The North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) calls on the two parties involved in the dispute over the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Bel-Air, California to exhaust all means possible to avoid embroiling a local social and cultural treasure in a legal confrontation.
“As the organization that champions the welfare and future of Japanese gardens in the US and Canada, NAJGA is deeply saddened to see that the final fate of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden --- long a haven of tranquility in a busy mega-metropolis --- might be decided in the contentious atmosphere of a courtroom,” says NAJGA Executive Director Diana Larowe.
“The continued willingness of UCLA and Ms. Hannah Carter’s children to explore an out-of-court settlement gives us great hope that this matter will be resolved in a manner consistent with the spirit of harmony long been imparted by the garden itself,” she adds.
When the issue came to light in 2012, NAJGA joined the alliance of garden advocates expressing opposition to UCLA’s plan to offer for sale the two-acre property, which houses the more than half-a-century old garden. In a February 2012 letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, the organization expressed particular alarm over the extraction of irreplaceable stone lanterns and other art items by UCLA work crews not properly trained to handle works of art.
Japanese garden scholar and current NAJGA President Dr. Kendall Brown also pointed out that of the 20 public Japanese gardens featured in his 1999 book “Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast,” only the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is slated for sale and possible destruction.
To the contrary, nine of these gardens, including those at the University of British Columbia and California State University-Long Beach, are either being expanded, restored, renovated or master-planned for growth. Brown notes that the formation of NAJGA itself in 2011, with financial support from the Japan Foundation, demonstrates the resurgence of Japanese gardens in public popularity across the US and Canada.
An Important Case for All Heritage Japanese Gardens in North America
Larowe said that the outcome of the dispute over the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden will have repercussions that go beyond the fate of the garden itself.
“There are more than 250 public Japanese gardens in the US and Canada. Many of those dating back several decades are facing circumstances not unlike the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden,” she said. “Aside from being subjected to years of neglect and misplaced judgment, these gardens also face the mounting pressure of urbanization and changing land-use priorities. The Hannah Carter Japanese garden is a test case. Everyone concerned with the fate of heritage Japanese gardens in North America will be watching,” she said.
Since its launch in 2011, NAJGA has promoted awareness of these historical gardens. It also seeks to help them better serve diverse publics who increasingly seek out these spaces for relaxation, education, and creative engagement. The 2014 issue of the NAJGA Journal features stories on a handful of 100-year old Japanese gardens in the US. There are fewer than 20 of these centennial gardens despite the 150-year history of Japanese gardens in North America.