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Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Valley Crest

By JOYZELLE DAVIS Staff Reporter Valley Crest has re-sodded stadiums, landscaped entire communities and even planted the Las Vegas strip with 1,300 palm trees. But its most challenging project could be a two-acre azalea garden just a short drive from the company’s Calabasas headquarters. It’s not just any garden it’s a concentric maze of red and pink flowering plants floating in a reflecting pool at the new Getty Center in Brentwood. “It’s a work of art,” said Valley Crest owner Burton Sperber. “That garden is going to be as beautiful and astounding as the billion-dollar buildings that surround it.” The azalea pool is just a portion of the center’s 130 acres of landscaped grounds, where Valley Crest’s seven-year, $10 million contract also calls for installation of elaborate irrigation systems and the planting of several thousand trees. Sperber is quick to point out that Valley Crest did not design the Getty Center’s gardens (L.A. environmental artist Robert Irwin did). “We’re just builders,” he said. “We’re not designers; we’re implementers.” Sperber notes that the garden’s “pristine, structured” appearance is by careful design. In 1993, Valley Crest prepared a 154-page document that broke the job site into 56 individual planting sequences. It’s a complicated process, but Valley Crest, the nation’s largest landscape and site construction firm, is accustomed to implementing landscape designs on a grand scale. Sperber started the company in 1949 when he bought a retail nursery and residential landscape company in North Hollywood for $250. Today, closely held Valley Crest has nine regional offices and projected 1997 revenues of $300 million. Its operations include gas-recovery systems, golf course development and maintenance, and providing and decorating Christmas trees for corporate clients. Some of its major jobs have included the indoor landscaping of the Denver International Airport, constructing the “Africa” and “Asia” sections of the new Animal Kingdom attraction at Disney World in Florida and installing the artificial turf on the playing field of Texas Stadium. Several recent contracts have been closer to home. Along with the Getty Center contract, Valley Crest is about to begin a 10-month, $19.2-million project for Phase II of its Queensway Bay Rainbow Harbor project, a seaside entertainment and retail development in Long Beach. Unlike many landscape companies, Valley Crest does not subcontract its labor. It maintains a staff of 4,700 who can provide everything from initial proprietary estimates through long-term maintenance. That vertically integrated approach gives Valley Crest an advantage in getting contracts like the Getty. “It’s easier to coordinate when you have one company that controls all the aspects,” said Kip Drabeck of Dinwiddie Construction, who is on-site manager at the Getty Center. “It’s more efficient than having to send out for numerous, small contracts.” The Getty’s 134,000-square-foot Central Garden, which cradles the azalea pool, is designed to be the visual centerpiece of all the landscaped terraces. The garden begins with a walkway that traverses a creek flowing from a cut-stone grotto that gradually descends into a plaza planted with bougainvillea arbors. The stream ends in a cascade of water into a central reflecting pool. Within the pool is a series of concentric, circular planters resembling Native American designs, filled with azaleas to create the illusion of a floating hedge. The azaleas had been growing in full-scale mockup at the Getty Villa in Malibu for the past four years in order to fit into the environmental artist’s design. Valley Crest’s involvement with the Getty began in 1990, when it relocated existing oak trees out of the way of construction and performed erosion control planting and slope repair work. About 50 percent of Valley Crest’s work has involved the planting of the slope areas of the site, which have been reforested with 8,000 native oaks and 1,800 other trees, including eucalyptus, citrus and jacaranda. Valley Crest has shared the landscaping work with Canoga Park-based American Landscape Inc. The company is largely a family affair: Burt Sperber, 68, is president and chief executive of the parent company; his son, Richard, is president of the landscape construction division; his brother, Stuart, is president of the nursery; and Bruce Wilson, who is not related to Sperber, is president of the maintenance division. Sperber said he intends to stay at the helm of his company “until my head falls on the desk.” “We pretty much do exactly the same thing we did when we started 48 years ago,” Sperber said. “We just do more of it.”

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