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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

Little-Known Japanase Garden Fails to Live Up to Potential

Everyone agrees that The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys is quite likely the best attraction that the San Fernando Valley has to offer everyone who knows about it, that is. The 6.5-acres of exotic plant life, romantic bridges and walkways and graceful lanterns may well be the Valley’s best kept secret. The gardens get about 20,000 visitors annually and an additional 6,000 or so students tour the space each year, and a now 10-year-old plan to build a pavilion that would house a community room, a library and other facilities lays dormant for lack of funds. “We’ve been trying to find out how we can raise exposure for the gardens,” said Stacy Bellew, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas whose district includes the site. “They have a calendar and the council office has been distributing it. People look at it and say, ‘wow, this is beautiful, where is this?'” Back in 1984 when the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant was built, officials decided to mitigate the project with gardens fashioned after the stroll gardens favored by Japanese feudal lords in the 18th and 19th centuries. Designed as public space, The Japanese Gardens were never meant as a way to generate revenue for the city, which leases the federal land on which they sit. Docents lead tours by appointment five mornings a week, and the gardens are open to the public for strolling from noon to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is $3. Locals can reserve the space for wedding ceremonies, funerals and such on Saturdays, but officials stopped allowing receptions about two years ago. “People trashed the location. They made a mess of everything and we couldn’t keep up with the damage,’ said Gene Greene, the garden manager. Filming, which is offered at a bargain rate of $300 a day (Fees to film at Los Angeles Department of Water & Power facilities for instance run to several thousand dollars a day) is allowed, but hardly promoted. “I don’t want to promote it too much because the public gets cut off,’ said Greene. “It’s a double-edge sword.” Besides, he noted, it takes more staff time than the revenues it generates. Stuck between a zen rock and a hard place, gardens officials have been unable to move forward with The Kawana Pavilion. The pavilion would act as a headquarters for expanded educational activities and provide a community meeting spot, but getting it built would require either increased city funding or a private donor. The city is busted, and there’s been no private interest in the 15 years since the pavilion was first designed. “The goal is to reach out to the business and education community to raise the exposure to get donors and funding for the pavilion,” Bellew said. “There are so many events that we could bring to the Valley (through the pavilion) and in doing that, everyone would benefit.”

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