Several cultural artifacts were removed from the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Tuesday, the next step toward the university’s planned sale of the garden by the end of January.
As the sale for the Bel Air garden approaches, conservation groups and members of the UCLA community have raised alarms about the garden’s future. On Thursday, the Garden Conservancy, a national preservation society, released a “threatened garden alert” on its website.
Relatively few Japanese gardens designed for private individuals have been made available to the public, said Bill Noble, director of preservation at the Garden Conservancy. He said that the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is one of those few gardens open to the public that contains this sense of intimacy and design.
The university announced plans for the sale in November. The garden was donated to the university in 1965 by former UC Board of Regents Chair Edward Carter and his wife Hannah. It was designed by Japanese architects and gardeners to evoke the gardens of Kyoto and includes several valuable items of Japanese origin.
Campus officials have estimated the garden’s sale will generate $4.2 million for the university, which will go toward funding professorships and other campus priorities, as specified by the Carter estate, according to the statement.
“The university is struggling in a lot of ways to fulfill its core academic mission in the face of substantial state funding cuts. It was a difficult decision,” said Brad Erickson, UCLA executive director of Campus Service Enterprises. “But in a time of hard decisions, we had to choose to sell (the garden).”
Despite the garden’s value, there were various problems associated with the cost of maintenance, a lack of parking and the absence of any academic program utilizing the garden, Erickson said.
Landscaping and maintenance of the garden is estimated to cost $120,000 a year, while staffing and docent expenses are estimated to come to an additional $19,000 annually, the statement said. Deferred maintenance costs are estimated at $90,000.
Those interested in the preservation of the garden, however, have said they felt the university has not made enough of an effort to maintain the garden.
“(The university) has not been welcoming of efforts to enter discussion if there were ways to identify others who would partner with UCLA to retain ownership,” Noble said.
Michael Rich, a researcher in the physics and astronomy department, visited the garden when he was in elementary school, which led him to develop a lifelong interest in Japan. He said he is deeply concerned by the situation and has been advocating for the protection of the garden.
“The garden is an integral work of art by two Japanese garden architects whose memories of Japanese cultural traditions extend beyond the pre-war period,” Rich said. “The Japan of the 1960s was different from today, and the garden contains these elements.”
The removal process began Tuesday morning under the supervision of Fowler Museum staff. Five of the 22 Japanese artifacts in the garden were listed for removal and retention by the university, Erickson said. The objects will be placed in the Fowler Museum as representations of the garden, he said.
In a letter to the Academic Senate, Rich wrote that the design of the garden included these objects, and their removal is not acceptable by any curatorial standard.
“It’s the piecemeal destruction of a work of art that a university shouldn’t engage in,” Rich said.
The university, however, does not believe the removal will diminish the garden and thinks it is appropriate to retain a few legacy items, Erickson said.
Both Rich and Noble expressed concerns over the fate of the garden after its sale, doubting whether it would reopen as a garden. Erickson, though, said several real estate agents have indicated many interested bidders who want to maintain the garden.
The bidding process will begin in early February, Erickson said.
The university’s decision to sell is part of a larger effort to sell underutilized properties to generate revenue for core educational programs, according to the university statement.
The first of these properties is the garden and will also include the May’s Landing property in Malibu and the Trisonic Wind Tunnel in El Segundo.