Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Japanese Tea Garden

There isn’t a door way to walk through for this post, just this gate created by local artist Dionicio Rodriguez in his signature faux-cement style sometime in the early 1940’s. What awaits beyond the gate is an amazing transformation of an abandoned rock quarry into a lush garden with a 60-foot waterfall, Koi ponds, and delightful foot paths. A future post will discuss the rock quarry.

In 1917 City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert found himself facing a challenge of what to do with the city owned abandoned rock quarry adjacent to the newly developed Brackenridge Park.  As with most of his projects there was very little funding available, but he had the vision of creating a lily pond in this space and in the southern portion of the quarry pit he would construct a garden (originally referred to as the Texas Star Garden and now the Sunken Garden Theater).

Using the plans of his park engineer and prison labor he was able to construct the new garden. Local residents donated bulbs, plants came from the City nursery, and lighting provided by the local power company. When the Japanese style garden opened in 1918 he had spent only $7,000. 

In 1926 a local Japanese-American artist, Kimi Eizo Jungu, was hired by the City to open a small restaurant serving light lunches and tea.  When he died in 1930 his family continued to live here and operate the restaurant known as the Jingu House.  They would be evicted in 1942 due to anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II.  The garden was re-named as the Chinese Tea Garden and a Chinese-American was hired to continue to run the facility until the early 1960's. In 1984 the garden was returned to its original name of the Japanese Tea Garden with a ceremony attended by the Jingu family and representatives of the Japanese government.

Following years of decline the Garden underwent a major renovation and was re-dedicated on March 8, 2008 with descendants of Ray Lambert and one of the Jingu children who had been born in the house attending the grand celebration.

The Jingu House still offers light lunches and teas and is available for private events. 

 Some tips for visiting:
  • The Garden is open dawn to dusk 365 days a year
  • The Garden is only handicap accessible as far as the Jingu House restaurant and pavillion area.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for steep steps in places
  • Visit early in the day as the "pit" gets very hot.  Take water!