UCLA to sell treasured Japanese garden amid financial difficulty

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The stepping stones and waterfall at the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden. photo courtesy of the Garden Conservancy

The stepping stones and waterfall at the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden. photo courtesy of the Garden Conservancy

The University of California, Los Angeles plans to sell its Hannah Carter Japanese Garden and the adjoining home to raise money for endowments, the institution announced in a statement issued in November of last year.

The property, which is located a mile from the campus, in Bel Air, was a gift from Edward Carter, then chair of the UC Board of Regents, and his wife, Hannah Carter in 1965.

An article on the UCLA news site stated that the university planned to sell the property to fulfill “an obligation to fund wide-ranging research and professorships,” and “to raise money for endowments identified by the couple who donated the property.”

“The decision to sell the garden was made only after extensive deliberation and analysis,” UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh stated in the UCLA Newsroom article. “While we value the garden and the cultural heritage it represents, in this time of financial constraints, we need to direct our resources toward UCLA’s core academic priorities of teaching and research.”

‘Dilapidated’ and in Decline
The treasured garden, however, has seen better days, according to Hirokazu Kosaka, a Buddhist priest and artistic director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles. While some consider it as one of the best Japanese gardens open to the public in the United States, the limited access and the high cost of maintenance have sent the garden into decline in recent years, said Kosaka.

“I know the garden very well,” he said, adding that he struggled to adequately express his feelings about the property. “I am saddened by the sale and dilapidation of the garden.”

He added that the garden had suffered from a lack of qualified gardeners and sufficient funding.

Phil Hampton, UCLA’s associate director for media relations and public outreach, said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly that the garden’s location in a residential neighborhood with no dedicated parking “inhibits the ability to generate revenue to cover maintenance costs.” The UCLA Newsroom article said the garden hosts only 2,000 visitors a year by reservation only.

According to the university, the sale is estimated to generate approximately $4.2 million in endowments and professorships, and is part of a larger effort to generate funds to support the school’s academic interests.

The property, which also contains a house, was donated to the campus in 1965 with a clause that the university was to maintain the garden grounds perpetually, according to the university. The university, however, said it was unable to pay the $120,000 to maintain the garden and the additional $19,000 for docents in its current financial straits.

While the initial agreement with the Carters stipulated that only the house could be sold and required the establishment of a $500,000 endowment to maintain the garden in the event it did so, the school estimates that the endowment would only generate $25,000 a year. The plans to sell the garden were announced in November of last year after the school was granted permission to sell the garden in September 2010 from the Alameda County Superior Court, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Edward Carter passed away in 1996, but Hannah Carter continued to live at the house adjacent to the garden through 2006; she passed away in 2009.

In preparation to sell the property, UCLA moved several objects from within the garden to its campus. Hampton confirmed that a five-tier pagoda, an Amida Buddha statue, a stone water basin and a Korean stone lantern were removed from the garden on Jan. 17.

“They are being cared for at the Fowler Museum at UCLA while we evaluate an appropriate method for their public display,” he said. The items were removed from the garden as “a means of creating a legacy of Mr. Carter’s gift and honoring Mrs. Carter’s passion for the garden.”

In ‘Critical Danger’
The Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that is working to preserve “exceptional gardens for the public’s education and enjoyment,” said in a statement issued Jan. 17 that the garden is “in critical danger,” and called on UCLA to cease its plans to sell the garden and to return the objects the university removed back to their original place.

Bill Noble, the Garden Conservancy’s director of preservation, said the garden is important for its cultural significance and its exceptional beauty. “It demonstrates how, soon after the war, California quickly turned to the inspiration, timeless beauty, and healing qualities of traditional gardens in Japan. A spirit of authenticity as a private retreat also permeates the Hannah Carter garden; it’s one of the very few private Japanese gardens open to the public.”

According to the garden’s pamphlet, many of the garden’s objects came from Japan. Some of the notable objects include the five-tiered pagoda, several antique stone carvings and many of the garden’s wooden structures. The garden also used several hundred tons of local stones from quarries in Ventura County and the foot of Mt. Baldy, located northeast of Los Angeles.

Kosaka expressed his concern about removing and moving objects from the garden. “When moving a jizo, a diety for children, or a great rock, you require a purification ceremony,” said Kosaka. “They do not want to be moved … the purification is paying respect to nature.”

Kosaka said the university had not performed these ceremonies as of late.

The pamphlet indicates that many people have been involved in the garden’s creation and maintenance. Initially, Gordon Guiberson and his wife commissioned the garden to be built on their estate in 1959. The Guibersons, according to the Garden Conservancy, commissioned landscape architect Nagao Sakurai of Tokyo and garden designer Kazuo Nakamura of Kyoto to transform a typical hillside garden into an elaborate Japanese garden evoking the images of gardens the Guibersons saw in Kyoto.

According to the conservancy, Sakurai went on to create civic Japanese gardens in San Mateo, Calif. and Spokane, Wash. Prior to the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, Sakurai was also involved in building the Imperial Japanese Gardens for the 1939 international expositions in San Francisco and New York.

In 1969, UCLA’s campus architect and renowned garden designer Koichi Kawana helped restore the garden after heavy rains damaged it, according to the garden’s pamphlet. Kawana is a noted Japanese gardener; his work following the restoration includes the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys, Calif., botanical gardens at the Los Angeles Museum of Art, San Diego’s Balboa Park, and a 14-acre garden in St. Louis, according to the city of Los Angeles’ Website. He passed away at the age of 60 in 1990.

Following Hannah Carter’s death, none of the surviving family members were given notice of the plans to sell the garden, or the changes to the agreement that were issued in 2010, according to Jim Caldwell, the eldest stepson of Edward Carter. Caldwell expressed his disappointment that UCLA had not contacted the Carter family regarding the sale.

Caldwell, an architect and painter residing in Woodside, Calif., said he only learned of UCLA’s plan to sell the house and garden in September of 2011. “We found out when a neighbor told us the university was inventorying the art objects in the garden,” he told the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Caldwell recalled that his mother was fond of the garden. “It was the first thing we did whenever we visited her — it’s a very spiritual place,” he said. “My mother was always fussing over the garden and I know she had a close relationship with the gardeners.”

After Hannah Carter’s death, Caldwell said the family held an event at the garden to place a bench there in her memory. Caldwell plans to return to the garden at the end of the month to retrieve some bonsai his mother raised. He added that the university had granted him permission to do so.

The house and garden are to go up for sale in early February with a buyer or buyers to be selected in May, according to Hampton. By law, the university follows a sealed bidding process and will select the highest-value bid. Prospective buyers may submit bids for the garden and the residence together, or of either one separately.

According to the Garden Conservancy, UCLA has reportedly signed a listing agreement with real estate broker Coldwell Banker Previews International in Beverly Hills.

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