Three Cultural Gardens at the Presidio of Monterey, California

David A. Laws
12 min readJun 14, 2023
Fig 1. Fountain on Patio Ibero Americano, DLIFLC, Presidio of Monterey in June 2022. Photo: David A. Laws

“This garden allows me to stay connected to a part of my past and to so much of what made me who I am” — Gwyn De Amaral

Gwyn De Amaral’s father, Major Charles F. De Amaral Jr., served as a helicopter pilot and died in Vietnam in 1965. The Patio Ibero Americano, one of three cultural garden landscapes created on the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) campus on the US Army’s Presidio of Monterey in California in the 1960s, is dedicated to Maj. De Amaral. Although a civilian, through a Gold Star Survivor Access Badge program, his son visits this spot overlooking Monterey Bay frequently to pay his respects near a plaque honoring his father’s service. [1]

I visited the garden in June 2022 with Mimi Sheridan of the Alliance of Monterey Area Preservationists (AMAP). Our guides were Laura Prishmont Quimby, Cultural Resources Program Manager, US Army Garrison, Presidio of Monterey, and Cameron Binkley, Command Historian, Defense Language Institute. Ms. Sheridan received a Recordation and Evaluation Report of proposed modifications to Buildings 620 and 624 on the Presidio under the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 prepared by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 2020. Created as outdoor classrooms where students could experience other aspects of the culture behind the language that they were learning, the gardens were included but not as the primary subject of the report. As a California Garden and Landscape History Society member, Ms. Sheridan requested an opportunity to view the gardens.

History of the Defense Language Institute (DLI)

In 1941 the US Army established a secret Japanese language program on Crissy Field at the Presidio of San Francisco. Graduates of the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) that moved to Minnesota for the duration of the war were credited for contributions that shortened the war by up to two years. In 1946, MISLS relocated to Monterey, where the commandant laid the foundation for a school to teach language proficiency and cultural understanding that could also serve diplomatic and intelligence-gathering demands. Now called the Army Language School, classes in Russian were followed by Arabic, French, Greek, Korean, Persian, and Turkish in 1947. [2]

Fig 2. The 11th Cavalry on Soldier Field, Presidio of Monterey, April 29, 1932. Cavalry-era barracks served as the school’s first classrooms. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

In 1963, to promote efficiency and economy, several programs were consolidated into the Defense Language Institute (DLI) headquartered in Washington, DC. The Army Language School was known as DLI West Coast Branch (DLIWCB) and became the main site for training enlisted linguists. Army planners and architects began to reshape the Presidio of Monterey, where classes were held in cavalry-era barracks. Their design envisioned an academic-style campus with modern instructional facilities and dormitories in a park-like setting built on the slope above the historic Presidio. A relaxed, non-traditional military atmosphere was intended to facilitate learning by students undergoing intense language instruction.

According to Vincent Zinck, who studied Chinese at DLI in 1969, “We did not wear camos or fatigues, we didn’t march to class. It was very loosey-goosey. It was much more like a school than a military base.” [3]

Fig 3. DLIFLC logo

In 1976, the DLIWCB became the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) and today is the Defense Department’s premier school for culturally based foreign language education and training. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest schools for foreign language instruction.

The Cultural Garden Idea

Due to the myriad distractions of everyday life, language teacher Eric Hawkins considered the typical style of language teaching in schools like “gardening in a gale.” The immersive experience at DLI eliminated many of those issues. Aware that a garden setting facilitates learning has long been acknowledged by educators, teachers at DLI extended the gardening metaphor by creating spaces outside the classroom as an opportunity to better understand cultures associated with the language being studied.

