Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shibata Garden and Mt. Eden Nursery Company

Last Sunday was a beautiful day in the Bay Area so we decided to take another HALS day trip. I pulled out my list of historic sites for Alameda County and decided to visit the Shibata Garden - a privately owned Japanese style garden in Hayward. Since I’m working on the Sakai and Oishi Nurseries, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Shibata Garden compared.

We used our TomTom navigation system to find the site and when we arrived were puzzled to find a relatively new business park – no trace of a historic nursery or garden, but we weren’t going to give up yet. We drove into the business park and found a sign for the Shibata Garden. Driving to the back corner of the parking lot, wedged between the business park and freeway off ramp, we found the garden. I parked the car in the shade, for the benefit of our two yellow labs, and headed for an elaborately detailed, traditional Japanese wooden gate into the garden.

Once inside the gate the architecture of the big box business park buildings was screened by evergreen and coniferous trees – mostly Redwoods/Sequoia sempervirens, Casurina, Magnolia and a variety of pines. The path here is pea gravel, there are several large, sculptural boulders (4-6’ in dimension), and the first of several stone pagodas found in the garden, each about 4 feet in height.

Offset by a jog is a curved wooden bridge that rises up as it traverses a curvilinear shaped pond that is lined with stones of varying sizes. The bridge railing is wood with simple detailing and a 2x6 cap, painted red. At the far end of the, bridge there is a concrete and stone patio that widens out to about 10’ x 12’. One section of the pond edge is defined by wood logs set on end – these jut in and out to form a strong serpentine line.

From the bridge walking left, on a three foot wide concrete and stone path, leads to an elaborately detailed entrance to the residence. There is lawn at either side of the path, a sculpted pine, and a low, busy palm to the right of the door. There is a large Sycamore tree at the corner of the house and beyond that a small brick and glass greenhouse with a U-shaped workbench inside.

At the rear of the house there is a small nicely detailed structure (about 10’ x 15’) made of concrete block, glass block and wood. One can see Japanese joints in the roof structure. The building is used to store tools and garden supplies. A line of Casurina trees provides screening inside the fence and an impressive line of timber bamboo is behind the house.

Walking around the back of the residence there is a dense planting of a smaller, much more closely spaced bamboo at the side of the house that creates a dense, visual screen. At the front of the residence there is a brick patio with a stone fireplace and wood shade structure approximately 16’ x 32’. A brick path, 3 feet wide, leads to a door to the house and two wide steps lead back to the pond. The brick patio, fireplace and shade structure appear to have been constructed in the 1950s.

Between the brick patio and the pond there is a stone path consisting of flat stones – 8” – 12” in diameter, three across forming a path 30” wide. The path curves to the right and terminates with a boulder at the residence. To the left, the path transitions to flat, flagstones set in dirt and the edge of the path is defined by pieces of 3”x6” wood members set on end 5” high. The wood pieces are offset from each other to form a zigzag pattern. As you walk around this path, that encircles the pond, the wood members on the left side change to a rock wall 12” to 20” high.

At the far end of the pond, furthest from the house a grouping of large boulders are set on end and are set back from the edge of the pond. This appears to have been the source of water for the pond. Originally there was very likely a small waterfall here. A line of rounded boulders, along the path route, are placed so one can step over the water that would have flowed from the falls to the pond. This spot is the focal point of the primary view from the residence and is accented by the waterfall, a mature Japanese Maple to the left and a Cherry Tree in the background. The pond with its reflecting surface and floating water lilies are in the foreground.

Zenjuro (or Jinjiro) Shibata started Mt. Eden Nursery Company in Hayward. Originally, they grew vegetables and had fields of flowers. The first greenhouse was constructed in 1918 and was used to grow carnations, but in the mid 1930s they switched to roses as their primary crop. According to the California Florida Plant Company website, “During the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war, friends and neighbors ran the business. The Zapatini Family took care of the Mt. Eden Nursery, and returned it to the Shibatas as prosperous as ever, a shining example of generosity during a dark time. After the war's end, Mt. Eden came under the leadership of the oldest son, Yoshimi, supported by his three younger brothers. In 1957, Mr. Shibata founded the California Florida Plant Company and under his leadership the company grew to become the premier supplier of carnations in the world. Yoshima Shibata was a floral industry leader for nearly 70 years. He is the former president of the Wholesale Florist and Florist Supply Association and served on the boards of directors of the Sumitomo Bank of California and the California State Chamber of Commerce, as well as Roses, Inc., the national trade association of rose growers.”

