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Inventory of the Maunsell Van Rensselaer Collection, 1920-1970
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Maunsell Van Rensselaer collection
    Dates: 1920-1970
    Collection number: 2006-2
    Creator: Van Rensselaer, Maunsell, 1897-1972
    Collector: Environmental Design Archives
    Collection Size: 3.5 boxes and 1 card file box
    Repository: Environmental Design Archives

    College of Environmental Design
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, California
    Physical location: Environmental Design Archives

    University of California, Berkeley

    Berkeley, California 94720-1820
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from materials in the collection should be discussed with the Curator.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of Item], Maunsell Van Rensselaer Collection, 2006-2, Environmental Design Archives. College of Environmental Design. University of California, Berkeley.

    Biographical Note

    Maunsell Van Rensselaer (1897-1972)
    Maunsell Van Rensselaer was born in Los Angeles, California on May 13, 1897. As a direct descendant of the prominent Holland-Dutch family who established the colony of Rensselaerwyck (now Rensselaer, New York), he was the fifth of nine children to James Taylor Van Rensselaer and Agnes Sarah Bradley Van Rensselaer. He was named after his grandfather, Rev. Maunsell Van Rensselaer, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York. He married Eleanor Olmsted White on May 14, 1921. They had two children, Cortlandt Van Rensselaer and Patricia Louise Van Rensselaer Wilson.
    Van Rensselaer grew up and attended school in Fallbrook, California. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1916 during World War I, and was stationed at an army airfield in San Diego, California. In recognition of his skill, he was awarded a commission as Second Lieutenant and was sent to the University of California, Berkeley for pre-flight training. Then he was assigned to March Field, near Riverside, California, where he received pilot training. While at March Field, he was introduced to his future wife Eleanor Olmstead White.
    Following his release from the army, Van Rensselaer resumed his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where both he and Eleanor attended. He was a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda and Phi Delta Kappa. He graduated in 1923 with a major in physical education. His great interest was in botany and forestry, but his family convinced him that this field would not provide a good living. This resulted in his employment with the City of Berkeley Recreation Department. He also served as Dean of Boys for Berkeley High School from 1923 to 1925.
    During this time, Van Rensselaer and Eleanor were given the opportunity to establish the Berkeley summer camp on the Tuolomne River near Yosemite. After managing this camp for several summers, they left Berkeley and founded Lokoya Lodge, a summer resort on Mt. Veeder in Napa County. Van Rensselaer served as Treasurer, Managing Director, and President of the Lodge from 1926 to 1933. He also formed the Mt. Veeder Improvement Association, in which he also served as its president. After Lokoya Lodge failed financially due to the Depression, Van Rensselaer decided to return to his original botanical career interest.
    Van Rensselaer then worked for what is now called the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, serving initially in 1934 as Assistant Director, and was then later appointed to Director from 1936 to 1950. He also was instrumental in having the redwood adopted as California's official state tree in 1937. Serving as its chairman from 1943 to 1945, Van Rensselaer was a member of the Santa Barbara Board of Park Commissioners for many years, as well as a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, the Mexican Botanical Society, and the American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboretums. In 1943, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Garden Club of America as the co-author of Ceanothus.
    After relocating to Los Altos, California in 1950, Van Rensselaer and nurseryman Ray Hartman co-founded the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation, a non-profit institution located on several acres of land donated by Hartman near the town center of Saratoga, California. The Foundation selected desirable plants, often from mutations, and propagated these with grafting in order to create identical specimens. Several dozen of these plant varieties were patented. Many of the long lines of identical trees, which today shade the streets of the Silicon Valley, were propagated at the Foundation.
    While at the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation, Van Rensselaer served as director from 1950 to 1971. Among other accomplishments, he was president for the International Shade Tree Conference in the early 1960s and a member of the Advisory Council of the California Foundation for Horticultural Research and the Arboretum Committee at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1965, Van Rensselaer was named to the Horticultural Hall of Fame.
    Van Rensselaer authored Trees of Santa Barbara, a profusely illustrated book, which was published in 1940 by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Inc. He prepared a revised and enlarged edition in 1948. His major botanical publication, Ceanothus, was written in conjunction with Howard E. McMinn, professor of botany at Mills College. It was also published by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in 1942. In addition, Van Rensselaer authored hundreds of articles for horticultural publications and made countless presentations on botanical subjects.
    Maunsell Van Rensselaer died on August 15, 1972 in Santa Cruz, California.

    Collection file, Environmental Design Archives.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection, which spans from 1920 to 1970 (bulk 1920-1945), consists of records, photographs, and publications relating primarily to Maunsell Van Rensselaer's horticultural career. The collection comprehensively documents his research for the Famous Trees of California project, as well as his student years at the University of California, Berkeley. The collection contains no records pertaining to his work as the Director of the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation.
    Notable papers in the first series include the term papers and a field notebook from his studies at the University of California, Berkeley. This series documents his developing passion as well as his keen observations of the botanical field, including pressings of plant specimens and detailed descriptions. The professional papers series is small, consisting of reference materials such as nature guides and bulletins relating to plants and birds. It also includes a notebook bound by Van Rensselaer titled "Trees By Counties," in which he has listed named trees by alphabetical counties in California.
    The final series in the collection is devoted solely to the Famous Trees of California project. This is the largest series, documenting Van Rensselaer's extensive research of named trees, and is largely comprised of photographs and correspondence from Lokoya and Santa Barbara. The Famous Trees of California bound book is also included, as well as newspaper clippings and a collection of index cards alphabetically arranged by common tree name.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Landscape architecture--California.

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Student works.