The G.T. Marsh Tea Garden: A Glimpse of Flowery Japan

In the summer of 1903, workmen were busily engaged in transforming what had been “only a barren stubble field fronting two hundred fifty feet on Fair Oaks and three hundred upon California “ into a Japanese tea garden, and the Pasadena Daily News reported that “Pasadena will have transplanted into her very center a tiny sprig of Japan.”

G.T. Marsh, whose San Francisco based company was said to be “the largest importer of foreign art goods in the world,” had long contemplated a branch in Pasadena to sell Japanese art, and he created a tea garden described as a “miniature fairyland” as a vehicle for that enterprise.

The garden featured a house originally built in Japan, a pond, cherry trees and lotus flowers, and hedges of chrysanthemums – “and all those attractions which fascinate travelers in Japan.”

Photos of the Japanese Tea Garden on the northwest corner of Fair Oaks and California
A view of the pond, bridge and tea house created for the Marsh Japanese Tea Garden on the northwest corner of Fair Oaks and California, which the Pasadena Daily News called “A Glimpse of Flowery Japan.”

When the garden was formally opened on February 1, 1904, the Daily News was enthusiastic: “Entering the gate of the garden one is bewildered to find himself transported to a garden in the far Eastern realm of the Mikado. There is not a suggestion remaining anywhere of an American idea. Everything from the ground treatment to the picturesque thatched roofs of the buildings is in Japanese style, and as such is assuredly the most unique affair in Pasadena today.”

Also excited about the future of the garden, G.T. Marsh expressed his hopes on opening day: “We intend to make this place one that will be an attraction to tourists from everywhere to come to Pasadena , and to make it one of the chief entertaining features of the city.”

A postcard view of a wisteria arbor at the Japanese tea garden.
A postcard view of a wisteria arbor at the Japanese tea garden.

But by 1911 the business had faltered, and Henry Huntington acquired the house and the trees and shrubs of the garden, moving them to San Marino. Today, the house is in the Japanese Garden in the Huntington Library, still attracting tourists from everywhere.

- Kirk Myers

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of West Pasadena Residents' Association's The News.