SAN MARINO, Calif. - With ponds of koi fish, a newly installed ceremonial teahouse and sloping bridge, the reopened Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library in San Marino is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year after an extensive, yearlong renovation.
The nine-acre garden, closed for a full year, cost $6.8 million to restore and improve. Not only beautifully landscaped, it's also dazzlingly multi-layered, set off to the edge of the sprawling 207-acre Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, with Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains looming in the distance.
"The Japanese Garden has been one of our most popular attractions for a century, so our intention wasn't to change the things that made it so well loved but to restore it to its original beauty," said Huntington Library spokeswoman Lisa Blackburn.
Paths curve up and down through a bamboo forest, past a raked-gravel dry garden, a bonsai court lined with pruned, delicate miniature trees and a display of large, smooth black viewing stones.
Railroad tycoon and art collector Henry Edwards Huntington, spurred on by a popularly held Western fascination with Asian culture at the time, created the garden between 1911 and 1912 soon after completing his house on the property, according to the Huntington Library's website. Huntington bought a tea house in Pasadena owned by George Turner Marsh, an antiques dealer who also created the popular tea garden in Golden Gate Park, and rebuilt it in San Marino. The acquisitions from Marsh included the streamlined, square, upper-class Japanese House, parts of which were actually created in Japan, and then shipped to California.
Post-World War II, amid staffing shortages and political discontent, the Japanese Garden became sorely neglected, with areas shut off to the public, according to the Huntington. Damage included rotted wood, termite infestation and shifting soil. Various partial renovations over the years led to the yearlong mass restoration and improvement effort starting in April 2011. Landscape architects Takeo Uesugi and his son, Keiji Uesugi, oversaw the Japanese Garden project's design.
Now the grounds feel lush, densely green and joyous.
The centrally located, perfectly arched moon bridge, for years painted red, until 1992, when it was stripped to its natural wood, sits below the Japanese House. The new ceremonial teahouse, named Seifu-an ("Arbor of Pure Breeze"), flanks a new ceremonial tea garden. The Pasadena Buddhist Temple donated the small teahouse to the Huntington in 2010. It was built in Kyoto in 1964, disassembled at the Pasadena temple, shipped back to Kyoto, renovated there, and shipped back to the Huntington in May 2011.
"New features like the ceremonial teahouse and tea garden serve as added enhancements that allow visitors to explore the unique landscape and cultural traditions of Japan even more deeply," said Blackburn.
If You Go...
JAPANESE GARDEN AT THE HUNTINGTON LIBRARY, ART COLLECTIONS AND BOTANICAL GARDENS: 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif.; http://www.huntington.org/ or 626-405-2100. Summer hours through Labor Day, closed Tuesdays but otherwise open daily 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tickets to grounds include Japanese garden and other areas. Adults, $20 weekdays, $23 weekends; seniors, $15 and $18; students 12-18, $12 and $13; children 5-11, $8; children under 5, free. Parking is free.