Colonel Richard J. Long, DLI Commandant who approved the gardens’ creation, wrote, “I was a strong opponent of teaching languages in a vacuum and advocated coverage of the entire ecology that had nurtured each tongue. … it was the idea of the faculty to create gardens in furtherance of this theme.” [4]

Fig 4. Proposed teaching clusters for outdoor instruction. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

The Institute’s plan to incorporate gardens into the learning environment attracted wide attention in the local press in 1965. A Monterey Peninsula Herald headline dated April 28 read, “Army praised for landscape plan at Monterey Presidio.” The Salinas Californian wrote: “DLI establishing a Latin garden” (June 25), and a story titled “New gardens started at Presidio” appeared in the Seaside News Sentinel on June 30.

Building 624 (Pomerene Hall) was DLI’s first purpose-built classroom facility and initially housed the Far Eastern Division of the school. The first of the three cultural gardens to be completed, the Asian Garden (originally called the Oriental Garden) is located between two wings of this three-story, mid-century-modern style structure. The other two gardens, the Mediterranean and Ibero Americano, stand on opposite sides of a wing of Building 620 (Nisei Hall) that opened in August 1966.

The Asian Garden

Fig 5. Sketch of planned Asian Garden. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

Students and faculty constructed the Asian Garden between December 1964 and April 1965. In a booklet 3 Cultural Gardens published by DLI in 1966, project officer Lt. Colonel Toshio Nakanishi and designer Professor Goro Yamamoto called it “a place of beauty … where students might better comprehend, under the guidance of their instructors, many factors of Oriental philosophy.” [5] The booklet describes their garden as follows:

Fig 6. Students view the pond feature with Korean Language instructor, Nancy Chu. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

“As you visit our garden, you will see a tall, narrow stone standing upright: in front and somewhat to one side of it is a flat and broad stone; at the other side is one of middle height. Together they illustrate perfectly that form of occult balance based on the triangle that is found throughout Japanese art; when it is used in flower arrangements, its three basic lines are popularly called heaven, man, earth.

Here you actually see several basic types of Oriental gardens. The hill garden features a hill which is usually combined with a pond and a stream. A woodland spring arrangement is typical. Flat gardens are those laid out on a flat area without hills or ponds, and the level area is supposed to be the surface of water. Stones, trees, stone lanterns, and water basins form the decorative elements. It is believed that scenic features of the sea, the lake, or pond are taken as the model. Stone groups in a flat garden may be looked on as islands of varying size.

Certain other features of our garden represent different other aspects of Oriental culture. The Ginkgo tree (silver apricot), found in many Chinese gardens, bears a nut considered a delicacy in Chinese cookery and a basic herb in Chinese medicine. There are also a Tatgata buddha near the pond, and a Kwanyin, Goddess of Mercy who hears the prayers of the world — deities in the Buddhist religion.”

Fig 7. An instructor helps a student with Japanese pronunciation. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

In October 1972, the Monterey Bonsai Club dedicated a memorial in the garden to the more than 3,000 Japanese Americans killed during World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. [6]

Due to the lack of appropriate horticultural and structural maintenance over the years, little of the grace and elegance conjured by the designers’ words and nothing of the bonsai memorial remain today. The following notes regarding the status are abstracted from the Recordation and Evaluation report of 2020.

Fig 8. Asian Garden pond is dry in June 2022. Photo: David A. Laws

“The Asian Garden is not maintained and appears to be little used. The formerly manicured landscape has become overgrown as ornamental trees and plants have matured. Much of the gravel surfacing once used as a decorative element of the flat garden area is obscured by soil and pine duff and has been sheet washed from drainage runoff. The wooden benches along the base of the slope are no longer present. The original seating has been replaced by a picnic table in the middle of the flat garden area. The fountain feature is not functional and the stream and pond are dry. The decorative ground cover and split bamboo edging around the fountain area have been removed and the area is overgrown. The extant bridge is not original. A replacement bridge remains but is faded, and the wood is decaying. Both of the Asian-influenced stairways have been replaced with concrete steps with aluminum pipe railings.”

