Berger, Marie Monica Harbeck (1907–1963)

By: Mark Rice and Michael V. Hazel

Type: Biography

Published: March 24, 2021

Updated: August 31, 2021


Marie Monica Harbeck Berger was born on June 7, 1907, in Seattle, Washington. She was the daughter of Emil H. Harbeck, a German immigrant, and Carrie M. (Mill) Harbeck, who was born in Canada The family moved to Grant’s Pass, Oregon, where Marie graduated from high school. She earned degrees in architecture and landscape architecture from Oregon State University in 1932.

She worked in San Francisco with Bay Area architect Gardner Dailey and later with California landscape architect Thomas Church. During World War II she worked at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as a civilian employee doing camouflage research. There she met Arthur Berger, a landscape architect who was doing similar work. Arthur Berger and Marie Harbeck were married at Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas on July 1, 1946.

After their marriage, the Bergers settled in Dallas and began completing joint projects in Texas. One of their first major commissions was the minimalist landscaping for the new Dallas Morning News building, designed by architect George Dahl, which opened at Young and Houston streets in 1949. The Bergers had very little open ground to work with in front of the News building, but they made the most of the available space with strategic plantings of hardy yaupon holly, English ivy, and wax leaf ligustrum, as well as four transplanted century-old live oaks.

Throughout the early 1950s the Bergers designed landscapes for upscale Dallas residences, mostly in Highland Park, Turtle Creek, and Preston Hollow. During this time, the couple also forged an important relationship with San Antonio architect O’Neil Ford. The Bergers collaborated with Ford to create homes and landscapes for Lewis MacNaughton (business partner of Everette L. DeGolyer, the design of whose estate had brought Arthur Berger to Dallas in 1939) and Texas Instruments co-founders Eugene McDermott and Patrick Haggerty, among others. Ford also designed the Bergers’ personal residence on a high bluff overlooking Turtle Creek.

The Bergers were given a unique opportunity to showcase their talents to a large audience when they were invited to provide the landscaping design for the House Beautiful Pace Setter Home at the 1954 State Fair of Texas. The 3,300-square-foot, all-electric model home was the joint project of House Beautiful magazine, the University of Texas School of Architecture, and the General Electric Company. The Bergers accented the home with private gardens, hidden courtyards, and dramatic landscape lighting throughout.

Later that year, the Bergers were commissioned by developer Trammell Crow to landscape his new Decorative Center at Oak Lawn Avenue and Hi Line Drive in Dallas. Crow wanted to avoid the multi-story, highly-congested furniture marts typical of New York and Chicago. The Decorative Center featured single-story buildings grouped around landscaped parking courts. Working with primary architect Jacob Anderson, the Bergers achieved a quiet, secluded, leafy atmosphere that was unusual for the bustling city. Major furniture and home furnishings companies quickly leased the available space.

As the Bergers’ reputation for design excellence grew, their commissions accelerated. San Antonio’s Trinity University had recently decided to move to a new Skyline campus, and O’Neil Ford was chosen to give the hilly location a unique identity through his intuitive sense of native Texas architecture. Ford designed the school’s new buildings and immediately tapped Arthur and Marie Berger to design the landscaping. The small school quickly became noted for its modern brick buildings, native live oaks, beautiful grounds, and sparkling fountains on 125 acres overlooking downtown San Antonio.

Arthur and Marie Berger were honored in 1956 by an invitation to exhibit their works at the International Federation of Landscape Architects Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. Following the exhibition, they stayed in Europe for nearly three months to tour notable estates and gardens in England, France, Sweden, and Denmark.

The 1957 relocation of Temple Emanu-El’s congregation from South Dallas to the corner of Northwest Highway and Hillcrest Road in North Dallas gave the Bergers an opportunity to collaborate with contemporary architects Howard Meyer and Max Sandfield. Aspects of the Bergers’ landscaping were still evident after nearly six decades. A quiet inner courtyard is shaded by four massive live oaks from the original landscaping. The Bergers recognized that the complex would need to be screened from Northwest Highway’s burgeoning traffic, so multiple rows of pecan trees faced the busy street. Instead of a featureless, concrete-covered parking lot directly in front of the structure, parking bays were strategically interspersed with landscaped green islands that softened and complemented the approach to the temple.

