Tea Garden to Get Off Ground in Balboa Park

Times Staff Writer

Gold Gulch Canyon in Balboa Park is not much to look at now--just a sparse eucalyptus grove nestled in a steep ravine beside the Organ Pavilion.

But that will change next week when planners break ground for an $11.4-million Japanese garden that they say will rival the world's finest and bring thousands of tourists to the secluded site.

San Diego's variation on the ancient Japanese art form will showcase miniature mountains, waterfalls, paths and a pond. A tea house, cultural center, exhibit hall and arbor also will be constructed, said Michael Yamamoto, an architect coordinating the project.

Raised $1 Million

That, at least, is the hope of the Japanese Friendship Garden Society, a nonprofit organization developing the garden. The society has raised $1 million so far, enough to pay for the first of five construction stages, said Larry Marshall, the group's president.

In the fall, skilled craftsmen and a master designer will arrive from Japan to personally supervise construction, according to Yamamoto. Tokyo architect Takeshi Nakajima, who built a similar retreat in Moscow, will direct the effort, Marshall said.

The exhibition hall and a part of the garden along the canyon's rim will be finished by spring, according to Yamamoto. The rest of the timetable depends on how quickly the group can raise money from private companies, individuals and grants, Marshall said. Because of the need to raise funds, the project would take at least a decade to complete, he said.

"We are in there for the long haul, but it's important for us to start now and generate some excitement," Marshall said.

But, even if the garden's construction lasts a decade, that will not match the time it took to reach the ground-breaking ceremony. The master plan for the garden was approved by the City Council in 1979, after the San Diego-Yokohama Sister City Society first proposed the project in the 1960s.

After its third stage is completed, the 11.5-acre garden will attract 200,000 visitors each year, Marshall predicted, adding that it could eventually rival the San Diego Zoo as a tourist attraction.

A Japanese garden was built in San Diego in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition, but it was dismantled four decades later to make way for the Children's Zoo, Marshall said.

Designers of Japanese gardens stress a more natural look than the clipped and manicured European gardens, according to Ernest Chew, an expert in the field.

Used in ancient Japan for Zen Buddhist meditation, Japanese gardens are popular worldwide, Marshall said. "There is one in every significant city in the world," he said.

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