Entrance to the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, which is currently closed to the public.
Entrance to the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, which is currently closed to the public.

A legal dispute over UCLA’s sale of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden has been resolved.

The university and the Caldwell family issued the following joint statement on Oct. 1:

“The Caldwells and UCLA have settled all of their disputes in connection with their lawsuit, Caldwell vs. The Regents of the University of California.

“The Caldwells and UCLA recognize that both sides worked together in good faith to reach a resolution that both honors Regent Carter’s legacy through continued preservation of the garden while allowing the university to focus on its primary mission of education and research.

“The settlement will allow the university to sell the residence and Hannah Carter Japanese Garden together with conditions that will preserve the garden for no less than 30 years.

“Both sides feel it is a fair and reasonable settlement and look forward to working together to fulfill the terms of the settlement.”

Edward Carter, a member of the UC Board of Regents from 1952 to 1988, facilitated UCLA’s acquisition of the garden and an adjacent residence from the original owners in 1964. UCLA agreed to enter into an escrow to purchase the garden and Carter agreed to enter into an escrow to purchase the residence.

The parties agreed that Carter would bequeath the residence to the university, reserving for himself a life estate and the ability of his wife, Hannah, to live in the residence for two years after his death. Thereafter, the residence was to be used by the university’s chief administrative officer or “distinguished guests.”

Under the 1964 agreement, UCLA was required to “maintain the existing Japanese garden … in good condition and repair,” and, if it sold the residence, to sell it together with the garden.

A new agreement in 1982 deleted the requirement that the garden be sold with the residence and required the university “to retain the garden portion in perpetuity” as the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden.

Edward Carter died in 1996 and Hannah Carter continued to live in the residence. A 1999 amendment gave her the right to rent the residence for an extended period and gave UCLA the option to keep or sell the residence once her occupancy ended. She passed away in April 2009.

In May 2009, the chancellor of UCLA sent a letter to Mrs. Carter’s daughter Anne Caldwell, assuring her that her mother’s “name and legacy will live on through the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, a beautiful reminder of her gracious and giving spirit.” There was no mention of the university’s intent to sell the garden.

In July 2010, UCLA filed a “petition to modify trust” in probate court in Alameda County, where the University of California system is headquartered, seeking authorization to sell the garden “in deviation from an agreement with the donor who funded its purchase.” The petition was granted in September 2010.

UCLA listed the garden for sale at a price of $5.7 million, with no requirement that the garden be preserved or maintained. The residence was listed for sale for $9 million.

After learning of the proposed sale, the Caldwells filed a complaint in May 2012, alleging breach of contract. The following month, they moved for a preliminary injunction to block the sale and force UCLA to continue to maintain the garden. UCLA claimed that the family lacked standing to challenge or enforce a charitable trust.

In July 2012, the trial court ruled, “Plaintiffs … establish that UCLA has breached the 1982 amendment by removing certain items of artwork and sculpture from the gardens and by taking steps to sell the garden parcel entirely, including obtaining a probate court judgment allowing them to sell the garden parcel.”

UCLA appealed, but the Court of Appeals found that: “The evidence is undisputed that the Caldwells had an interest in the garden as Hannah’s heirs and the trustees of her trust, and that they did not receive notice of the probate court proceedings.”

UCLA officials said in a statement at the time, “We continue to believe that selling the Japanese garden is in the best interests of the university. Campus resources are best applied toward UCLA’s academic mission rather than toward a garden that serves no teaching or research purpose and lacks the parking or shuttle space to operate as a public asset.”

The family and their supporters established a Facebook page and an online petition at Change.org to publicize their effort to stop the sale. The introduction to the petition, which collected 5,374 signatures, reads:

“A place of natural beauty and quiet retreat in the Los Angeles community of Bel-Air, the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is modeled on the gardens of Kyoto. The beautiful hillside garden was designed by noted Japanese garden designer Nagao Sakurai in 1959 and constructed between 1959 and 1961. It is recognized as one of the finest examples of Japanese gardens in America and was donated to the University of California in 1964.

“Sadly, the garden is now closed to the public and its survival is threatened. In November 2011, UCLA announced plans to sell the garden, citing rising maintenance costs, deferred maintenance, and the lack of attendance due to limited parking. The garden was donated to UCLA by the Carter family with a promise that the garden would not be sold.

“The garden was listed for sale in March 2012, after the University removed valuable art objects that are integral to the design of the garden.”

Supporters of the campaign included The Garden Conservancy, Los Angeles Conservancy, California Preservation Foundation, California Garden and Landscape History Society, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, American Society of Landscape Architects, National Trust for Historic Preservation, North American Japanese Garden Association, and American Public Gardens Association.

