Hollander Designs Landscapes That Help Define a Village
By Dawn Watson
Ed Hollander might be one of the biggest names in landscape architecture today, though the Sag Harbor resident is perhaps best known to locals as a guy who is more than happy to use his considerable talents to help shape the village that he proudly calls home.
Yes, the president of Hollander Design — which has offices in Manhattan, Chicago and here in Sag Harbor — is a past President of the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a Fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects. During his impressive career, he has earned honors such as the Charles Armstrong Award in Landscape Design, the American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award, the New York Chapter American Society of Landscape Architecture award, and the Stanford White Award in Landscape Architecture, among others. But it’s his generous donation of appreciable time and effort to the village of Sag Harbor that matters most here.
Hollander’s most recent pro-bono projects include drafting conceptual design plans for the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park and the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum; helping to conceive and implement the Oaks for Oakland program, which has spruced up dozens of trees in the Oakland Cemetery and will plant many more; and leading the charge to clean up the historic Eastville Cemetery. And though he splits his time between the East End and Manhattan, he says he’s proud to call this place “home,” and as such, he’s happy to do whatever he can to protect it.
“Here in Sag Harbor we have some of the greatest public spaces, which are just as important to the cultural landscape as the buildings and the architecture,” says Hollander. “It’s important that we all do our part to take care of these places that are critically essential and of use to everyone.”
Sag Harbor, he adds, is “perfect” as it is.
“Yes, it’s an engineer’s nightmare, with no two streets the same,” he says. “But that’s part of its irreplaceable charm — that it has developed in such an organic fashion, and that it’s a living village that is not static. Don’t mess with it.”
Hollander’s philosophy and action in addressing his local passion projects reinforces his words. It’s no surprise that his plans for them also mirror what he does best in his residential work: creating design that marries thoughtful environmental appropriateness with the elements of the native landscape. And, especially as they are for the public benefit, his three-prong approach for such sites must encompass the natural, architectural and human ecology of each of the sites, he reports.
“We don’t design these in a vacuum,” he says. “For public areas such as these, it’s about the usage, the impact and the aesthetics. We’ve got to think about parking, walking, strolling, viewing, as well as the ecological and community responsibilities.”
As for the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, which Hollander predicts could be implemented in under a year’s time once the village has acquired the land, the notable landscape architect says he can’t wait to get started on the project.
“I like to do things that will be completed in my lifetime,” he continues, adding he’s most excited about how the parkland will enhance the inherent character of Sag Harbor. Additionally, he’s enthusiastic about how it will open up the waterfront, provide ecological benefits (he intends to positively impact water quality by planting marsh grass and eelgrass), and incorporate recycled and re-used materials in its construction.
He’s also keen on tackling the space that will connect the park with Long Wharf, which is “an opportunity to create something special,” he says. The award-winning landscape architect and author — his books include “The Good Garden” and “The Private Oasis” — reports that he’s sketched out plans for more public amenities for the village, plus a pleasing boardwalk that will take users under the currently underutilized Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge and up past the windmill, connecting it all the way to the Long Wharf. The result, he says, will add to the desirability and walkability of Sag Harbor, while still allowing it to maintain its unique character.
“We’re taking something that has fallen derelict and making it into something that will be user-friendly and in keeping with the aesthetics of the village,” he says. “We want to keep a part of that gritty character, with the blemishes and flaws that were introduced by the whaling captains so many years ago. It’s paramount we follow that lead and not doll it up like Disneyland or a New Orleans bordello.”
For the Whaling Museum, Hollander’s aim is to update and preserve what’s already in place while making the public space a touch more user-friendly. That plan includes addressing some of the screening plants, shrubs and trees that surround the Main Street property; adding another gate to connect to the Custom House; and creating a new pathway to an existing entrance ramp.
Additionally, work on both cemeteries will be ongoing, he reports. They are, after all, the “physical embodiment of the history of the village,” says Hollander. Thanks to scores of volunteers — which include an impressive number of civic-minded individuals and businesses — there will be more tree plantings and cleanups this spring and beyond, according to Hollander.
In talking about these pubic space projects, the landscape architect is quick to point out that there are countless others, most especially current Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder, and her predecessors in the post, as well as artist and activist April Gornik, and dozens of concerned citizens, contractors and companies, who are right there with him in doing their part to protect the village. He’s proud to contribute, he says, but he’s one of many in the village’s past and present — dating back to the turn of the century when the philanthropic efforts of Margaret Olivia Slocum, aka “Mrs. Russell Sage,” yielded such important Sag Harbor institutions as Pierson High School, the John Jermain Memorial Library, and Mashashimuet Park, among her many gifts.
“I’m thrilled to be able to use what I know, and the power of my office, for the good of the village,” he says. “It would be great to be thought of as the Mrs. Russell Sage of our time. I want to help the village in my way the way she did in her way. But, more importantly, I’ve got to give thanks to all the people who love the village.”