The Bergers worked again with Howard Meyer on the innovative 3525 Turtle Creek apartment building in Dallas. Designed as an elegant, high-rise apartment home for the wealthy, the project demanded beautiful landscaping along the shores of Turtle Creek. Howard Meyer’s building made extensive use of pink-tinted cast concrete, and, according to the authors of Women, Modernity and Landscape Architecture, the Bergers “responded to the scale and materials of the building by designing a large-scale waterfall and swimming pool, constructed from the same pink-tinted concrete as the building, surrounded by a softly rolling landscape of lawn and shade trees.” The Bergers’ design “relied on plant knowledge and horticulture as well as their experience of the social and cultural context of their work. With this knowledge, they created gardens that were deeply connected to the region’s landscapes and lifestyles.”

In 1958 booming Texas Instruments began relocating its research and manufacturing facilities from Lemmon Avenue in Dallas to North Central Expressway on the border between Dallas and Richardson. O’Neil Ford and partner Richard Colley of Corpus Christi were chosen as architects for the sprawling new campus, with Arthur and Marie Berger attached as landscape architects. According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation, “their scheme carefully integrated the corporate headquarters with the landscape. Open courtyards containing native oaks were nestled into the buildings, providing natural light, contact with nature, and multiple points of orientation. Deep colonnades allowed employees to move from building to building, shaded from the hot Texas sun.”

The Bergers were simultaneously given an opportunity to perform on the international stage when they joined Texas architect William Tamminga in designing the new Frenchman’s Cove Resort on the northeastern shore of Jamaica. The beautiful terrain featured lush mountains cascading down to the sea, with a mountain stream flowing through the grounds. The Bergers managed to incorporate the individual guest villas seamlessly into the landscape and achieved spectacular results. The resort opened in December 1958.

The Bergers lent their talents to the campus of St. Mark’s School of Texas in North Dallas and the new Exchange Park office complex near Love Field. In 1959 they created a rooftop garden, forty feet by sixty feet in size, for the Dallas Public Library on Commerce Street. The small garden was located outside the glass wall of the third-floor Terrace Room and offered a green oasis amid downtown’s vast sea of concrete. The Bergers also provided the landscaping for the new Stagecoach Inn Motel in Salado.

As the new decade dawned, Arthur and Marie began planning a return tour of Europe for late summer 1960. But it was not to be. The Bergers’ personal and professional partnership ended tragically in August 1960 when Arthur was critically injured in a car-truck collision at the intersection of Preston and Belt Line roads in far North Dallas. Arthur Berger died twelve days later at Parkland Hospital.

Marie Berger never really recovered from the shock of losing her husband and business partner so unexpectedly. She and colleague Houston Bliss completed one more project, the Great National Life Insurance Building grounds (later the Salvation Army Headquarters) at Mockingbird Lane and Harry Hines Boulevard. Marie began spending most of her time with her older sister, Clara Hall, in Eugene, Oregon. A brain tumor that had afflicted Marie for several years became progressively worse, and she suffered a lethal stroke on April 4, 1963. Private funeral services in Eugene were followed by cremation.

Marie and Arthur Berger had no children. Marie Berger left a scholarship endowment at her alma mater, Oregon State University, as well as funds to a scholarship she and her husband had supported at the University of Kansas. Houston Bliss paid tribute to Marie by saying, “Her greatest flair was her ability to make lines sing in harmony, and in relieving contrast. Her approach in design had an indefinable spontaneity and freshness, comfortable to comprehend and behold.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                    

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Dallas Morning News, May 22, 1949; December 7, 1949; October 10, 1954; November 28, 1954; August 6, 1956; February 12, 1957; August 31, 1958; November 10, 1959; August 3, 14, 1960; April 5, 1963; May 29, 1963. Sonja Dűmplemann and John Beardsley, eds., Women, Modernity and Landscape Architecture (New York: Routledge Press, 2015). Dianne Susan Duffner Laurence, A Symbiotic Relationship between Mid-Century Modern Masters: The Collaborative Works of Arthur and Marie Berger, Landscape Architects, and O’Neil Ford, Architect (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Arlington, 2008). Mark Rice, “Singing in Harmony: Arthur and Marie Berger,” Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas 32 (Fall 2020).

           

Categories:

  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • Churches and Synagogues
  • Houses, Mansions, and Plantations
  • Styles, Methods, and Technological Innovations
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mark Rice and Michael V. Hazel, “Berger, Marie Monica Harbeck,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 19, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/berger-marie-monica-harbeck.

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March 24, 2021
August 31, 2021

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