Donald Brinkerhoff smiles in front of Lifescape International’s Newport Beach offices. COURTESY OF SHELBY GLEBA

Alumnus gives back to his roots

Anyone who has walked around the Las Vegas strip or through many popular shopping centers in Southern California has come into contact with the landscape architecture of Donald Brinkerhoff. 

With more than 20 notable works in Las Vegas, such as The Mirage and the Bellagio, as well as the Grove in Los Angeles, the work of CEO and founder of Lifescapes International, Inc. can be found across the globe. 

The Mirage was one of the largest projects that first put Lifescapes on the map. 

With the expectation to build an oasis in the desert, Brinkerhoff took on the challenge and was able to prove himself to Vegas mogul Steve Wynn. 

Donald Brinkerhoff smiles in front of Lifescape International’s Newport Beach offices. (Courtesy of Shelby Gleba)

Cal Poly Pomona alumnus Brinkerhoff graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s of science degree in ornamental horticulture. 

Being “essentially self-taught” in landscape architecture, Brinkerhoff, 88, reflected on feeling a lack in the curriculum of his major while he was at CPP.

However, one experience that stands out in his memory is of Professor Howard Boltz, who recommended Brinkerhoff so he could receive a $1,000 scholarship.

At a time of financial stress, the scholarship was essential in the continuation of Brinkerhoff’s degree. 

Brinkerhoff has always remembered the opportunity. Now, he tries to pay it forward by offering an annual $10,000 scholarship that he personally delivers each May.

“One thousand dollars then is $10,000 now, which is why I increased the scholarship amount,” Brinkerhoff said. 

He said it was important to him that the award be unrestricted for the student to use as needed. 

“I don’t care if they spend it on a beer bust,” Brinkerhoff said. “Point is, it’s just money and they spend it as they choose.”

And if the scholarship was not already enough, one way Lifescapes gains something back from the investment in the scholarship is interviewing the recipient for a position in the company. 

“If we can get the best of the best students, and they fit with our culture, why the heck wouldn’t we want them?” said Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, Don Brinkerhoff’s daughter and president and chief financial officer of Lifescapes.

Two recipients of the scholarship are working at Lifescapes today. 

The opportunity to provide such a scholarship, as well as six others, back to his alma mater stems from the success of his company Lifescapes International, Inc., based in Newport Beach. 

However, Brinkerhoff’s achievements did not come overnight.

Don Brinkerhoff, center, with George DeVault and Joselyn Domela in 1964 when he was working on a project for the North American Aviation Science Center. (Courtesy of Shelby Gleba)

After graduating from CPP, Brinkerhoff went on to work for nurseries in their landscape design departments. 

“I felt very undereducated,” Brinkerhoff said, as he sat comfortably in his Newport office decorated with family pictures, framed artworks and green plants.

Brinkerhoff went on to discover a world of studies and set off to school overseas at the University of Madrid. 

Even though clients around the world come to Lifescapes with their own ideas, Brinkerhoff-Jacobs expressed how travel can change the way one approaches design.

Now married with four children, Brinkerhoff began his travels around the world to places such as Madrid, Athens and Rome with his family in tow. 

It was his travels that allowed him to gain inspirations that lasted a lifetime for him and his family. 

“We have been everywhere and done everything and so we’re not stumped,” Brinkerhoff laughed. 

Lifescapes continues to listen to the variety of visions that come its way, and the company’s employees take pride in the consistency and quality of work they produce.

Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, who originally planned on being a lawyer for women and child development, has now worked at Lifescapes for over 35 years. 

“Whatever magic and potion we drink has treated us incredibly well,” Brinkerhoff-Jacobs said.

Though Brinkerhoff-Jacobs never imagined she would end up working alongside her father, she remembered how he had always taught her and her siblings to be open to new experiences. 

She said her father would always take them to a job site before jetting off to the real fun, such as Disneyland.

It was times like these that Brinkerhoff-Jacobs would look at an unfinished site and imagine what was to come. 

Celebrating 60 years of business, Brinkerhoff-Jacobs referred to the work of Lifescapes as “creating destinations within destinations.”

Brinkerhoff’s success and legacy have reeled in numerous awards and recognitions, one being from his very own alma mater, receiving Cal Poly Pomona’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2018. 

However, Brinkerhoff’s favorite project to date will always be “the next one.”