“Conceived” in the 1930s, Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden was initially part of a larger property owned by Charles and Ellamae Storrier Stearns. The garden was inspired by their travels in Japan and was designed by Kinzuchi Fujii. The entire construction took seven years to complete.
In 1949, the estate was sold to Gamelia Haddad Poulsen who had come to the Storrier Stearns estate auction in the hope of purchasing two Louis XV chairs. Over the years she sold various parcels of property and by the time Poulsen died in 1985, the teahouse had burned down (under mysterious circumstances) and the garden had been neglected. In 1990, Poulsen’s grandson and his wife, Jim and Connie Haddad began to restore the garden in honor of Gamelia.
Now the garden has been restored, is a registered historic landmark, and is available for special events, and on Sunday, January 26th, the public is welcome to their Open Day.
Kendall Brown, Professor of Asian Art History at Cal State Long Beach and Curator at Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, described the garden in his 2003 letter of Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places:
“In its design and construction, the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden represents one of the best pre-war examples of a Japanese hill and pond style stroll garden outside of Japan. In its grand size, at almost two acres and with a 25-foot-high hill with waterfall, the garden was constructed on an unmatched scale. The design, with two large ponds, one spanned by a granite devil’s bridge more than 15 feet long, was unparalleled at the time.”
According to the Garden’s website, Charles Storrier Stearns had an interesting, well-traveled life:
Charles was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1868. His father was a distinguished physician of some renown, with a number of published works on the treatment of the insane. His portrait hangs at Yale University. In 1917 Charles took up residence in France, with homes in both Nice and Paris. When he renewed his passport in 1922 he described himself as a retired capitalist. In 1928 he was knighted by the French government in recognition of his humanitarian work helping refugees of the Russian Revolution. A few years later, in June 1931, articles in major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times reported that he was decorated with the Order of Legion of Honor at a ceremony conducted at the Louvre in recognition of gifts of art works to French museums.
Lesser is known about about Ellamae Goodale except that she was born in 1872 in San Francisco, was described by her nephew as “ravishingly beautiful,” lived in Hawaii during her first marriage, was married for the second time in London, had dual passports (U.S. and France, as did Charles), and traveled extensively.
Designer Kinzuchi Fujii was born in Japan in 1875, emigrated to America in 1903, and “although an enterprising and capable person with a background in carpentry and landscaping, he faced the barriers and discrimination that were the lot of immigrants from the Orient at that time.”
Entwined with the history of Japanese-style gardens is the social and labor history of these immigrants. A paradox of Japanese-style garden making is that it flourished in the early twentieth century at a time when Japanese immigrants were faced with racial prejudice and legal discrimination, barred from becoming citizens and, in California, owning land. Garden making became one of the few occupations open to them.
Though Fujii designed and built several small gardens in Ojai and Santa Barbara, the Storrier Stearns garden was considered his masterpiece. He wrote: “I am possessed of an ambition to leave a real, uncompromising Japanese garden in the United States.”
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, Fujii was one of approximately 110, 000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were interned until “Ex parte Endo unanimously declared that loyal citizens of the United States, regardless of cultural descent, could not be detained without cause.”¹
Kinzuchi considered the Storrier Stearns garden his masterpiece and carried the photographs and plans documenting the creation of the garden with him, in the single suitcase allowed by the government, into internment. Kinzuchi never saw his beloved creation again.²
Open Day at Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden
Sunday, Jan. 26th 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
270 Arlington Dr., Pasadena 91105
Cost: $7.50, general; free, 12 years and under (click here to reserve)
For complete info, call 626.399.1721
Or visit JapaneseGardenPasadena.com