Bill Ota, who maintains the Japanese Garden at Cal State Dominguez Hills, listens to the UCLA representative, Brad Erickson, executive director UCLA Campus Service Enterprises, speak during a meeting to discuss the sale of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden on Tuesday. (RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo)

Nearly 100 people gathered Tuesday night at the Community Magnet School in Bel Air for a public meeting to save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden at UCLA.

The university recently sparked controversy in the community when it announced its plans to sell the property, including a house, despite the original intention of donors Edward W. Carter, former chair of the University of California Board of Regents, and his wife, Hannah.

Scholars, conservationists, UCLA representatives, and members of the Carter family joined this two-hour event, which was sponsored by The Garden Conservancy, the California Garden and Landscape History Society and the Bel Air Association.

Among the first to speak was Dr. Kendall Brown, professor of Asian art history at California State University, Long Beach and an expert on Japanese gardens, who discussed the significance of the Carter property.

Brown described the garden, which was built in 1959, as the biggest and best of its kind in Southern California, an important symbol of Japanese culture in America. “It established a relationship with Japan after the war and added cultural richness and depth to UCLA,” said Brown, noting the garden’s postwar teahouse architecture and its dedication to Urasenke tea ceremonies in the 1960s and ’70s.

UCLA Campus Services Enterprises Executive Director Brad Erickson spoke next, clarifying details of the sale. According to Erickson, the property is being handled by Coldwell Banker Beverly Hills and is expected to open bid packages by the middle of May.

“I have been contacted by people who are interested in … preserving the garden,” said Erickson, who emphasized that the garden was never used for academic purposes and raised the issue of its maintenance costs.

Jim Caldwell, the oldest son of Hannah Carter, took issue with UCLA’s decision. Sharing aloud a recent letter from Vice Chancellor Scott Waugh written on behalf of Chancellor Gene Block, Caldwell refuted the university’s reasoning point-by-point.

“[Waugh] writes, ‘A sale at this time will help us realize Regent Carter’s expressed philanthropic intent to benefit UCLA’s academic programs.’ However, the gift agreement clearly states that the proceeds of the sale of the family home should be invested by the university in a specific order of priority,” said Caldwell.

“The number one priority on the list was not the academic mission, but to establish an endowment for the maintenance and improvement of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in perpetuity.”

Jim Caldwell, eldest son of Hannah Carter, shows the gift agreement with UCLA signed by the Carters in 1982 stating the “priority” of the Japanese garden. (RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo)

According to Caldwell, the family home alone is currently appraised at $12 million, a sum that could more than cover the $4.2 million in endowments and professorships identified by the Carters to benefit UCLA’s academic programs, leaving as much as $7.8 million, enough to establish a generous endowment for the maintenance and improvement of the garden in perpetuity.

Waugh’s letter goes on to say that “the garden and residence were identified for potential sale in 2009.” “In fact,” said Caldwell, “according to the agreement with my mother and Ed, they could have sold the family home in 2006, three years earlier, at the top of the market, after my mother moved out of the house. But I am quite certain that they waited until she died in 2009 in an attempt to sell the house with the garden.

“We recognize and appreciate that UCLA has had to pay for the maintenance of the garden out of their operating expenses all of these years, but they could have finally had the necessary income six years ago; instead, they left the house vacant.”

Though Waugh claimed that UCLA consulted with “a broad array of interested groups and individuals, including representatives of the Carter family,” Caldwell insisted that the family did not find out about the university’s desire to sell the garden until a few months ago, several years after the decision to sell the gift had been made. “‘Interested groups’ should have included all of the conservation groups who are now trying to save this important Japanese garden and who were obviously not consulted,” he said.

Caldwell found Waugh’s next argument, the lack of available parking near the garden, to be “a ridiculous claim,” considering that parking in the residential area in which the garden is located had been an issue from the beginning. The problem could have been easily solved, Caldwell maintained, by placing the garden on the UCLA campus shuttle route.

