Garden preservationists won a small victory toward saving Bel Air’s Hannah Carter Japanese garden on July 27. A judge granted Carter’s heirs a temporary injunction preventing
In May, Hannah Carter’s five children filed a lawsuit against UCLA for breach of contract. They want the university to honor their commitment to preserve their mother’s garden as an educational and artistic resource. “Unfortunately, there was no other choice,” explained Hannah Carter’s son Jonathan Caldwell, who is paying for the legal fees with his siblings. “We explored every opportunity we could to engage UCLA and they rebuffed us every time.”
What has riled preservationists is UCLA’s insistence that the garden, with elements like a Japanese teahouse, a black pebble beach and a koi pond, has no educational value. UCLA declined to comment but released a statement that said: “During these challenging times, campus resources are best directed toward or academic mission, not toward maintaining a garden that serves no teaching or research purpose.”
Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the Washington D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation, pointed out that not only does the university have a Landscape Architecture certificate program, but also that the garden is considered a seminal work. Its designer, landscape architect Nagao Sakurai, is renowned, and, Birnbaum added, Japanese gardens greatly influenced modernism. “This period is very under-represented in scholarship and Sakurai and the Hannah Carter Japanese are a fertile field for such study,” Birnbaum said.
Walter Moore, the attorney representing the Carter heirs, put it another way. “The deal said you have to maintain this work of art. It’s just like giving the university a Matisse but the deal also said, don’t destroy my Matisse,” he said. “Nobody left a puppy on their doorstep. This was not an unsolicited gift, this was a contract.”
With the injunction in place, the Regents cannot sell the garden and must maintain it, at least through the end of the trial, which is scheduled for May 6, 2013. But Moore and the Carter heirs hope some kind of settlement can be reached before then to prevent a costly trial.