Japanese Gardens at The Huntington reopens after year-long renovation

FLOURISHING GARDENS ­— The historic Japanese Garden and Japanese House at The Huntington after its multimillion dollar renovation. photo of garden by Martha Benedict/The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

SAN MARINO, Calif. — The historic Japanese Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens reopened to the public April 11. The Japanese garden celebrates its centennial following a year-long renovation and improvement project.

The $6.8 million project in the nine-acre garden adds an additional three-quarter-acres to the original garden and a ceremonial teahouse, according to a statement from The Huntington.

The Huntington said the primary goal of the project was to restore the garden’s historic core. The renovations included work on the traditional Japanese house, improvements to the water infrastructure and the repair of bridges.

The Japanese house’s structure was built and imported from Japan. The Huntington described the building as a typical upper-class dwelling from the late 19th to the early 20th century. It was shipped to California around 1904, according to the garden’s statement, and was refurbished in 1957, but had only received minor repairs since then. The statement credited preservation architect Kelly Sutherlin McLeod of Long Beach for her work in researching the original roofing material, wood finishes and configuration of the front portico’s original columns to accurately restore the building.

Architects, horticulturists, engineers and Japanese craftsmen also contributed to the project. James Folsom, the Telleem/Jorgensen director of the Botanical Gardens and horticultural curator David MacLaren, led the team of Japanese garden experts in repairing and improving the garden.

Folsom hired landscape architects Takeo Uesugi and his son Keiji Uesugi to oversee the design of the entire garden.

“My son, Keiji, and I feel honored to have been involved in the centennial project of Huntington,” the elder Uesugi said in an e-mail. Takeo Uesugi is a professor emeritus at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, while Keiji Uesugi is an adjunct professor at the same school.

Takeo Uesugi said he and his son were previously involved in the design of the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego’s Balboa Park and the James Irvine Japanese Garden (also known as Seiryu-en or Garden of the Clear Stream) at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, as well as many other gardens throughout the United States.

The garden also added the tea garden, which features the ceremonial teahouse, named Seifu-an (Arbor of Pure Breeze). The Pasadena Buddhist Temple donated the teahouse to the garden in 2010. According to The Huntington statement, the teahouse was disassembled and shipped to Kyoto for Kyoto-based architect, Yoshiaki Nakamura, to restore. Nakamura’s father had originally built the teahouse in Kyoto in 1964. Now reassembled, the teahouse is situated on a ridge with a view that extends northeastward, across the Japanese Garden’s canyon, and toward the San Gabriel Mountains.

“For researchers, students, and casual visitors alike, here is a visual feast as well as a cultural and historical icon beautifully restored,” Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington, said in the statement.

According to the temple’s Website, it donated the teahouse to The Huntington in 2010. The site states that it received the teahouse in 1964 from the 14th generation Headmaster of the Urasenke school, Tantansai.

Pasadena Buddhist Temple Rev. Lee Rosenthal said they donated the teahouse because they were no longer able to fully honor its traditions.

Temple board members visited The Huntington on April 1. Rosenthal described the property as an expansive and beautiful area.
Henry E. Huntington developed the Japanese Garden between 1911 and 1912, according to The Huntington. The garden features koi ponds, a historic moon bridge and a Japanese house. It also hosts a karesansui (raked-gravel dry garden) in the Zen Garden, a bonsai court and a display of suiseki (viewing stones).

Folsom said the garden has attracted more than 20 million visitors since the institution opened the garden to the public in 1928. The garden was popular when it first opened, but the advent of World War II produced staff shortages as well as a negative political climate, causing the garden to become neglected. The garden enjoyed a revival in the 1950s when members of the San Marino League helped to refurbish the buildings and surrounding landscape.

The ceremonial teahouse at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. The Pasadena Buddhist Temple donated the building in 2010. courtesy The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

As part of the reopening ceremonies, The Huntington planned to present an array of programs relating to the Japanese Garden throughout 2012, including classes, children’s activities, performances and lectures. Soshitsu Sen, grand master of chado (tea ceremony) from the Urasenke school, planned to perform a tea ceremony on April 12. Sen is the 16th generation descendent of Sen Rikyu, the 15th century founder of chado. On April 17 at 7:30 p.m., Folsom will discuss the historical discoveries and construction challenges he and his team faced throughout the renovation, as well as the garden’s new features, in a free event at the Friends’ Hall, located near the main entrance. No reservation is required.

The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif. It is open to the public on Wednesday through Sunday. Normally open from noon to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends and Monday holidays. For more information, including admission costs, call (626) 405-2100 or visit huntington.org.

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