According to Waugh, a judge cleared the garden for sale in September 2011. “The truth is that the judge’s order was received a year earlier, in September 2010,” said Caldwell. “Clearly, UCLA has wanted to keep the potential sale of the garden under the radar, and of course, no opposing views were presented to the judge.”

Waugh said, “Any additional revenues from the sale of the residence and the garden will be available for other campus priorities at the discretion of the chancellor.” Caldwell argued, “He is conveniently leaving out the last half of the last sentence of the gift agreement, which clearly states that a surplus should go to items in the agreement which might be underfunded. In 1982, it was projected that a half-million would be enough to endow the garden. Clearly, that is nowhere near enough in today’s dollars, but Ed Carter understood about inflation and his first priority was the maintenance of the garden in perpetuity.”

Regarding Waugh’s statement that the garden serves no academic purpose, Caldwell responded, “This is a sad reflection on the university’s current view of art, architecture, landscaping and cultural monuments. To say that there is no academic purpose to the garden is disrespectful and insulting. Either Vice Chancellor Waugh is shockingly misinformed about this subject, or he is deliberately trying to put a positive spin on the action of the regents, which were underhanded and callous at best and shameful at worst. We are saddened that the gift of the garden, which was enthusiastically received by UCLA in 1964, and woven into several of the university’s academic programs, is now possibly to be jettisoned because of their changed priorities.

“We think that if UCLA does not change its position on this extremely generous gift from my mother and Ed, there will be many other potential donors who will have second thoughts about giving money to this worthy institution. Private donors’ support will undoubtedly be important to UCLA in the uncertain financial times ahead. We understand that UCLA could change its position right up to the moment they sign a contract with a potential buyer for the garden.”

Caldwell concluded, “If it is sold, the garden will surely never be seen by the public again. At the worst, if the garden is sold separately, bringing a maximum dollar return to the university, the Hannah Center Japanese Garden will undoubtedly be mostly destroyed when it is converted into a site for a new house. It seems wildly improbable that the highest bid for the garden would be from someone who wanted to keep the garden intact. The entrance to the garden, a beautiful Japanese gate with our mother’s name on it, will be gone forever.”

Min Tonai, who graduated from UCLA in the 1950s, raised his voice during the conversation with Erickson. “UCLA is disingenuous about this. It is a horrible thing. UCLA first started out saying there is not enough money for the maintenance, but the reality is just they want to get the money,” he said.

Kinuko Shiota, a native of Japan, said‚ “UCLA has the Terasaki Japanese Studies Center. If the parking matters, it is a good idea to have the campus shuttle stop by the garden. The garden is a great place for the students to experience as if they are in Kyoto without spending the travel cost.”

When Erickson left the room an hour before the meeting ended, he asked the crowd, “How many of you oppose UCLA’s selling the property?” More than half of the people in the room raised their hands.

After the meeting, the grandson of Hannah Carter, Alex Caldwell (24) said, ‚ÄúIt is really disappointing what they are doing to the will. It seems clear that the first provision of the will says that whole proceeds of the house should be used to keep the garden open to the public in perpetuity. And there is nothing preventing them from fulfilling that. They seem to be just blatantly disrespecting that.”

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  1. I was at this meeting. I worked @ UCLA for years as did my husband and we took visitors to the garden routinely, despite the reservation limitations.
    When Brad Erikson asked about how many people disapproved of UCLA’s plan, virtually ALL people in the room, which was well over 120, raised their hands.

  2. Ed Carter’s intention has been breached. UCLA has tarnished itself for all other family donations. They cannot be trusted.

    Now, the property should be given back to the Carter family. They alone can be trusted to execute the gift’s purpose: the aesthetic value of the Japanese garden and the commemorative memory of Hannah Carter.

  3. Apparently my vote on “Garden Supporters Meet in Bel Air” was incorrectly registered. I would have given it a 5. Very informative. I was glad to get Jim Caldwell”s comments. I feel the intent of the donor should be honored and it does not appear to be what UCLA says.