During World War II the Shibata family was interned at Tule Lake. After the war they went to Chicago, Illinois and then returned to their home at Mt. Eden. At one point the nursery included 34 greenhouses, a boiler house, and a packing house in addition to the residence. The Online Archive of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, has a black and white photograph of Jinjiro and Yoshima Shibata inside one of their greenhouses, taken in June of 1945.

The garden is owned and maintained by the Business park and is available to their tenants; otherwise it is a private garden and not open to the public. It is a good example of a traditional Japanese garden.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

China Camp HALS

The Pier at China Camp
In January of 2010 I wrote about China Camp State Historic Park in San Rafael. It is one of the 70 California Parks that was threatened with closure but thanks to the Friends of China Camp and others this unique cultural landscape will remain open ….. for now anyway.

A few months ago the Northern California chapter of HALS selected China Camp as our 2012 project. Ellen Joslin Johnck volunteered to lead an effort to prepare a set of standard HALS documents – that involves completing three elements: a written historic narrative, measured drawings and HALS quality photographs. Saturday morning a group of HALS members met at the cove where years ago Chinese immigrants ran a successful shrimp harvesting business until they were driven out by discriminatory laws aimed at destroying the thriving business.

David Kaplow, Jennifer, Cathy, Ellen (back to us) Janet Gracyk,
Frank Quan and Steve Deering.
 We could not have hoped for a more perfect day on the bay. It was warm but not hot and not windy. The air clear and the colors of the water, the hills in the distance, and the trees, growing on the steep slope that protects the cove, were rich and vibrant. Near the end of the day I was looking up that slope and was awestruck by a massive 10 trunk California Bay Tree with a broadly arching canopy.

Shade structure decorated with abalone shells

Our group gathered at 10:00 and had the opportunity to talk with Frank Quan, a descendant of one of the original residents, and Steve Deering with Friends of China Camp. They answered a few questions and led a short tour of the site before we convened to finalize our plan for the day. Jennifer deGraff with PGAdesign Landscape Architects had prepared base sheets that showed the basic outline of each extant building, the edge of the beach, the fishing pier and the topography of the slope. She had divided the site into four sheets – 3 for the buildings and the pier on the fourth. We divided into teams of two supplied with measuring tapes, pencils and scales and headed in opposite directions to take measurements.
Shrimp drying brick building

As we were planning for the day I thought there wasn’t much there and it might take a couple of hours to get the job done, but by noon we were ready for a lunch break - we had made a good start but were far from being finished collecting and recording the existing conditions. My group started by locating one side of the foundation of one of the “lost” buildings. Cathy Garrett and Jennifer figured out the purpose for and route of two sets of train tracks that were used to move shrimp off the boats and into a long, narrow brick building where the shrimp were dried, and the third group were most intrigued by an overgrown set of stone steps that ascend the slope.

Boats and equipment on the beach

During lunch we were very fortunate to get to see the Grace Quan, an authentic replica of a Chinese junk, sail into the cove from the east. This reconstructed ship was built at China Cove under the direction of John Muir a curator and boat-builder at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The junk is completely black – the hull and broad mast and stood out prominently in San Pablo Bay.

Cathy adding notes to the field plan with
HALS members Jennifer, Braan Collett and Janet.

By 3:00 we finished measuring and drawing the details of what remains of China Camp – a collection of artifacts and a living history museum. Throughout the day we were joined by many park visitors who came to explore this uncommon cultural resource, to picnic and relax on the beach. It was a perfect day at China Camp – a day that demonstrated why our state parks are treasured and why we must find a permanent solution that will keep these places open now and for future generations.