2016 / Descanso Gardens Executive Director David R. Brown announces retirement: Gardens’ Trustees begin successor national search

David R. Brown has served as Descanso Gardens' executive director since 2005

David R. Brown has served as Descanso Gardens’ executive director since 2005


Oct. 6, 2016, La Cañada Flintridge, CA – Long-time Descanso Gardens Executive Director David R. Brown today announced his plans to retire in the coming year. He has served since 2005 as executive director of the member-supported botanic garden in La Cañada Flintridge, which is owned by the County of Los Angeles and managed by the Descanso Gardens Guild, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed in 1957.

With the official retirement date set at August 31, 2017, Brown will continue to oversee several high-profile projects that will launch this year. “As the board of trustees conducts the search for my successor, I plan to be as busy as ever as we debut our new seasonal production, ‘Enchanted: Forest of Light,’ celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Japanese Garden, continue with the many and fascinating aspects of our conservation and sustainability mission, and help forward the Gardens’ strategic agenda,” he said. “I’m very proud of our senior team and know they will take good care of Descanso’s day-to-day urgencies as well as the long-term course we’ve set upon.”

When Brown took on Descanso Gardens’ top job in July 2005, he brought with him 35 years of experience as a writer/creative director, corporate executive, college president, and consultant to education institutions and non-profits. Prior to joining Descanso Gardens, he was the founding president of The Oxbow School in Napa, CA, following a two-year engagement by the school’s founding board as its consultant in strategic planning.

He served as president and chief executive officer of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena from 1985 to 1999. During his administration, Art Center’s endowment increased nine-fold; the curriculum and program offerings grew significantly, as did financial aid availability and scholarship support. The college became the nation’s leader in the integration of digital media into both 2-D and 3-D design programs.

Before being selected as the third president in Art Center’s history, he was a corporate executive in the paper and forest products industry on the East Coast and, prior to that, a freelance writer and creative director in New York. A native of Maine, Brown and his wife, Judith, are longtime residents of Pasadena, where they raised their three children and remain active in the community.

Reflecting on his tenure at Descanso Gardens, he said, “It’s been a sheer pleasure. It is truly a lovely and much-loved place: I’ve probably been told a thousand times what a beautiful ‘office’ I have to work in! Equally lovely has been the generous community and philanthropic support we’ve received as we guided Descanso into some new and important directions over the past decade.”

Highlights of Brown’s tenure have included the restoration of the historic Boddy House and surrounding gardens (2007-08); addition of the Sturt Haaga Gallery (2011) and development of its curatorial direction; addition of new gardens and displays such as the Oak Woodland (2014) and Ancient Forest (2015); creation of a Long Range Concept Plan (2010); addition of extended summer hours and the popular midweek evening concert series; emphasis on sustainable practices and water conservation; increases in admissions and visitation; successful conclusion of a new 15-year operating agreement with Los Angeles County; and the more than doubling of the membership base to its current 14,500 members.

“Descanso Gardens gives hundreds of thousands of people every year the opportunity to enjoy a unique setting in nature and, we hope, become more attuned to the urgent environmental and global issues of our time,” says Brown. “Always an oasis of respite and beauty, I hope Descanso can also be seen as a positive role model for the good stewardship of our land and our naturally occurring resources, including the best we can mine from our history.”

The Descanso Gardens Guild Inc. board of trustees has formed a transition committee to coordinate the national search for his successor.