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News It’s about time 

Parks receive a City windfall

Stella Camacho strolled through the old Japanese Tea Garden in Brackenridge Park on a warm winter afternoon last week. Camacho reminisced about bringing her son to the Tea Garden when he was old enough to walk, and remembers how beautiful it was when she went there on a first date many years ago as a Kennedy High School student.

Although the Tea Garden desperately needs renovation, she still thought it was worth a visit. The venue is officially closed until autumn.

The Japanese Tea Garden received nearly $1 million from the City and the Parks Foundation to help restore the dilapidated landmark. (Photo by Julie Barnett)

Does she mind paying taxes to fix up the place? “We’ve been here twice, and we’ll be back. It’s still a nice, worthwhile investment.”

The same afternoon, photographer John Touchet brought his client, model Brittany Wendl, to the upper deck of the Tea Garden because, he said, the site “is remote and nobody is around to mess with us.” He was taking shots of Wendl posed against a rock stanchion to update her modeling portfolio. “The good thing is, it’s all natural. There is nothing in the background. It’s a perfect shot for wedding photos.”

For many years, the Tea Garden has been in disrepair. `See “They’re no Eden,” July 1-7, 2004.` The ponds are dry, the koi fish and the turtles reside elsewhere, the old Jingu house and the rock pagoda need new roofs. But all that is about to change.

City Council recently earmarked nearly $1.9 million in taxpayer money from the general fund to help pay for “facility infrastructure improvements” at the Japanese Tea Garden, the Sunken Garden Theater, the San Antonio Botanical Garden Conservatory, and the Witte Museum’s Ruiz House and H-E-B Science Treehouse.

The parks’ pot of gold
Japanese Tea Garden
$600,000 from the City
$300,000 from the San Antonio Parks Foundation
$750,000 from a previous bond
Total: $1.65 million

Sunken Garden Theater
$300,000 from the City
$150,000 from the Parks Foundation and Friends of the Parks
Total: $450,000

Witte Museum
$464,000 from the City
$232,000 from a museum matching fund
$1 million donation from Betty Kelso
Total: $1.7 million

Botanical Center
$500,000 from City
$250,000 in matching funds
Total: $750,000

The Tea Garden is slated to receive $1.6 million from various funding sources to fix up the famous landmark, built in 1918 by a Japanese immigrant and his family. The work will be overseen by Lene Griego, an aquatic biologist with The Friends of the Parks, a partner of the Parks Foundation.

Bender Wells Clark Design was recently hired to develop a master plan for the Tea Garden’s rebirth, and work is scheduled to proceed over the next four months. Although the Tea Garden isn’t fenced and people still visit the site, Griego requests that visitors not stand under the pagoda and to watch where they step to avoid injury.

The adjacent Sunken Garden Theater will receive $450,000 to build a new roof for the theater stage’s dressing rooms, and a finish-out of theater seating.

The Witte Museum’s city funding was augmented by a $1 million donation from Betty Kelso in December 2005 that helped kick off its capital fund-raising campaign. The museum plans improvements on the Ruiz House and the H-E-B Treehouse.

Lastly, the Botanical Center plans to spend $750,000 to rehab the conservatory. The Botanical Center Society already is spending $300,000 to upgrade the site’s handicapped-access structure. The additional money will be used to bring the conservatory back to “its shining state,” says Candace Andrews, the center’s managing director. Andrews says the five glass structures in the conservatory need new glazing on the window panes; there are leaks and corrosion that need to be addressed.

“We’re going to take care of it,” says Andrews. “It’s a wonderful city facility, and it’s good to see the City Council is interested in the parks.”

By Michael Cary

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