Las Vegas believes in the expression “imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” with all the tribute acts copying the originals and all the casinos themed after other famous locales. Well, the same mentality must exist in Texas.
Did you know that there is a miniature replica of the Beijing Forbidden City in the Texas town of Katy? Katy is located around 38 miles west of Houston. Ira. P. H. Poon, a Hong Kong businessman, wanted Americans, especially Asian Americans, to know more about Chinese culture and its remarkable history, and felt this was a good way to convey that. It is located here because the land was relatively inexpensive and because Houston has a large Asian population. Poon made his fortune in Hong Kong real estate and currently resides in Seattle; his son has taken over his business interests.
There are also one-third-scale replicas of the terra cotta warriors of Xian and a room with a miniature of Suzhou, known as the Venice of China. One room in the complex features a constantly playing 20-minute video telling about the history of the terra cotta warriors and the Forbidden City.
The complex was started in 1992 and I had heard about it and made a point of visiting years ago, but I arrived on a Thursday and it is only opened on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. In addition, since the majority of its exhibits are located outdoors, hours are affected by weather and season, so it is important to check their Website (www.forbidden-gardens.com) for current conditions before going.
Mr. Poon sounds like a very interesting philanthropist that I would like to meet in person, but two mistakes I believe he made were locating his replica in Katy, and more importantly, not promoting it with effective advertising. Friends who live in Houston and San Antonio never knew about this place. He has spent a reputed $20 million building this complex. Ongoing maintenance costs must be huge and his efforts are not appreciated. He had many more models constructed but customs imposed a huge duty. He was unwilling to pay that fee so the models were confiscated and then auctioned off. The Chinese government was unwilling to help Poon in his endeavors. Other problems include vandals constantly invading the property and desecrating many of the replicas.
His son now runs the Poon business interests and since the Forbidden Gardens is a money losing operation he is likely to close it. He has been asked to delay doing so and instead apply for the Gardens to become a nonprofit foundation. I urge you to go now and help support this gentleman’s worthy lifetime dream.
A reason Poon is a genius multimillionaire in real estate (and I am not) is his uncanny sense of real estate values. When he bought the property, Katy was a very small town and property was very cheap. The Gardens were located in an isolated area but growth has exploded and buildings now surround the property. Katy is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and it doesn’t take a genius now to know the land value must be sky high — another reason the son would like to close the project.
On my Texas visit, I stayed in San Antonio with a couch surfer couple and was afforded an opportunity to also visit a replica of Stonehenge in Hunt, Texas that is about a 90-minute drive east in the beautiful hill country of Texas. An interesting sidelight is that the Hunt’s original name was Japonica and may have been named either for the Texas Scarlet flowering quince, whose scientific name is Chaenomeles japonica, or for Zoysia japonica, sometimes called “Japanese lawn grass” or “Korean lawn grass,” since both grow in profusion here.
Doug Hill was building a patio in 1989 but a huge boulder was in that location. His neighbor, Al Shepperd, was willing to have it moved to his property. Al had an arch built behind the monolith and it reminded him of Stonehenge. One thing led to another and Shepperd funded a project for Hill to build a 60 percent replica of Stonehenge made of steel frames and plaster. Unfortunately, they did not build the complex to align with solar equinox events. Shepperd also built a couple of Easter Island moai heads close by. Admission is free so please respect their property.
My brother-in-law hates to travel with me because my curiosity leads me to investigate every nearby place such as Fredericksburg, which was originally settled by Germans, and many buildings reflect this heritage. Restaurants serve German fare. A German I met said most real Germans have left and the town just capitalizes on naïve tourists who visit for the Bavarian ambiance. He thought New Braunfels closer to San Antonio and its Wurst Festival was more authentic. There is also a National Museum of the Pacific War located in Fredericksburg to honor Admiral Nimitz. I did not have time to visit but they probably don’t mention how the 442nd Regimental Combat Team saved the “Lost Battalion of 200 Texans,” since this event took place in Europe.
LBJ’s home and museum is also close by and so is the “town” of Luckenbach that my Texas friends said not to miss. My GPS did not even list it since it consists of a post office and a couple of other buildings made famous for country music fans because Willy Nelson and Waylon Jennings come here to perform.
I didn’t visit the six-ton Olmec head replica at the University of Texas in Austin, given as a gift by Mexico. There is also one at San Francisco’s City College Ocean Avenue campus.
The Kaeru Kid writes about his various adventure travels. He lives in Las Vegas and includes tidbits about the city at the end of each article. He can be reached at KaeruKid@yahoo.com.
Las Vegas Tidbit:
Did you know that the only true replica of the famed Munich Hofbrauhaus is located in Las Vegas? It may be hard to recognize if you have visited the original structure, since it has adjoining buildings attached to it and naturally has an aged patina. The new Vegas replica, on the other hand, stands alone and is sparkling clean white. Rather than visiting Fredericksburg or New Braunfels, get your German experience here. You can learn the very interesting history of the original Munich Hofbrauhaus and its many famed visitors at www.hofbraeuhaus.de.