frequent visitors to Mexico, the Gutsches often purchased colorful planters, pots and urns to place around the trees, terraces and walks. They never added formal statuary to the gardens, although they often made room for odd found objects in the various garden areas. While they continued to make minor changes in planting and add small features collected while traveling over the years, most of the major elements of the gardens were in place by 1940.

The resulting house and grounds formed a picturesque composition drawn from landscape styles prevalent during the early 20th century. The Gutsches made every effort to unify the house and landscape, adding a pergola, trellises, porches, foundation plantings, walks and terraces to dissolve the boundaries between the two. They personally cared for their gardens, watching them mature until his death in 1967 and hers in 1971. In her will, Mary Mayfield Gutsch deeded the property to the City of Austin for use as a public park. The Mayfield Park Community Project launched a restoration program in 1988 to ensure the survival of this significant resource. Current conditions of the grounds reflect their effort to recapture the garden’s character at its peak by restoring the house as well as original plant varieties lost over time.

The source of this content is a big PDF document — 461 pages, over 34MB — titled Historic Landscape Resource Manual (The Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, 1999), which can be found at The excerpts there were "chosen to illustrate 'good practice' in documenting historic landscapes." I've further extracted from pp. 205-10. Jesus Garza (who was Executive Director of the agency I worked for before he left to work for the city instead) authorized the report and its processing.

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Last modified on June 12, 2009 by Kay Keys (