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De Sabla, Eugene J., Jr., Teahouse and Tea Garden

San Mateo, California


[photo]
De Sabla, Eugene J., Jr., Teahouse and Tea Garden - photo- Eugene Zelenko,
Courtesy of
creative commons license

The Eugene de Sabla, Jr. Teahouse and Tea Garden in San Mateo, California, built circa 1907, is historically significant as an early expression of the influence of Japanese culture on the development of Californian design at the beginning of the 20th century.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 30, 1992, the garden is the work of Asian landscape designer and Japanese-born  Baron Makota Hagiwara (1854-1925) during the time of his association (1894-1925) as chief gardener and concessionaire of the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  The de Sabla Teahouse and Tea Garden is the only other known extant example of his work and the only private Japanese tea garden that survives from the many that existed on the grand estates of San Francisco/Hillsborough. The Tea Garden and Teahouse were part of the El Cerrito estate owned by Eugene de Sabla, who was a major industrialist in the west and co-founded the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.  While the exact dates surrounding the construction of the de Sabla Tea Garden and Teahouse are not known (research indicates the Garden was created in 1907-7 and the Tea house was built from 1907-9), a published photograph in San Francisco Call shows a Teahouse and Garden definitely in existence by September 10, 1907.

The de Sabla Teahouse and Tea Garden is located on the north side de Sabla Road which was the original entrance to the estate. The one story frame teahouse is constructed in Japanese farmhouse style with wooden shingle double roof, tokonoma and veranda. Rokyu style teahouses are intended to be in the style of a simple farm building. The reflection pool setting of the teahouse closely resembles the setting of the Katsura Detached Palace in Kyoto, Japan.  Across the front of the teahouse facing the garden are two large shoji style doors with delicate wooden shoji style transom panels which extend across the front of the building and part way into the building at either corner. The shoji doors leading to the garden would never be open during the tea ceremony, as stated in early tea books. In the northwest corner of the building is the tokonoma, or alcove for display of the scroll, incense and flower arrangement.  The building is attached on either side by one-story and two-story additions carefully added in 1947.

[photo]
De Sabla, Eugene J., Jr., Teahouse and Tea Garden - photo- Eugene Zelenko,
Courtesy of
creative commons license


The teahouse is centered in the roji (garden) with a winding path leading to the teahouse. The garden is a “shin”, or elaborate style of hill garden.  A “shin” style hill contains several essential elements, all of which are represented in the de Sabla Garden.  These elements are the sacred island, the guardian stone, the stone of worship, the principle tree, the tree of the setting sun, the view perfecting tree, the tree of solitude, the tree of distancing pine, the cascade screening tree, the keystones at important viewing stations, and the stone lanterns and bridges.  It is also important that a tea garden a “dewy path” leading to the tea garden and a tsukabai (stone wash basin for purification before the tea ceremony).  Japanese gardens have traditionally displayed different aspects of Japanese cultural history, with Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto influences,  at first duplicating Chinese garden styles but later becoming more of a Japanese aesthetic—the tea gardens seemed to have become popular in Japan by the 16-17th centuries. The de Sabla Garden is named Higurashi-En, the Garden Worthy of a Day of Contemplation.

Between 1870 and 1920, the wealthy elite of San Francisco transformed the grassland and farms of the San Francisco peninsula into a series of large, majestic estates with meticulously landscaped gardens. After World War II much of this landscape was subdivided for the new suburbs under construction, but the de Sabla Teahouse and Garden survived.  At the same time as the wealthy European Americans were transforming the peninsula, the first Japanese immigrants began to trickle into San Francisco—there were fewer than 200 Japanese living in the San Francisco Bay region prior to 1880; by 1889 there were almost 2000.  In 1898, Hawaii was annexed as a United States territory, making it legal for 60,000 Japanese to enter the United States without passports.  One was Makota Hagiwara, the son of an Osaka landholder and industrialist. Hagiwara was to make a profound contribution to America as a master designer of Japanese gardens in the San Francisco Bay region; his most famous work would be the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.  The gardens he designed for George Marsh in Mill Valley, Charles F. Crocker in San Mateo, M.H. Huffin San Leandro, and a garden on Lincoln Avenue between 8th and 9th Avenues in San Francisco were all eventually demolished, leaving the de Sabla Tea Garden the only private garden remaining that he designed. The site of the Teahouse and Garden was originally part of the estate of William Davis Merry Howard, an early San Mateo pioneer merchant prince who purchased this part of the San Mateo rancho in 1853.

Japanese influence on architecture and landscape design in the United States began in the late 19th century and was most pronounced in the architecture of the arts and craft movement and landscape architecture in California at the beginning of the 20th century. The first real architectural display of Japanese style architecture in the United States was at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exposition in the form of a Japanese bazaar and garden—in the decade following Japanese style architecture and design elements began to find their way into architectural magazines and design books.  The first major display of Japanese architecture and landscape design on the west coast came in the form of the Japanese Village at the California Midwinter Fair in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which opened in 1894.  The Japanese village, small portions of which still exist today in the form of the Japanese Tea Garden of Golden Gate Park, was designed by George Turner Marsh with the advicee of Makota Hagiwara and at least one other Japanese gardener, T. Akoi.  Immediately following the fair, John McLaren and the San Francisco park commissioners hired Makota Hagiwara to run the Japanese village concession.  Hagiwara, who had learned the trade of gardening from his father and family gardener, became dedicated to the Japanese Tea Garden from 1894 to 1942, even to the point of bringing over plants from his ancestral home in Osaka—this garden became the oldest and most famous Japanese Tea Garden in the United States.
Eugene de Sabla, Jr., (1886-1956) was a major industrialist who manufactured hydro-electric power in the west, and, with John Martin, was a co-founder of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. In 1906 he purchased a part of the Howard estate and commissioned Willis Polk to design and build a Tudor style home on the grounds, a mile from San Mateo.  This was named El Cerrito. It is unknown how Makota Hagiwara or any other Japanese gardeners or laborers who participated in the design and construction of the Teahouse and Tea Garden were first introduced to Eugene de Sabla.


[photo]
De Sabla, Eugene J., Jr., Teahouse and Tea Garden - photo- Eugene Zelenko,
Courtesy of
creative commons license

Anti-Asian immigration sentiment became a strong political force in the early 20th century, and in October 1905 the Japan Society of America was founded in an effort to stem the tide of negative feelings towards the Japanese. Henry Bowie, one of America’s leading experts on Japan, was one of the founders, and Mr. and Mrs. De Sabla were two of the organizations first members. The society hosted social events, lectures, published a bulletin, and awarded fellowships to Japanese students attending American universities. After the garden was completed, it became the site of many important social events in the community. Fifty seven members of the Japanese Commercial Commission, led by Baron Eiichi Shibusawa, visited San Francisco on November 27, 1909, and had tea at the Eugene de Sabla, Jr. Teahouse and Tea Garden while also admiring a gate dedicated to the valor of the Japanese Army erected by Henry Bowie to commemorate the bravery of the Japanese soldiers of the Russo-Japanese war (1904-5). 
In June 1919, El Cerrito and the Japanese Teahouse and Tea Garden were sold to Anne St. Cyr.  The garden continued, through different owners and over the years, to host major social events. When the mansion of El Cerrito and the gardens were sold to a local builder and developer, David B. Bohannon, the site of the Japanese Garden was not developed.

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