Posted: Friday, June 3, 2016 – 4:10 PM
By Laura Coleman
Since the death knell first rumbled for the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Bel-Air in 2010, when UCLA undertook efforts to sell the 1.5-acre Kyoto-style garden it had promised to maintain “in perpetuity” just months after the woman for whom it was named had died, the future of the verdant paradise has remained unknown.
That may or may not change now that real estate developer Mark Gabay, co-founder of the Charles Company, has purchased the garden from UCLA for $12.5 million in a package that also includes the adjacent residence. Both properties were bequeathed to the university by former UC regent and UCLA alum Edward Carter in 1964 with the stipulation that the garden be made available to the public.
The university closed the garden in its efforts to sell the Zen-like retreat, which boasts native Japanese greenery, a traditional teahouse, bridges, brilliant Koi in a pond, symbolic rocks, water basins and a shrine.
“It is my ardent hope that Mr. Gabay and the Charles Company will have the civic vision, cultural appreciation and philanthropic spirit to lovingly preserve the HCJG in perpetuity and once more open it to the public,” said Stephanie Barbanell, who first visited the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in 1973 as a teacher with her 4th grade students. She is among a multitude of people that have expressed outrage at UCLA’s actions and have advocated on behalf of the garden.
A lawsuit, filed by the heirs of Hannah Carter shortly after they learned that the university had listed the garden for sale in 2012, even though UCLA was contractually obligated to maintain the garden “in perpetuity”, was settled last October with the caveat that the new owner preserve the garden for 30 years. The regents had been prevented from selling the property since July 27, 2012, when L.A. Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole called the university “duplicitous” in its attempt to sell the garden and issued a preliminary injunction.
“Under the terms of the settlement agreement between the UC Regents and the new owner, the garden must be maintained in its current state for 30 years from the date of sale, although public access is not required,” wrote Steve Ritea, senior executive director of UCLA’s Media Relations & Public Outreach, in an email to the Courier.
As part of the terms of the sale, the regents shall establish a $500,000 endowment, the income from which the regents shall pay annually to the buy to help defray part of the expenses of maintaining the garden.
Escrow is currently scheduled to close on or before July 12.
Gabay has yet to respond to requests for comment.
“We congratulate Mr. Gabay on his winning bid for the garden. The community would be delighted to work with him to restore public access to this unique Los Angeles treasure,” said Hannah Carter’s son, Jonathan Caldwell.
This story was last updated on Saturday, June 4, 2016 at 7:45 a.m.