Judge Grants Injunction on UCLA’s Sale of Japanese Garden

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Hannah Carter, at age 90, in the Japanese garden that bears her name, accompanied by her eldest daughter, Hannah “Haydi” Sowerine. (Photo courtesy of the Caldwell family)

By RYOKO OHNISHI, Rafu Staff Writer

UCLA’s controversial sale of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden was temporarily stopped after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole granted the donor family’s preliminary injunction on Friday at the Santa Monica Courthouse.

During the 70-minute hearing, Cole said that the selling of the property without notifying the heirs was “duplicitous.”

The family of Hannah Carter filed a lawsuit to stop the commercial sale of the garden permanently on May 4.

The outcome of the case will be determined in a trial that may take up to a year to be held. In anticipation of a possible trial, Cole required a representative of the heir family to post a $110,000 bond within 10 days, at which time the injunction will become effective.

The 1.5-acre garden and adjacent Western-style house are located on a hillside of the Bel Air area, at 10619 Bellagio Rd. near UCLA. The garden is considered the largest and most important private residential Japanese-style garden on the Pacific Coast. As the first major Japanese garden built in Southern California following World War II, it is significant symbolically as it signals a return of the appreciation of Japanese culture on the West Coast.

In spite of the garden supporters’ wishes, the property has been listed for commercial sale by Coldwell Banker Beverly Hills since March on behalf of the university for an asking price of $14.7 million ($5.7 million for the garden, $9 million for the house). Closed bids of potential buyers started on May 23 and were scheduled to be opened up on Aug. 15.

One garden supporter commented that choosing Aug. 15 — V-J (Victory over Japan) Day — as the day to open the bids “tells us how they are culturally senseless as a world-class educational institution.”

The controversy broke out after UCLA suddenly closed the garden to the public in 2011 and removed some valuable artifacts. Bel Air neighbors noticed the change and contacted Carter’s heirs. The garden was purchased by the university in 1964 with funding provided by Edward Carter, chair of the UC Board of Regents. He and his wife, Hannah, lived at the residence. Regent Carter passed away in 1996; Hannah Carter continued to live at the residence until 2006 and died in 2009 at age 94.

In 1982, Regent Carter and the university amended the original agreement, allowing the university to sell the residence upon his death, following a reasonable time for his widow to rent the residence from the university. Proceeds from the sale would be used to establish endowments to fund specific academic programs on campus, as well as a $500,000 endowment for garden maintenance. The agreement named the garden in honor of Hannah Carter and called on the university to maintain the garden in perpetuity as its first priority.

Cole said of the 1982 amendment, “The university was the owner of the garden. UCLA gave up a very valuable right to potentially sell the property in 1982.”

Since UCLA got permission to sell the residence with the condition of keeping the garden in perpetuity, Cole stated in her summary, “It was not a gift. It was an exchange.”

The first public meeting on this issue was held in February by the local community and garden conservancy groups. The nearly 100 participants included heirs of Hannah Carter, UCLA alumni, students, employees and others wishing to keep the garden open to the public.

Representatives of UCLA spoke at the meeting about the justification of the sale, including high maintenance costs (over $100,000 a year) and the lack of parking necessary to operate the garden as a public asset. The garden has not served either research or teaching purposes, and UCLA’s priorities are the fulfillment of academic programs, including scholarships and fellowships, the university said.

Even though virtually all of the participants raised their hands, asking UCLA to keep the garden as a public entity, a university representative stated that UCLA had the right to sell the property because a change to the donor’s agreement was granted by Alameda County Superior Court in 2010.

Chancellor Gene Block also strongly supported the sale of the garden. “Simply put, we are selling the garden because it is in the best interests of the university,” he said in a statement issued on Feb. 9.

However, at last week’s hearing, Cole touched upon the Alameda County court’s ruling, saying that the university had behaved in a “duplicitous” manner. Cole repeated that word when she noted that the university had failed to notify the heirs when it petitioned to sell the property.

“I do not mean to criticize the judgment of the Alameda court,” Cole said. But she pointed out the possibility that detailed information may not have been fully disclosed in 2010. The petition was granted without the presence of the donor’s heirs.

The garden has been used for various cultural activities and educational purposes over the past half-century, according to Dr. Takeo Uesugi, who stated, “I visited the garden several times with my students during my teaching career in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona University. I recall that the garden is suited for studying good examples of design and construction techniques with its details and maintenance.”

The garden was designed by landscape architect Nagao Sakurai, who named it Shikyo-en, which means that the garden reminds the viewer of Kyoto. Citing such details as the waterfall, pond, stone bridge, water basin and tea house, Uesugi said, “As the owner of the site, UCLA must recognize and consider the significance of this cultural landmark and understand the value it provides to education and community before selling this property.”

The garden’s supporters launched a website in February and collected more than 3,000 signatures to stop the sale. According to UCLA’s Daily Bruin, a campus poll showed that 71 percent of the students think UCLA should find alternative to selling the garden.

On July 7, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote Block a letter in support of preserving the garden, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz applauded the lieutenant governor’s action on July 20.

Hannah Locke Carter was a philanthropist who also supported Los Angeles County of Museum of Art (LACMA) and other local institutions. She was the member of the U. S. Olympic women’s team as a skier in 1940. She was the second wife of Edward Carter, who was head of the Broadway department store and its parent company, Carter Hawley Hale. After their marriage in 1963, the couple actively contributed to education.

In 2003, seven years after her husband died, Mrs. Carter gave LACMA a dozen 17th- and 18th-century Dutch paintings and promised the rest of the couple’s collection to the museum.

One of the supporters said after the hearing, “I feel like Hannah is protecting the garden.”

For more information, visit http://hannahcarterjapanesegarden.com.

The Japanese garden has been closed to the public since last year. (Photo courtesy of hannahcarterjapanesegarden.com)

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