To begin with, this is not a completely unbiased review of Public Japanese Garden in the USA: Southern California - I had a role in helping to create this book. Whereas the author, David Newcomer, spent more than 35 years in doing his research and writing for this book, I came on board rather late and only spent a few months on the project. But in that time, I learned about the significance of Japanese Gardens to the overall California experience. Public Japanese Gardens in the USA: Southern California is more than just a travel book. It is a testament to the toil of Japanese gardeners and others that funded, nurtured, and loved these magical places.
Having grown up in San Francisco, I certainly knew of and visited the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, but I never knew that Japanese gardens were created in so many places across California. This volume of Public Japanese Gardens concentrates on site in Southern California and each of these locations has it own unique and fascinating story. Here are just a few.
Roosevelt High School, Los Angeles p101
Roosevelt High School is located in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles and was opened in 1923. Back in the 1930s Roosevelt High School had many Japanese American students. In the mid 1930s these Japanese students helped to fund and build a little Japanese garden on the school's premises.
When all of the more than 400 Roosevelt High School Japanese students were sent to internment camps in 1942, the garden was essentially destroyed as part of the war time backlash against all things Japanese.
By the 1990s, Roosevelt High School was now comprised primarily of Latino students. As part of their studies these students were encouraged to learn about past examples of intolerance and injustice in their community. As a result of their research they learned about the Roosevelt High School Japanese American students that were interned and they also discovered the existence of their former Japanese garden.
Through the support and efforts of Roosevelt High School students during the 1990s and Roosevelt High School alumni, including an alumnus that was interned named Bruce Kaji, the Japanese Garden was rebuilt and rededicated on May 6, 1996.
A dedication marker in the garden reads as follows -
A Garden Restored
This is a garden of "peace and understanding," a place of serenity where one can sit, relax and rest one's mind in peace. It commemorates the re-establishment of the beautiful Japanese garden built by RHS Japanese students in the mid 1930's. That garden was destroyed in the late 1940's by World War II hysteria against the Japanese. RHS students (1995-96), in a more reflective environment and time, rebuilt the garden with funds provided by RHS alumni and friends of Roosevelt High School. This garden is a tribute to the students of Roosevelt High School who sought to right a wrong by rebuilding the Japanese garden in remembrance, with respect and brotherly love.
Dodger Stadium Japanese Garden
Los Angeles p115
Okay, this garden wasn't actually in Dodger Stadium, but it was on the grounds of this facility. There's really not that much to this story, but just the title of this chapter piques your interest - "A Japanese garden at Dodger Stadium? Where?"
So the story for this garden is that when Dodger Stadium was completed in 1962, the Dodgers' franchise was already cultivating a relationship with Japanese in Japan. As a result of their relationship, stone lanterns and other items for the garden were given to the Dodgers from Japan.
Japanese American gardener, Mitch Inamura, designed and maintained the garden and grounds of the stadium.
Over the years the garden has become overgrown and has all but disappeared.
You can find a picture of the garden at the Walter O'Malley website.
Yamashiro Pavilion Village
Bernheimer Japanese Garden
Pacific Palisades p149
Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer were rich businessmen from New York that had an interest in things from Japan and other places in Asia. In 1911, the Bernheimers built a residence on a hilltop that overlooks what is now Hollywood. They used this residence to house their extensive collection of Asian art and furnishings. Their mansion was modeled after a Japanese palace located in the mountains near Kyoto.
So enamored with things Japanese, the Bernheimers even imported a wooden pagoda from Japan that is now believed to be one of the oldest wooden structures in California.
Yamashiro continued to be developed over the immediate following years. A miniature Japanese village, the size of a child's dollhouse was added and the surrounding estate was turned into a beautiful Japanese garden that included over 30,000 plants, shrubs, and trees. The property became a tourist attraction, but after Eugene died in the 1920s, Adolph sold the property and Yamashiro began its decline.
Adolph was still enchanted with Japanese style architecture and landscaping, and so after he sold Yamashiro he began to build another grand Japanese style residence in Pacific Palisades. This property also became a popular tourist attraction, drawing over 5,000 visitors each week.
When World War II broke out, the Japanese theme gardens at Yamashiro and Pacific Palisades quickly grew out of favor. The Bernheimers' German ancestry did not help either. Soon vandals destroyed the miniature Japanese village and the grand residences were disguised not to look so Japanese.
The Bernheimer Japanese Garden in Pacific Palisades was eventually demolished not long after Adolph died in 1944. The land was reused for apartments.
After years of decline, Yamashiro was eventually sold to Thomas O. Glover who initially intended to demolish the property. However, he discovered the property's hidden significance, turned the estate into grand restaurant, and start to restore Yamashiro to its former glory. The Glover family continues to maintain and restore Yamashiro.
Pictures of the Bernheimer Japanese Garden
Costa Mesa p153
You may think of Japanese gardens as being made up of traditional items like stone lanterns, bridges, and teahouses, but the California Scenario plaza in Costa Mesa, completed in 1982, is a very different modern interpretation of a Japanese Garden designed by famed Japanese American artist and architect Isamu Noguchi. This was Noguchi's last completed public project before his death in 1988.
What is fascinating about this garden is how Noguchi designed the plaza to appear spacious through the use of design elements, illusionary perspectives, and bordering walls painted to look like distant sky, all of which helps to disguise the surrounding office buildings and parking structures.
In the garden you'll find symbolic aspects of different regions of California. There's a section that represents California's deserts and another one that represents California's redwood forests and mountains. Through the middle of the plaza runs a creek that flows from a triangular shaped waterfall towards an abstract pyramid on the other end of the plaza.
Pictures of California Scenario
Merritt Park at Manzanar p271
When Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to internment camps, many skilled gardeners, nurserymen, landscape designers, and farmers were among those that ended up at Manzanar. As part of the efforts to beautify their desolated camp they created gardens throughout Manzanar using natural materials found in the surroundings of the camp. One nurseryman named F. M. Uyematsu was even allowed to go back to his nursery in Montebello to bring back over 1000 trees, shrubs, and other plants.
Another nurseryman named Kuichiro Nishi helped to create one of the most popular gardens at Manzanar. It was first called Rose Park for the roses that Nishi was allowed to bring from his nursery. Later it was named Pleasure Park, and then finally Merritt Park. The park was named in honor of the camp's project director Ralph Palmer Merritt.
Among Ansel Adams' famed photos taken at Manzanar, he took pictures of Merritt Park and other gardens. Ansel Adams' is quoted as saying, "From harsh soil they have extracted crops: they have made gardens glow in the firebreaks between barracks."
Ansel Adams' Merritt Park Photo