Preservationists decry alteration, sale of UCLA Japanese garden
As UCLA began removing antiques from its Hannah Carter Japanese Garden on Tuesday, landscape preservationists decried plans to alter and sell the property and asked for help keeping intact what they said was a historically significant design.
The Garden Conservancy, a New York-based preservation group, criticized the removal of centuries-old artifacts from the Bel-Air garden. A five-tiered stone pagoda and a wood-and-gold leaf Buddha were among the objects that were to be removed in preparation for the sale and taken to the Fowler Museum at UCLA and other spots on the Westwood campus.
Describing the garden as “an exceptional Japanese-style garden built in America in the post-World War II period” that is “in critical danger,” the conservancy urged UCLA to preserve the site. It also launched an email campaign urging the public to write the conservancy and the office of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.
“We’re horrified that the garden’s future is at risk,” Garden Conservancy President Antonia Adezio said by phone. “We’d like UCLA to speak with us about finding some other way to proceed. We’d like to broker some sort of agreement or partnership with someone who can take on responsibility for the garden.”
Late last year, the university announced its intention to put the Bellagio Road garden on the market, with the expectation that the sale would generate about $4.2 million for endowments and professorships. The university cited annual operating costs -- $120,000 for maintenance and $19,000 for staffing -- as part of the reason for the sale. Deferred maintenance was pegged at $90,000.
Brad Erickson, executive director of UCLA’s Campus Service Enterprises, which manages the university’s real estate, said a court ruling in 2010 cleared the way for the school to sell the property. The fact that the garden is not used for any academic program at UCLA, he said, also was a factor in the decision.
“The university, like a lot of other state-supported institutions, has been looking for ways to raise money and focus revenues,” Erickson said. “We looked for any university properties not used for academic purposes that had high value and came up with four. We’re also selling properties in El Segundo and Malibu.”
The garden is named in honor of the wife of Edward Carter, a former chairman of the University of California Board of Regents, who bought the property and an adjacent home in the mid-1960s. The couple donated the garden and house to UCLA in 1965 under an agreement that the university would maintain it in perpetuity. Edward Carter died in 1996, and Hannah Carter died in 2009.
Because the location is residential and parking is limited to three spaces, the garden operated by appointment only. Though admission was free, only about 2,000 people visited a year, the university said. The garden has been closed since last spring.
“We’re extremely disappointed that UCLA didn’t come and tell us there was a problem and ask how we can deal with it,” said Jim Caldwell, one of Hannah Carter’s five children, who lives in Woodside in the Bay Area. “My mother really loved that garden, and my stepfather was extremely generous with UCLA. I’m hoping the university will step up to its original commitment and keep the garden open in perpetuity.”
UCLA has signed a listing agreement with real estate broker Coldwell Banker Previews International in Beverly Hills, Erickson said. The garden and adjoining home are expected to be listed for sale during the first week of February, with sealed bids to be accepted through May 1.
The Garden Conservancy and the California Garden and Landscape History Society have written a letter to Block expressing concerns about the sale. The Bel-Air Assn., a homeowners group, and the Los Angeles Conservancy also have called for alternatives.
“We want to have a conversation to determine whether there’s a potential win-win situation here,” said Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy. “There are a lot of creative things that might be possible to bring in the revenue necessary to run the garden.”
In the meantime, garden and neighborhood groups keep hoping someone with deep pockets will come to the rescue.
“We need to find a partnership to not only save it but to help shuttle people in and out so more people can visit it," Adezio said. "It’s a gem.”
-- Emily Young
Photos: UCLA's Hannah Carter Japanese Garden. Credit: Judy M. Horton