Peter Olpe, an electrical engineer, has been on the Board of Trustees of South Coast Botanic Garden for 6 years and is currently President. He reviewed the history of the Botanic Garden and the ongoing project for its redesign and upgrade.

25 million years ago this area was underwater, and many ocean fossils are still present, including microscopic diatoms whose remains have been mined for abrasives and other industrial and commercial uses. The Spanish explorer Cabrillo first arrived at the Bay of Smokes (now San Pedro) in 1542 and observed the inversion layer in the Los Angeles basin where cooler ocean air is trapped below a warmer layer of air above. Land in the South Bay area was owned by the Sepulveda family since 1809, and bought by developer Bixby in 1880, who leased farmland to Japanese farmers. Frank Vanderlip, President of National City Bank of New York, bought 16,000 acres and leased some land to Great Lakes Carbon for open-pit mining of diatomaceous earth. In 1953 he sold the last of his land to the company, which stopped mining and converted to real estate development and a landfill, including the area under the Botanic Garden which is still settling.

In the 1950s, severe smog was building up in Los Angeles under the inversion layer, contributed in part by trash-burning in people’s backyards. The City of Los Angeles bought the open pit mine in 1956 as a dump to replace burning. As it was filling up, Frances Young convinced the City to create a botanic garden over the landfill. Soil was put on top and 400 volunteers began planting. The South Coast Botanic Garden was founded in 1962, and the lake in the center was formed in 1970.

Mr Olpe showed a video of a boy with cerebral palsy who found peace and a sense of fulfillment in the Botanic Garden. There are many children’s activities, garden lectures and demonstrations, specialized garden club and floral societies, Audubon Society, holiday displays, weddings and concerts. He reviewed plans for the ongoing upgrades, for which fundraising is in progress. The parking area has settled and needs to be re-leveled. The lake has been drained and is being cleared and cleaned. The 87-acre Botanic Garden has 2500 species of plants from Australia, Mediterranean, southern Africa and California, with wildlife and 200 bird species. Popular features include the Mediterranean Garden, Rose Garden, Water-Wise Garden, Garden for the Senses, Cactus Garden, Children’s Garden, Fuchsia Garden, Dahlia Garden, Herb Garden and Japanese Garden.

The Garden is open 9-5 daily. Admission is $9 ($6 for seniors, FREE for Foundation Members). Annual membership starts at $45 for individuals & $65 for families. Donations and assistance with fundraising are welcome. The Garden’s location is 26300 Crenshaw Boulevard on Palos Verdes Peninsula. Further information is available at or (310) 544-1948.