A trial was scheduled for July of this year, but was postponed. The proceedings were brought to an end by the out-of-court settlement.

In response to questions about whether the deal was the best one possible, the Facebook page provided some additional details: “Now the public bidding process will only attract buyers who also want the garden and are willing to maintain it … UCLA wanted to sell it to a private party with NO restrictions. It could have been bulldozed the next day. Requiring 30 years of maintaining it in its current form is a huge WIN for the garden.

“Now it is up the community to work with the buyer and the neighbors to restore public access. This is within reach.”

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  1.  Ucla has failed to honor its contract to keep the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, [HCJG], in Perpetuity! 

    I first visited the HGJG in 1973, with my fourth grade students. The garden visit was the culmination of their social studies unit that compared Japanese and American life and culture.

    It was on this visit that I fell in love with this remarkable garden which has been so exquisitely designed to include waterfalls and a reflective moon-gazing, koi pond and to compactly showcase nature in all of its seasonal splendor! 

    Bravo to the heirs of Hannah Carter for their valiant effort to save and preserve this magnificent garden named for their mother. 

    Without their lawsuit, Ucla would long-ago have sold the garden to the highest secret bidder without any provision  to preserve the garden.

    It is outrageous and profoundly insulting to the donors’ heirs, that in order to protect their parent’s precious gift to UCLA, they were compelled to sue the University when it became clear that all of their and the community’s appeals and outcries to save the garden rather than sell it, had fallen on the deaf ears of Chancellor Block and company. Everyone who cared about the garden was stonewalled.

    Upon the death of Mrs. Carter, even as Ucla Chancellor Block was sending his letter of condolence to the heirs in which he promised that Ucla would honor their mother’s memory by upholding the care  for the garden in perpetuity; his financial henchmen were concurrently devising the scheme by which they could eliminate that very requirement and make it possible to sell the garden without restriction.

    Make no mistake, Ucla has:  

    >the infrastructure to have continued the care of the garden.
    >the proximate parking and the shuttle service capability to have served public access to the garden while respecting the neighbors and their property, 
    >the community that was willing to partner and support the Garden in every way
    >the academic departments for whom the garden would have actively contributed a vital educational and cultural role, such as but not limited to:
    >Terasaki Center for Asian studies
    >Ucla Medical School/ Hospital, (for the garden is a place of great healing…), >UCLA’s Art Department 
    >UCLA’s Extension horticulture and landscaping classes

    UCLA’s Administration intentionally failed to take any of the above realities into into account, whatsoever. 

    Instead, they unilaterally acted without imagination, vision, creativity, or sensitivity toward the donor’s heirs, the academic community and the community at large who desperately wanted to make the garden fiscally sustainable. 

    In short–we were robbed of the opportunity to help save the garden from the very moment we learned it was in jeopardy because Ucla Administrators were only looking for a quick sale, and that is all. It had been a fait accompli,  before any of us got involved, but it took us a long time to realize it.  

    Shame on Ucla for its mercenary tactics and reckless abandonment of such a valuable public resource that rightfully belongs to all the citizens of this city and state. 

    *Shame on the California State Assistant Attorney General whose failure to deny UCLA’s request to change the terms of their contract, made the sale of the  garden possible.

     Without  notification to all the donor’s heirs or to the locally impacted public, the hearing on this matter took place in Northern California and therefore, no timely public oppositional input was presented. 

     No thorough, independent assessment of the HCJG was ever undertaken by the office charged with protecting California’s priceless public assets, nor was any input solicited from the heirs of Hannah Carter in advance of the hearing.

    Both the donors and the public’s trust have been violated by the “duplicitous,” actions of UCLA administrators and their legal staff and the lack of due diligence of the California State Attorney General’s office.

    How bitterly ironic that UCLA, a world renown center for the study of lost civilizations and cultures, has so significantly contributed to the loss of civilization and culture of Los Angeles, by their calculated and ruthless actions to sell this garden.

    Now we are only left to hope and pray that a benevolent private buyer will partner with a local civic foundation to enable the garden plus the house to which it is attached to be:
    >sold as one,
    >fully restored
    >open to the public once again!!!

     The garden and the attached house could be developed into an East/West Cultural Center and that would bring the garden full circle. For the HCJG was the first Japanese-style garden of it scale to be built in the US after World War II and when it was donated to Ucla, it was meant promote east-west understanding as it did with my students and me so very long ago…

    How tragic it will be if it never again realizes its lofty purpose!