Twenty years ago, Steve Koblik — at the time president of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens —stood in the middle of a sloppy field on a cold, overcast, winter morning and described the vague vision for a Chinese garden that was planned for an otherwise over looked chunk of land on the westside of the campus.
On Tuesday morning, two of Koblik’s successors enjoyed the privilege of a perfect late-summer morning and stood amongst the glories of Phase One of said project while setting launching the final phase of what will be “among the largest Chinese gardens in the world.”
“Many of you can remember when this lake behind me was just a shallow seasonal storm basin,” exclaimed Hindle, who is wrapping up his remarkable stint as acting president. “Just look at all that we have accomplished in the last two decades, with today marking another major milestone on our collective journey.”
The surroundings and the climate could not have been further away from Koblik’s moment in the mud, but if the result is similar, it will also be spectacular.
“We are tripling the size of the Garden of Flowing Fragrance and I know that an increase on that scale is difficult to envision, but what it ultimately means is that we are going to have the capability to broaden and deepen our conversation about Chinese art and culture,” Hindle said. “This project will be entirely transformative in terms of what it is going to allow us to present, to do, to show, and to be.”
The final phase, which will increase the size of the Chinese Garden from its current 3.5 acres to 12, will take an estimated 18 months to complete and include an exhibition complex comprising a traditional scholar’s studio and an art gallery for the display of paintings and calligraphy, a new, larger café with outdoor seating, a stream-side pavilion, a Chinese medicinal garden, a hillside pavilion, an event space for large gatherings and other features.
Hindle then introduced Karen Lawrence, The Huntington’s new president, who has not yet formally begun her tenure and was making one of her first public appearances.
“Creating a 12-acre Chinese garden in the middle of San Marino did not happen overnight” Lawrence said after a warm welcome from the approximately two hundred guests. “Thanks to your generous contributions of time, passion, and financial support, we are serving a critical purpose in Southern California and specifically, the San Gabriel Valley that is home to over 300,000 people of Chinese heritage. This is truly your garden.”
Aside from its benefit to The Huntington’s 750,000 annual visitors, Lawrence touted the garden’s cultural and educational value.
“We promote dialogue about literature, poetry, architecture, music, and botany and we impart an understanding that goes well-beyond our garden’s white exterior walls,” Lawrence said.
The total cost of the final phase is approximately $23 million, of which more than $19 million has been raised. The total cost of the garden is expected to reach $53 million, all of which has been raised from individual corporate and foundation gifts.