A Pair of Hidden Gardens in Pasadena
In a quiet corner of Pasadena lies the largely residential Arlington Drive. It could easily be confused for a simple neighborhood street were it not for two unique spaces that draw the eye. Directly across the corner from each other they each feature a landscape not seen elsewhere on the street. They’re essentially real life versions of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and, just as the children of the story transformed a long neglected space into a beautiful oasis these two spots have had similar transformations in their storied histories. Numbered among the loveliest gardens in Pasadena, Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden and Arlington Garden, prove that the most neglected spaces can produce true beauty.
Nearly 100 years ago, the site now occupied by Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden housed a pair of tennis courts. Belonging to Charles & Ellamae Storrier Stearns these inhabited but a corner of their vast estate. A well traveled couple, the pair decided they would be better served by a garden space inspired by their trips to Japan and, in 1935, they hired Kinzuchi Fujii to bring their grand idea to life. For the next several years he did just that creating a wondrous space for them to enjoy.
By 1949, both Charles & Ellamae passed on leaving no heirs to their property which then went to auction. On a whim, a local antiques dealer named Gamelia Haddad Poulsen, purchased the entire estate. Over the years she sold off various parcels but the garden remained intact under her stewardship.
Enter Caltrans. We all know about California’s love of cars and in the mid-century the highway system was ever expanding. In 1975, several properties in the area were seized by eminent domain with the intention of expanding the 710 freeway but Caltrans didn’t know just how against the freeway Pasadenans were and a decades long battle ensued. Ultimately, the residents proved victorious but there were many casualties along the way and, for a time, Storrier Stearns was included.
Thinking a freeway expansion was eminent, Haddad Poulsen stopped maintaining the garden and by the time her son and daughter in law, Jim and Connie Haddad, inherited the property it had fallen into disrepair. Luckily, the couple had no intention of leaving it that way and for several years with the help of Dr. Takeo Uesugi they were able to completely restore it. Now listed on the National Register for Historic Places the garden is open to the public and provides a peaceful oasis for anyone who desires to visit.
Just across the street from Storrier Stearns is Arlington Garden, a 3 acre botanical garden with a surprisingly similar history.
Today the garden is home to a varied landscape of native California plants with hidden nooks that are just perfect for whiling away the day in peace tranquility but, 100 years ago the site was occupied by the grand Durand House. Designed to mimic a French chateau the grand home was over 17,000 square feet and featured 50 rooms. It remained in the Durand family until 1960 when the estate went to auction (sound familiar?). Unlike the Storrier Stearns estate it did not find a like minded buyer and was razed the following year.
The land was intended to be a subdivision but soon Caltrans came calling (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record) and the site lay barren for decades. And I mean barren. Basically, it was a 3 acre patch of dirt for years and years. By the early 2000’s the community decided enough was enough and it was decided the spot would become a garden.
Founded by Betty and Charles McKenney, Arlington Garden broke ground in 2005 and in the 17 years since it has become one of the most beautiful spots in the city. Today it’s the only dedicated public garden in Pasadena and is a welcoming spots for both residents and visitors to the area.
Both Arlington Garden and Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden are prime examples of what beauty can come from bareness and disrepair. Thanks to tenacious individuals, places that were destined for blight have now become oases of peace and tranquility that all are welcome to enjoy. Frankly, I find them to be much better than a freeway, don’t you?