The Patio Ibero Americano

Fig 9. Winning entry for Patio Ibero Americano design. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

Lee Warren, an instructor of Portuguese, submitted the winning entry out of seven received for the design of the Patio Ibero Americano. Between June 1965 and May 1966, students and faculty of the Spanish and Portuguese Departments helped Iberian department chairman Dr. Luis Vargas with construction. Dr. Vargas volunteered so extensively on the patio that it was known as the “Vargas Patio” for some years after he passed. It comprised two learning spaces, a courtyard, and a patio divided by a decorative cement block wall. Both landscapes incorporated traditions of the Iberian Peninsula, where gardens were linked to the home and functioned as areas for cooling and relaxing.

Fig 10. Dr. Luis Vargas works on the fountain plumbing in April 1996. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

According to the 3 Cultural Gardens booklet, “You enter the first garden through an arch made of wood that was designed specifically to simulate adobe-type brick, a material generally used for arch construction in native locales. There is a large patio with benches. The trellises are covered with bougainvillea, jasmine, honeysuckle and bignonia [trumpet flower]. There are hanging flower pots and flowers in cultivated areas. These plants, although obtained locally, are typical of the flora of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America. Here and there you will find camellias, poinsettia, lemon and olive trees, some palms, papaya and banana trees, and other species.

Fig 11. A Women’s Army Corps soldier at the archway entrance to the Patio Ibero Americano. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

The Moorish-influenced fountain is the center of the second garden, which includes tiled benches for use by students and instructors. The design of this fountain was copied from one erected in Cadiz, Spain. in honor of America. The ‘azulejos’ or tiles, although of Moorish pattern, were made in Guadalajara [Mexico].”

The memorial plaque to Major Frank De Amaral Jr. is mounted on the pierced cement block wall behind the fountain. Maj. De Amaral’s father worked as a contractor for Genevieve Bates, owner of Big Sur’s Glen Deven Ranch. On learning of his son’s death, Mrs. Bates, who was donating the funds for the fountain, suggested the plaque’s addition to the wall.

Fig 12. The De Amaral family at the fountain dedication in 1966. Photo Credit: Courtesy Gwyn De Amaral

For administrative reasons related to a lack of formal documentation compliant with garrison regulations, the only regular maintenance service for any of the gardens was the suppression of weeds for fire safety precautions. In 2012, Gwyn De Amaral worked with the Family Affairs director to organize students and other volunteers to restore the fountain and trim overgrown plants.

Although these issues are now largely resolved, neglect over the years has significantly impacted the original concept of the patio landscape as, according to the Recordation and Evaluation report of 2020, several historical elements of the inner courtyard are gone. These include the entry arch, benches, a semicircular concrete block wall, a wood-framed trellised walkway, and planters. Grass has replaced the majority of vegetation in the garden plots. Seating now consists of metal picnic tables.

Fig 13. Wooden benches in groups of three were arranged in triangular conversation areas. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

Historic photographs depict an exterior graveled conversation seating area beyond the archway entrance and fountain patio. Twelve wooden benches in the conversation area were separated by diamond-shaped planter boxes that held trees. The seating area has been removed, and only vestiges of gravel remain.

The Mediterranean Garden

Fig 14. Sketch of projected Mediterranean Garden with a fountain. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

The Mediterranean Garden entry in the 3 Cultural Gardens booklet notes that “our architect Mr. Sebastian Bordonaro, AIA, and our landscape consultant, Mr. Richard Murray, have tried to capture some of the elements that are part of the history of European gardens. Therefore, we have walkways that follow graceful curves. We have a pool in the center, happily bubbling away. We have some of the plants used in Roman gardens, such as olive trees, and some of the ones used in formal gardens of the French type, such as boxwood bushes. We have also some aspects of the romantic English garden in the lawn areas. The garden is not quite complete. Benches will be placed in selected spots and a marble slab will be placed across the center of the pool. This slab will have a water jet coming through it.”

