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Lawsuit Filed to Save Japanese Garden

Hannah Carter’s heirs want UCLA to preserve, not sell, Bel Air property.

The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Bel Air. (Photo courtesy hannahcarterjapanesegarden.com)

A lawsuit was filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court to block the proposed sale of the historic Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, which covers over an acre in Bel Air.

The plaintiffs are suing the Regents of the University of California for breach of contract, alleging that the regents signed a contract to maintain the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in perpetuity. Instead, the regents plan to sell the garden and keep the money.

The regents acquired the garden years ago, along with an adjacent parcel worth millions of dollars, from the late Edward and Hannah Carter pursuant to a written agreement. The plaintiffs — James Caldwell Jr., Hannah Sowerwine, Anne Caldwell and Jonathan Caldwell — are the heirs of Hannah Carter. They want the court to order the regents to preserve the garden, not sell it.

The complaint includes copies of agreements signed by Edward Carter in 1964 and 1982 and by Hannah Carter in 1998 and 1999. Hannah Carter lived in a house on the premises until 2006 and died in 2009.

The garden was designed in 1959 by world-renowned Japanese landscape architect Nagao Sakurai, and is modeled on the gardens of Kyoto. It is recognized as one of the finest examples of Japanese gardens in North America. Many structures in the garden, including the main gate, the garden house, bridges and a shrine, were built in Japan and reassembled here. Construction of the garden was completed in 1961.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block has argued that the garden does “not serve a teaching or research purpose,” that the off-campus site has insufficient parking for visitors, that there is not enough revenue to cover maintenance costs, and that proceeds from the sale will benefit the cash-strapped university’s academic mission.

The regents’ plan to sell the garden has generated national attention and has been addressed by The Huffington Post.

Supporters of the garden have set up a website. According to the website, more than 2,500 people have signed an online petition urging the regents to save the garden. Organizations supporting the campaign include the Los Angeles Conservancy, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the American Public Gardens Association.

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