Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden – Pasadena

Pasadena’s “Secret” Japanese Garden

Storrier Stearns Japanese GardenStorrier Stearns Japanese Garden – Pasadena

Visited: January 21, 2016

Always on the search for new gardens, I was alerted by a Facebook post about a garden I had never heard of and only located only ten minutes from our house in Pasadena.  Far from being new, the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden is one of the few remaining pre-war (World War II) private estate gardens, and after years of neglect, it was restored about 11 years ago.

P1050253Back in the early 20th century, there were numerous beautiful, large homes on and near Orange Grove Avenue (sadly, many of these mansions were torn down to make way for dreadful looking apartment and condo projects).  Charles Storrier Stearns and Ellamae Sheppard owned one of them; a Georgian mansion that extended nearly a block on Arlington Drive between Orange Grove Avenue and Pasadena Avenue (seven city lots).

Storrier+Stearns+Home           Stearns+Mansion

They frequently traveled to Japan in the 1930s and became enamored with Japanese gardens, which I guess were quite “the thing” in the 30s.

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In 1935, they hired Kinzuchi Fujii to design a garden for their estate. Fujii, according to the website, “devoted the next seven years of his life to creating the garden. In 1942, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, he suffered the fate of other Japanese residents and was sent to an internment camp for the duration of the war. Kinzuchi considered the Storrier Stearns garden his masterpiece and carried the photographs and plans documenting the creation of the garden with him, in the single suitcase allowed by the government, into internment. Kinzuchi never saw his beloved creation again.”

kinzuchi-fujiiIt was completed without him, and according to one website, he was so distraught after being interred he never went back to see the finished project.

Charles and Ellamae died in the 1940s, leaving no heirs, so the house was sold at auction. In the ensuing years, the mansion was eventually sold and dismantled. In the mid-70s, Caltrans “used eminent domain to seize a strip of property on the easternmost side of the garden for use in building the extension of the 710 freeway.”  It would have gone right through part of the garden, which was now in disrepair.

The current owners, Jim and Connie Haddad, had a plan in the 1990s to restore the gardens, and Dr. Takeo Uesugi, “professor emeritus of landscape design at Cal-Poly Pomona and one of the leading experts on Japanese garden design in the United States, undertook the management of the garden restoration.”

In 2005, the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and listed as a California Historical Landmark on the California Register of Historic Places.  The complete history is on their website.

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in the past, the gardens have been open only the last Sunday of the month, but a couple of days ago (January 21) it began hosting visitors on Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. I decided to visit on the first Thursday.

P1050249Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden is located across the street from Arlington Garden (see below for a little more info on that garden). I parked nearby on this mostly residential street, walked up the long driveway and was met by a couple of nice ladies, who cheerfully took my $10 admission fee. Had I reserved online the day before, the fee would have been only $7.50. Live and learn.

I did learn from one of the women that there will be music on the last Sunday of the month (check their website) and many of the Thursdays will feature lectures. It was time to start my stroll through the gardens.

P1050252I looked out to the first of the two irregularly shaped ponds. I was surprised there weren’t more people here…during my hour stay, I didn’t see more than 15-20 people walking around (not that I minded having this beautiful space nearly to myself).  There are numerous stone statues throughout the two-acre garden.

P1050251I came upon one of the four original bridges…

P1050254..and the traditional cedar log waiting house. I didn’t feel like waiting, so I pressed on.

P1050255The large pond dominates the first part of the garden…

P1050259 (1)so I took photos from a few different angles…

P1050256…until I reached some more statues…

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…and a small waterfall.

P1050264There are tons and tons of rocks and stones, and even places to sit and contemplate.

P1050267Rounding a corner, as I walked toward another bridge, there stood the teahouse (the original burned down mysteriously in 1981, but an exact duplicate made from Fujii’s original drawings, photographs, and architectural plans was rebuilt in the same spot).

P1050272It’s located near the second pond.

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The teahouse has a name; Niko-an, which means Abode at Two Ponds. The original teahouse was constructed in Japan, disassembled and then shipped here.

P1050277I stepped inside, but not before removing my shoes (sometimes even I follow the rules).

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According to the website, “The twelve tatami mats covering the floor (3′ x 6′ each) signified a teahouse of great importance.”
Since there was no tea, I only spent a short time in the teahouse.

P1050280Outside the teahouse is a tree that is a direct descendant of a Camellia, which survived the August 1945 A-Bomb that leveled Hiroshima.

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I walked around the garden for another five or ten minutes enjoying the serene setting (it can be rented out for weddings).

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Although not really a secret, the garden on this day, with so few people around, did sort of feel like my own little secret.

P1050295I admired the larger pond and beautiful trees one last time…

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…before heading back out to Arlington Drive.  Before I left, however, I decided to take a quick walk through Arlington Garden, located just across the street (I’d never been here, either).

P1050248Arlington Garden:

Although Pasadena has lots of parks, Arlington Garden is “Pasadena’s only dedicated public garden.”

P1050234I walked through the garden for about 15 minutes…

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…and the one thing I noticed was the furniture in many areas that almost looked like they could be rooms.

P1050246According to their website, that’s done on purpose. “The Garden’s layout and movable furniture invite people to come in and stay rather than be quickly ushered in and out.”

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The area is home to lots of animals (sadly, I saw no squirrels) and birds. I took a photo of one of their houses.

P1050244The cactus caught my eye (fortunately not my skin).

P1050243One day I’ll do a bigger write-up about Arlington Gardens, but it was time to go.

IMG_3043If you have trouble finding either the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden or Arlington Garden, they are both located just a few blocks south of the “Fork In The Road.” I kid you not!

Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden
270 Arlington Drive
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone: 626.399.1721
Admission: $7.50 if bought online or $10 at the door
Hours: Thursdays & Last Sunday of each month: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Parking: Street parking…Free

Arlington Garden
275 Arlington Drive
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone: 626.441.4478
Admission: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk 365 days a year
Parking: Street parking…Free


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