Fig 15. The Mediterranean Garden in September 1967 complete except for the marble slab. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

Completing the garden’s prominent centerpiece, the raised, blue and white-tiled, oval pool awaited the delivery of a massive, 6,200-pound black marble slab from a quarry in Carrara, Italy. After visiting Monterey, General Remo Fratoni, who established the Italian language school, Scuola Lingue Estere Esercito, arranged for the gift of the marble by the Italian Ministry of Defense “as a testament to our friendship and common ideals” [7] and in appreciation for the technical advice offered by DLI in helping the Italians create their own school. General Fratoni participated in the garden’s dedication in October 1970.

Fig 16. Placing the marble slab across the pool. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

Placed as a traverse across the pool, the marble slab carries an inscription “Gift from the Italian Armed Forces.” A lily-shaped copper fountainhead crafted by Seaman Charles Craig that once cascaded water onto the monolith and down into the pool has been replaced by a light blue painted aluminum flower.

Fig 17. Mediterranean Garden dedication October 1970. Photo: Courtesy of the DLIFLC Command History Office

Early photographs indicate that bushes were planted in the areas between the patio and brick pathways. These areas are now covered with grass. Boxwood bushes described in early documentation were likely located along Building 620 and on the eastern side of the pathway. Red flowering torch aloe (Aloe arborescens) now grows in this location. Olives planted as part of the original garden remain, but other exotic trees have also become established.

Fig 18. The Mediterranean Garden in June 2022. Photo: David A. Laws

The future of the gardens?

Unlike a building, as plants grow and age, the look of a garden changes rapidly. No garden can be left alone and survive as it was created. After a few years of neglect, only a skeleton remains — a few scattered rocks and stones: unpruned trees towering over faint traces of floral beds.

What does the current state of benign neglect of DLI’s three cultural gardens tell us about their original premise? Did the gardens actually help improve the proficiency of students by linking the culture of the places to the languages being taught? There is no documented evidence, but the effort exerted by the faculty in creating them is a testament to the vibrancy of the notion at that time. With modern language teaching methods and the ease of sending students abroad to study other cultures directly, it is unlikely that they would be replicated today.

Whether the gardens are restored, maintained in their present state, or continue to decline will depend on decisions by future administrations. Because of their now historic status, it’s possible that they could be accorded the same institutional pride as the infantry buildings and monuments of the Presidio’s designated Historic District on the lower slopes..

Fig 19. The De Amaral memorial plaque is set in a border of Moorish-style ‘azulejo’ tiles. Photo: David A. Laws

Whatever the decision, it is important to understand that all three have assumed roles beyond their original purpose. The Italian gift symbolizes the Mediterranean garden as a beacon of international friendship and cooperation. The Asian and Iberian gardens memorialize personnel who died in the service of their country. Gwyn De Amaral hopes that his commitment to restoring his father’s memorial will inspire others to ensure that all these spaces are treated with appropriate dignity and reverence in the future.


[1] Winifred Brown, “Presidio of Monterey issues first new, improved Survivor Access Badge,” July 9, 2021. Retrieved on 11.8.22 from:

[2] Cameron Binkley, “From World War to Cold War: Creating the Army’s ’Multilanguage School at Monterey,’” Deputy Command Historian DLIFLC. Retrieved on 11.8.22 from:

[3] Tammy Cario “A friendship reconnected at DLIFLC,” Jan 23, 2019. Retrieved on 11.7.22 from:

[4] Letter to Col. Kibbey M. Horne, Commandant DLIWC, October 7, 1970.

[5] 3 Cultural Gardens at the Presidio of Monterey, California, published by the DLI West Coast Branch (DLIWCB), 1966.

[6] “Japanese American garden memorial dedicated at DLI,” Monterey Peninsula Herald, October 16, 1972

[7] DLIWC Press Release #110, October 10, 1970

This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Eden, the Journal of the California Garden and Landscape History Society.

The Eden cover featured the DLI brochure noted in Source [5] above.

[Rev: DL 6.13.23]



David A. Laws

I photograph and write about Gardens, Nature, Travel, and the history of Silicon Valley from my home on the Monterey Peninsula in California.