Gardens Telling Stories: The Japanese Gardens and Gardeners of WLA, Exhibition of Color Photos and Interviews, Opening July 29 and 30

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An exhibition on the Japanese public and residential gardens of West Los Angeles (Sawtelle) tracing the history of the community through interviews, and documenting the unique architecture and plant usage of these gardens.

An exhibition on the Japanese public and residential gardens of West Los Angeles (Sawtelle) is opening July 29 (5:00-10:00) and July 30 (3:00-9:00) during the Obon Festival at the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple, 20O3 Corinth Ave. "Gardens Telling Stories: The Japanese Gardens and Gardeners of West Los Angeles" is an exhibition of 20 to 30 14 X 20 color photographs and a number of digital color photos as well as interviews documenting the Japanese residential gardens, the Japanese garden at Stoner Park, and the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple garden in West Los Angeles. The exhibition will also be at the Japanese Cultural Institute (2110 Corinth Ave.) from August 2 to August 16, 2006. A highlight of the exhibition will be three archival photographs by Ansel Adams of the Manzanar Relocation Camp Gardens along with two archival photographs of George Takamura, an internee from West Los Angeles who built the bamboo fence, tea house and bridge for the Manzanar garden.

Echoing the landscape of Japan and the Shinto principles of respect and contemplation of nature, these gardens date back to the early twenties with the establishment of the Japanese (Issei and Nisei) community of then-Sawtelle, now West Los Angeles area of Los Angeles. A community of professionals (dentists, pharmacists, doctors and teachers) along with gardeners, (in some cases, farmers adapting their knowledge to an urban environment), In 1928, businesses also sprang up including the OK Nursery owned by the Hashimoto Brothers followed by other nurseries along Sawtelle and Olympic. In 1931, the Japanese Community established a Japanese garden at Stoner Park “presented by the Japanese people of Sawtelle for the Promotion of better understanding.” Around Sawtelle Boulevard, a community of homes were already characterized by carefully tended green gardens of shaped and pruned pine and juniper set off by boulders, rocks, stone lanterns and raked gravel.

In 1942, the Japanese residents of the community were forced to leave their homes, gardens and businesses and were interned in “Relocation Camps” by order of the U.S. Government. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, many returned to re-make their lives in West Los Angeles and since 1950, the Japanese community has flourished with dry goods stores, groceries, nurseries and sushi bars and noodle houses. In 1989, the Stoner Park garden was re-designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana and re-planted by the Bay Cities gardeners Association, local nurseries and with the cooperation of the Los Angeles Park and Recreation Commission. In 1994, cherry blossom trees were planted and presented to the community by the West Los Angeles Japanese American Community Center and planted by the Bay Cities Gardeners Association and volunteers.

Today, despite the growing encroachment of multi housing developments, the vitality of the Japanese gardens and their caretakers exemplify the unique character of this 100 year old community. Gardens Telling Stories is both a homage and a historical overview to its strength, vitality and courage.

The curators of Gardens Telling Stories: The Japanese Gardens and Gardeners of West Los Angeles, Margarita Nieto, Pablo Milberg and Lance Billitzer wish to thank the California Council for the Humanities California Stories Initiative, and the College of Humanities, California State University, Northridge for funding the project/exhibition. We thank the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple and Rev. Fumiaki Usuki, the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle and Scott Fujimoto as well as Sojin Kim of the Japanese American National Museum. For archival material and photos: the Department of Special Collections, and the Map Library, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, the Library of Congress, and The Doheny Library, Department of Special Collections, Regional History, USC. Craig and Bobby of Safe and Save Market, Ko Hashimoto and Hashimoto Nursery, the marvelous members of the Bay Cities Gardeners Association, Jack and Henry Yamaguchi and Blick Art Supplies. Above all we thank you, the gardeners who have created and tended these gardens which offer us a daily glimpse into a “ floating world” reminding us that “…. truly, plants and trees, rock and stones, all shall enter into Nirvana.”

Contact: Margarita Nieto, Ph.D.Phone: (310) 473 0050 Photos available.

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Margarita Nieto

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