Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden – Pasadena, California - Atlas Obscura
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Pasadena, California

Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden

A rare surviving example of a pre-WWII Japanese garden, restored after years of neglect. 

There are many Japanese-style gardens to be found throughout the greater Los Angeles metro area, but tucked away in a quiet neighborhood of Pasadena, the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden is unique. It’s a rare example of a private Japanese garden built before the outbreak of the Second World War. 

When Japan opened its doors to trade and relations with the U.S. in the beginning of the 20th century, it sparked an American fascination with Japanese aesthetics, such as Japanese gardening and design concepts. One wealthy couple living in Pasadena, Charles and Ellamae Storrier Stearns, commissioned landscape designer Kinzuchi Fujii in 1935 to create a two-acre retreat on their estate grounds, featuring a 25-foot hill with a waterfall and a tea-house crafted in Japan to his meticulous plans. 

The structure was dismantled to be shipped overseas to Los Angeles for reassembly onsite. The garden was perhaps one of the last of its kind, as the Depression years curtailed lavish estate gardens, and rising tensions between the U.S. and Japan began to cool enthusiasm in America for Japanese culture. Fujii himself wound up in an internment camp from 1942 to the remainder of the war, and never saw his creation again.

Without any heirs, the Stearns’ estate was sold at auction after their deaths. In the 1970s the garden went into decline. Luckily, a decision was made by the current ownership to gradually restore the grounds to their former grandeur, and to rebuild the tea-house that had burned down in 1981. Now what was once a private realm can be enjoyed by the public. The garden also got a poignant addition: Near the tea-house is a tree descended from a Camellia that survived the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing, planted on the grounds as a symbol for peace.

Know Before You Go

The garden is open to the general public on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday every week, and on the second and last Sunday of each month. Hours for every Open Day are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., although the venue can also be rented for private events. Street parking in the surrounding neighborhood is prohibited so visitors will need to park onsite or in the parking lot shared with a nearby school. There is a map on the website. Directly across the street from Storrier Stearns, the free Arlington Garden, owned by Caltrans but leased to the City of Pasadena, offers additional green space to wander about.

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