Hannah Carter Japanese Garden | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine / L.A. Conservancy

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden

UPDATE: Good news! On April 25, 2017 the City Council voted in unanimous support for the Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination for the garden! 

As a member of the Coalition to Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, the Conservancy nominated the 1961 Hannah Carter Japanese Garden for designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) in August 2016, the latest step in a larger campaign to preserve the historic designed landscape. Click here to read the nomination >>

In February 2017, the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) voted to recommend designation to City Council. 

In January 2017, City Council voted to designate the Shepherd Residence, where the Carter family formally resided, as an HCM. 

Litigation and Sale

The Los Angeles Times reported in June 2016 that UCLA had sold the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden to developer Mark Gabay.

In September 2015, UCLA announced that it had reached a settlement with the Caldwell family of Hannah Carter (children of Hannah Carter), which will allow the university to sell the historic Hannah Carter Japanese Garden on the condition that the new owner agree to preserve the garden for at least thirty years. 

The Conservancy is pleased with the outcome, including condition that the garden be preserved, and will continue to monitor the issue as the sale proceeds.  

Family members had previously filed suit against UCLA for breaking its promise to maintain the historic garden in perpetuity. The university closed the garden to the public in 2011 and announced plans to sell the property at auction, placing it at risk for demolition. 

In September 2013, the Court of Appeal of the State of California issued a ruling on UCLA's contention that the preliminary injunction had been issued in error, denying an appeal by UCLA that had delayed the litigation. The Court of Appeal's action cleared the way to proceed to trial on the merits of the family's case, though a settlement was ultimately reached.

In July 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole ruled to grant a preliminary injunction halting the sale of the garden. This ruling bought valuable time to seek a preservation solution.

In her ruling, Judge Cole said the Caldwell (children of Hannah Carter) family had a “reasonable probability of prevailing in court.” She characterized her rulings as “fact-driven” and concluded that “UCLA gave up a very valuable right” to potentially sell the property by agreeing to forever maintain the garden in 1982. 

In November 2011, UCLA first announced plans to sell the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, citing rising maintenance costs, deferred maintenance, and the lack of attendance due to limited parking. The money generated by the sale of the garden would be used to fund core academic programs.

Despite public outcry, the university listed the garden for sale at a minimum bid of $5.7 million. The sale did not include any requirements that the historic garden be maintained or preserved.

The decision to sell the garden follows a 2010 court decision that allowed UCLA to remove the “in perpetuity” requirement included within the original donation agreement for the garden in 1964. In January 2012 UCLA began removing some objects and artifacts within the garden, and placed the garden for sale in March of the same year.

Zoned agricultural, the one-and-one-half-acre hillside site could conceivably be redeveloped for a single-family residence, destroying the garden. Currently UCLA is not planning to sell the garden with any protective covenants or requirements calling for it to be maintained or preserved.

As a public institution, UCLA is required to accept the highest bid. The Coalition to Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden was formed following a public meeting on January 31, 2012 with concerned citizens, members of the Carter family, and representatives from UCLA.

The Conservancy is part of the Coalition to Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, working closely with The Garden Conservancy, the California Garden and Landscape History Society, and the Cultural Landscape Foundation, as well as other concerned organizations. Since the sale was announced, we have urged UCLA to ensure the preservation of and continued public access to the garden, as intended and envisioned by the Carter family. 

The Coalition to Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden strongly believes that the garden should be preserved and can be successfully operated and maintained through a public-private partnership, rather than destroyed, a likely outcome had the sale proceeded as originally planned.

The following points summarize the Conservancy’s position:

  • The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is a nationally significant historic place. The one-and-one-half hillside garden is among the largest and most significant private residential Japanese-style gardens built in the United States in the immediate Post World War II period. It is also associated with two of the most prominent designers of Japanese gardens, Nagao Sakurai and Koichi Kawana.
  • The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden was donated to UCLA in 1964 to be cared for and maintained in perpetuity; UCLA should have honored the donors’ intent and terms of the agreement. In September 2010, UCLA went to court to secure permission to remove the “in perpetuity” requirement within the original donation agreement for the garden. At the time of the donation, Mr. Carter agreed to allow UCLA to sell the adjoining residence in the future, clearly stating as his first priority that the money “be used in perpetuity for the maintenance and improvement of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden.” 
  • Selling the garden to the highest bidder without any conditions or protections would have endagered the garden and severely limited its likelihood for survival. As a requirement for selling State-owned property, UCLA had to accept the highest bid, regardless of the planned use or intent for the site. Zoned agricultural, the one-and-one-half-acre hillside site could conceivably be redeveloped for a single-family residence, destroying the garden. As part of the settlement agreement between the Carter family and UCLA, a restrictive covenant was placed on the property for a period of 30 years, set to expire in the year 2046. 
  • Gardens and other significant landscapes in Los Angeles and across the nation have been successfully operated, maintained, and preserved through private-public partnerships -- all while serving educational purposes. Throughout the five-year effort to attempt to save the garden and maintain public access, UCLA did not reached out to garden, conservation, or potential friends groups to explore potential partnerships. Despite possible collaborations with Japanese studies and viable strategies to address long-standing parking issues, UCLA claimed the garden “serves no academic purpose” and using it “for any public functions is highly problematic.”