A scheduled open house for the UCLA-owned Hannah Carter Japanese Garden was canceled on Sunday after a coalition opposing the sale of the property organized a . The university, however, is still accepting bids on the Bel-Air garden and adjacent residence.
Leading the sale’s opposition is Bay-area resident Jim Caldwell, son of the late Hannah Carter. He and a coalition that includes The Garden Conservancy, The Los Angeles Conservancy and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, among others, have spoken out against UCLA’s plans to sell the garden, which was purchased with funds donated to the university in 1964 by Edward Carter, former chairman of the UC Board of Regents and Caldwell’s late stepfather.
Citing concerns such as rising maintenance costs, lack of visitor parking and the university’s need to concentrate on academic endeavors, UCLA in November 2011 announced the sale of both the garden and residence. The garden has since been closed to the public.
“The university doesn’t seem to understand that we are looking for a win-win situation,” Caldwell said, “and we think there are win-win situations that are available.”
The 1 ½ acre garden, located about a mile from the UCLA campus, was designed by Japanese garden designer Nagao Sakurai in 1959 and finished in 1961. Inspired by the gardens of Kyoto, the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden features water basins, a pagoda, stone lanterns and evergreen plants. It has been notable as a rare example of post-World War II private Japanese gardens in the U.S.
Because of the garden’s rarity and its availability as a resource to various UCLA faculty, students and Bel-Air residents, Caldwell and the coalition groups argue that it deserves to be maintained in perpetuity, as was Carter’s original intention. Caldwell maintains that the sale of the residence, which could generate about $9 million, would endow the garden as well as other academic endowments and professorships at the university.
In 2010, the university received court approval to remove the “in perpetuity” requirement.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, however, has been vocal in defending the university’s position. In an op-ed for the school’s newspaper, The Daily Bruin, Block wrote, “As much as I wish we were in a position to partner with others to preserve the garden, the unfortunate reality is that UCLA has been severely impacted by dramatic reductions in state support and must sell the property.”
According to the Daily Bruin, about $1.4 billion in state funding has been cut from the UC system since 2009, and tuition has seen an almost 50 percent increase since 2009.
The garden itself is estimated to generate about $5.7 million.
“Regent Carter’s intent was to benefit specific academic programs at UCLA,” wrote Phil Hampton, associate director of UCLA media relations and public outreach, in an email. “Proceeds from the sale of the residence will be used to support the programs and professorships he specified. Any additional proceeds will be available for academic priorities such as fellowships and scholarships.”
While UCLA will be accepting bids through May, the university will be obligated to sell to the highest bidder because the property is state owned. UCLA also has placed no conditions on the intended use of the site after the sale, riling coalition members and other interested parties who believe the garden could be destroyed.
Caldwell suggested that the university entertain public-private partnerships to maintain the garden. Identifying the Garden Conservancy as a probable lead agent, Caldwell said that other coalition partners would be eager to find a “creative solution.”
“What we’re asking is for them to sit down and talk to the coalition and say, ‘How can we solve this problem?’”