Hannah Carter Japanese Garden
Bel Air, Los Angeles, California
The simplicity effected by the Japanese garden is therefore complicated in design and execution. It is nature; it is artistic. It is impressionistic, symbolic, and mystic. It is delicate, and yet it has strength. — Gordon Guiberson
Photo © Bettie Bearden Pardee
The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, according to the Los Angeles Times, "Is among the rarest examples of post-World War II Japanese private gardens in this country." The 1.5-acre hillside garden in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, modeled on gardens in Kyoto, was commissioned by Gordon Guiberson and designed by noted Japanese garden designer Nagao Sakurai and garden expert Kazuo Nakamura in 1959 (and constructed between 1959 and 1961). The garden incorporated portions of the site’s 1923 A.E. Hanson Hawaiian-inspired retreat created for Harry Calendar. In 1964, Edward Carter provided the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) with funds to purchase the garden.
Sakurai and Nakamura’s plan kept intact elements from Hanson’s design, including a Hawaiian garden, a 20-foot waterfall, and a stone bathhouse. From the entry at the base of the hill, stone paths lead up to a central koi pond edged by a black pebble beach. Circular stepping-stones and stone bridges provide passage across the water, with a stone pagoda positioned at the bottom edge of the pond and a Japanese teahouse overlooking the water from its western side. Dense plantings, many with Japanese origins, surround the pond, including pines, bamboo, magnolia, and camellia trees. At the garden’s highest point sits the hokura (family shrine), which contained a hand-carved gilt Buddha. The entry gate, hokura, and teahouse were imported from Japan, along with stone lanterns, water basins, and carved and natural stones with symbolic significance that line the paths. Extensive flooding in 1969 resulted in a mudslide that damaged the historic garden. UCLA Campus Architect and Professor Koichi Kawana oversaw its reconstruction.
Photo courtesy The Cultural
In 1982, Edward Carter, a former chairman of the Board of Regents, and a University of California Regent for 36 years, amended the terms of his donation to name the garden in honor of his wife Hannah and, most significantly, to require the university to "retain the garden portion in perpetuity." Mr. Carter also said his Los Angeles house, part of the original 1964 bequest, could eventually be sold to provide an endowment to maintain the garden and provide funding for other purposes. In 1999, the university reaffirmed its commitment to the terms to “maintain the garden portion in perpetuity” along with the rest of the bequest.
Edward W. Carter
After Edward Carter passed away, Hannah Carter continued to live in the house until 2006. In 2010, a year after her death in 2009, UCLA, without notifying Hannah Carter's children, persuaded a Superior Court judge to overturn the "in perpetuity" terms of the bequest and in March 2012 listed both the home and the garden for sale.
According to university officials, the garden is a financial drag, doesn’t serve any educational purpose, and has limited parking. Additionally, in February 2012, Chancellor Block wrote in the Daily Bruin, despite the university’s legal commitment to maintain the garden in perpetuity: “When donors make gifts of property, formal agreements routinely envision a day when the university would no longer find it practical to retain the property.”
In 2011 several of the Carter heirs banded together with a coalition of local and national organizations to protest the decision to sell the garden and urge UCLA to abide by its commitment, attempting to engage UCLA officials in negotiations to protect the site. In May 2012, after months of being ignored by UCLA, the Carter heirs filed a breach of contract suit and on July 27, 2012, Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole issued a preliminary injunction temporarily halting the sale of the garden until the completion of a trial currently scheduled to begin May 6, 2013.
How You Can Help
Contact UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and urge him to abide by the university’s commitment to maintain the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in perpetuity. Also, urge Block and other UCLA officials to meet with the Carter heirs and members of the Coalition to Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden to work out a mutually beneficial solution.
Additional information is available from the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Web site and TCLF’s Landslide entry for the garden.
Bettie Bearden Pardee