Innocenti and Webel, a landscape architectural firm based on Long Island, New York, is best known for its work on corporate and college campuses in the upstate and midlands of South Carolina. Its early projects were quite different, however. Umberto Innocenti and Richard K. Webel first came to South Carolina to design residential landscapes on lowcountry hunting plantations. The men formed a partnership in 1931 when their employer, Ferruccio Vitale, closed his practice. His clients came to the new firm, and Innocenti and Webel became prominent among the wealthy residents of Long Island, New York.
One of their first major clients, Landon K. Thorne, along with his brother-in-law, Alfred L. Loomis, bought most of Hilton Head Island in the early 1930s, with the intention of alternating their summer playgrounds with a winter hunting estate in the South. They commissioned Innocenti and Webel’s design services for both. On their southern plantations as on their northern estates, the new country gentry wanted colonial-revival houses and fine landscapes that gave the appearance of age. Innocenti and Webel provided a strongly architectural garden that related to the house and provided a view from which the owners and their guests could take in the breadth and variety of the property. Webel worked in the Long Island studio, while Innocenti directed the field crews who installed trees, winter-flowering shrubs and bushes, brick walls, ornamental gates, sandy walks, and “classical touches” such as weathered urns and statuettes. Because his partner and office were away in New York, South Carolinians considered the firm’s work to be Innocenti’s alone.
In the 1930s, Innocenti planted ever larger trees and ornamentals on lowcountry hunting plantations. He completed country seats at Bonnie Doone for Alfred H. Caspary; Mackay Point for George D. Widener, chairman of the U.S. Jockey Club; and Nelson Doubleday’s Bonny Hall. In Georgetown County, Innocenti and Webel’s country estates included Wedgefield for financier Robert Goelet, Friendfield for Radcliffe Cheston, and Bellefield on Bernard Baruch’s Hobcaw Barony.
During the 1940s, the firm’s emphasis shifted to corporate projects. In 1952 came Innocenti and Webel’s first large-scale work in South Carolina, Furman University’s new campus in Greenville. They organized the thousand-acre agricultural tract into broad curves with axial streets and boulevards, planting hundreds of closely spaced trees to transform open fields into sheltered grounds. For decades their plan has allowed Furman to expand by constructing infill buildings within a mature landscape. At the Milliken Company’s headquarters, begun outside Spartanburg in 1958, rows and groves of trees line roads and loom over parking areas, courts, and entries, emphasizing the geometric order of the new buildings while making the industrial campus truly a park. As at Furman, the Milliken complex has expanded within its own mature landscape.
From these signature projects, the firm continued to work in South Carolina even after the death of Innocenti (1968) and the retirement of Webel, whose son Richard C. Webel took over as managing partner. Important late-twentieth-century projects include Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, Fluor-Daniel Engineering Center (Greenville), BMW’s North American Assembly Plant (Greer), and expansion of the University of South Carolina’s main campus in Columbia.
Graydon, Nell S. South Carolina Gardens. Beaufort, S.C.: Beaufort Book Company, 1973.
Hilderbrand, Gary, ed. Making a Landscape of Continuity: The Practice of Innocenti and Webel. Cambridge: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1997.