Search This Blog

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mystery Hstory -- Solved!

Bellis wins with her 4:12 p.m. Wednesday guess "The man in the apron looks Japanese, so I'll make a wild guess -- perhaps he's building the Storrier Stearns Japanese garden?"

In the circa 1937 photo above, Kinzuchi Fujii supervises the installation of sculpture at the Storrier Stearns mansion on Arlington Drive between Pasadena Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard.

In 1935 Charles Storrier Stearns (1868-1944) and his wife Ellamae moved into the Georgian mansion built in the early 1900s. The property included extensive traditional gardens as well as grand tennis courts.

Here they are behind the house:

They were wealthy patrons of the arts, were active in the civic life of Pasadena and had the means to travel domestically and abroad. Swept by the wave of interest in Japonisme that was still taking Europe and the U.S. by storm, they went to Japan to purchase art, ceramics and textiles and fell in love with the gardens there. 

The rest of the story is a mix of triumph and tragedy, transitions and new beginnings.

Kinzuchi Fujii was born in 1875 in the Yamaguchi prefecter and came to San Francisco in 1903. A carpenter and craftsman by trade, he soon became interested in designing Japanese gardens for Americans of means and earned contracts as well as a sterling reputation in Hollywood, Ojai and Santa Barbara.

The Storrier Stearnses hired Fujii in 1935 to design and create a Japanese garden in place of the tennis courts, and construction began in 1937. 

He conceived of a vast garden with specific elements that would silently reveal themselves as people meandered along paths, over bridges, past ponds and waterfalls.

There was also a teahouse built in Japan to Fujii's specifications and shipped to L.A. for transport to Pasadena:  

 The Storrier Stearnses spared no expense as Fujii's vision came to life with black leaded tiles, stone ornaments, granite boulders, and plants and trees typical of Japanese woodland gardens. 

Fujii supervised the entire operation with the help of foremen and laborers, and he and Charles had great mutual respect for each other. 

The Japanese garden was nearly completed in 1941 when a series of terrible events took place: Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. entered World War II and more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent were forced to relocate to internment camps -- including Kinzuchi Fujii*.

The final phase of the work had to be completed without Fujii's supervision, but the result was a marvel nonetheless and the Storrier Stearns were very happy with the Japanese garden on their property.,

After Ellamae passed away in 1949, the property was subdivided to be sold at auction.  Gamelia Haddad Poulsen (below), owner of Poulsen Galleries, attended the auction with the intention of buying some antique furniture from the mansion, but by the time she walked away she owned the entire Storrier Stearns estate.

Over the years she sold off most of the estate and the mansion was dismantled (one room is now part of the Pacific Asia Museum).

Circumstances dramatically changed again in 1975 when the State of California took the portion of the estate on the east side of the Japanese garden by eminent domain, along with many other properties on some other west Pasadena streets, to make way for the proposed 710 freeway.

Assuming the garden would be the next to be seized, Gamelia allowed it to deteriorate and sold off some of the artifacts. The teahouse was burned in 1981 and arson was suspected although an investigation was inconclusive.

When Gamelia passed away in 1985, her son and daughter-in-law, Jim and Connie Haddad, inherited it and they own it to this day.

Jim and Connie Haddad should achieve hero status in our community because they have restored the Japanese garden over time to its original condition.


The Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden is is at 270 Arlington Dr., across the street from Arlington Garden. It is open to the public the last Sunday of every month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $7.50 and children 12 and under are free. Make your reservation online here.

* What ever happened to Kinzuchi Fujii? In the one suitcase the government allowed him to take to the internment camp, he carried his original plans for the garden and several photos of the work in progress. After Japanese Americans were released from the camps, his whereabouts become unknown. He never saw his masterpiece again.

UPDATE FROM BELLIS: "I did hear on a tour of the gardens that someone connected with the Haddads ran into Kinzuchi Fujii's son quite by chance in a San Diego restaurant. He said his father moved to San Diego after internment and was so upset by the way he had been treated that he couldn't bear to to visit the garden again."

Many thanks to the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden and the Pasadena Museum of History.


  1. Thank you for all this interesting information about the garden, you've got such a gift as a historian. I did hear on a tour of the gardens that someone connected with the Haddads ran into Kinzuchi Fujii's son quite by chance in a San Diego restaurant. He said his father moved to San Diego after internment and was so upset by the way he had been treated that he couldn't bear to to visit the garden again.

    1. Thank you for that, Bellis. It was a dark moment in U.S. history and this shows the impact in very human terms.

  2. Good one, Ann! Though I grew up in the San Rafael area of Pasadena, I never heard of this place. This reminds me a little of beautiful Descanso Gardens and how many of the camellias were acquired from a local Japanese nurseryman before his internment. The photo looked to me like the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado, near where Carmelita used to be. I now plan to visit on my next trip down to Pasadena. Thanks for continuing with Mystery History -- love it!