Pasadena’s “Secret” Japanese Garden
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 it’s located only ten minutes from our house in Pasadena. Far from being a new garden, 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.
Back 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).
They frequently traveled to Japan in the 1930s and became enamored with Japanese gardens, which I guess were quite “the thing” in the 30s.
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.”
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.
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.
Storrier 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.
I 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.
…and a small waterfall.
Rounding 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).
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.
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.
I walked around the garden for another five or ten minutes enjoying the serene setting (it can be rented out for weddings).
Although not really a secret, the garden on this day, with so few people around, did sort of feel like my own little secret.
…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).
Although Pasadena has lots of parks, Arlington Garden is “Pasadena’s only dedicated public garden.”
…and the one thing I noticed was the furniture in many areas that almost looked like they could be rooms.
The area is home to lots of animals (sadly, I saw no squirrels) and birds. I took a photo of one of their houses.
Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden
270 Arlington Drive
Pasadena, CA 91105
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
275 Arlington Drive
Pasadena, CA 91105
Hours: Dawn to Dusk 365 days a year
Parking: Street parking…Free