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The Legacy of Hakone

       The gardens were originally the private estate of Isabel and Oliver Stine, San Francisco philanthropists. Mrs. Stine fell in love with the Eastern concepts and unique beauty of Japanese gardens when they participated in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The Japanese pavilion was one of the largest and grandest at that world’s fair. Isabel Stine was so enthralled and inspired by the Japanese exhibits at the Exposition, she decided to have her own summer retreat designed as a Japanese garden. She traveled to Japan and chose Hakone, a town located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, for the name of her garden. Very likely, the gardens at the nearby Fujia Hotel were the model for her Hakone garden design.

       In May of 1915 the Stines purchased 15 acres of land in the hills of Saratoga for their second home. This estate property would later be increased to seventeen acres. When the Pan Pacific Exposition ended, Isabel Stine arranged to have plantings, trees and ornamental fixtures from the Japanese Pavilion brought to her property in Saratoga. In January of 1917 Isabel Stine sailed to Japan with her son John to visit Japanese historic garden estates, and upon her return she began the building of her own Hakone. Mrs. Stine commissioned Naoharu Aihara who was from a long line of Japanese imperial gardeners to design and create a garden in the hill-and-pond style befitting the Saratoga mountain landscape.  Using Japanese materials and techniques, and employing many artisans from Japan, renown architect Tsunematsu Shintani designed and constructed the Moon Viewing Upper House, the Lower House and created the koi pond.

       Isabel's husband, Oliver Stine, a prominent real estate developer in San Francisco, died of a sudden illness in 1918. Isabel continued establishing their dream Japanese retreat, and she and her three children, John, Helen and Oliver enjoyed Hakone as a vacation home. Isabel hosted elaborate Japanese cultural events at Hakone, inviting her large social circle of friends. She was the co-founder of the San Francisco Opera, and in 1923 held the first West Coast performance of Madame Butterfly at Hakone. In 1924, Isabel married Francis W. Leis, at a ceremony at Hakone.

       Major Charles Lee Tilden purchased Hakone from Isabel Stine Leis in 1932.  An attorney and financier, Tilden was married to a widow, Lily Francis von Schmidt Mitchell, who had two daughters, Alexine and Marian. He and Lily also had a son, Charles Tilden Jr. As the first president of the East Bay Regional Park District, Major Tilden saved thousands of acres of land for public use, and Tilden Park is named in his honor. For Major Tilden, Hakone was the tranquil escape from his busy public life and a vacation home for his family. While he provided improvements and modern conveniences to the buildings for the sake of his children and grand-children, he added features that gave Hakone the formal look of a Japanese garden estate. Tilden commissioned Japanese craftsmen to build  the impressive main gate, "the mon". He also added the upper pavilion, the wisteria arbor and exquisite pathways.      

       Employed by Major Tilden when he first acquired the Hakone, James Sasaki lived with his wife and four children in a house on the grounds. Mr. Sasaki worked at Hakone as the gardener and caretaker through three decades, excepting for the WWII years when he and his family were interned at Topaz, Utah.

       When Charles Lee Tilden died in 1950, he left Hakone to his step-daughter, Alexine Mitchell Gregory. James Sasaki continued on as the gardener, keeping the estate beautifully tended year around.  Mrs. Gregory  enjoyed Hakone as a summer home with her family, and her grandchildren were friends with the Sasaki children.  When Alexine Gregory died, her son, Michael Gregory, inherited Hakone.  In 1961 He sold it to a partnership of six couples.

       The partnership that owned Hakone 1961-66 was comprised of four Chinese American couples, George and Marie Hall, John and Helen Kan, Dan and June Lee, John and Mary Young, and Saratoga residents, Joe and Clara Gresham and Eldon and Deon Gresham. The partners made restorations to the buildings and improvements to the grounds, adding a new access road, but kept the gardens traditionally Japanese as originally designed. In 1966 the partners decided it was no longer practical to own Hakone as a private retreat. After all the effort and expense to keep Hakone pristine and authentic, they did not want it sold to developers for subdivision, so they offered it for sale solely to the City of Saratoga. After half a century, Hakone ceased to be a private estate.

Hakone as Saratoga’s own Community Park

 In 1966, the City of Saratoga purchased Hakone Gardens to be a city park.  It was maintained by the City Parks Department and open free to the public.  Tanso Ishihara, educated in Japanese horticulture in Japan, was the City’s first resident head gardener maintaining Hakone. In 1980, Jack Tomlinson became the head gardener, remaining dedicated to Hakone for the next thirty years. 

 In 1984, a goodwill relationship between the cities of Saratoga and Muko, Japan was established by a citizen’s group, led by Marian Card, Cathy Yoshimoto, and Reiko James.   The goals of the Sister City were to further friendship and understanding between the two nations, inspiring appreciation for Japanese culture, and promoting Hakone of Saratoga. 

       During this time,  Saratoga City Council member Marty Clevenger and her husband, Dr. Joe Clevenger, suggested a foundation which would support the high costs of running Hakone.  The first Hakone Foundation was organized by leading citizens, including Bill Glennon, Henry Yamate, and Floyd Kvamme. 

       In the 1990’s, the first Hakone Foundation raised money from private contributions to build a cultural center building as an addition to the park.  It was jointly designed by Kiyoshi Yasui in Japan, and Saratoga’s Sister City architects; and then built in Japan and shipped in pieces to Saratoga.  It was assembled at Hakone by Japanese carpenters in the mortis and tenon method without nails.  The Cultural Exchange Center (CEC) building is a replica of a Kyoto Tea Merchant’s House, where exhibits and cultural programs can be held.  This serves also as a facility available for private parties and meetings that bring revenue for the park.  

       The Bamboo Society  was formed by Kiyoshi Yasui, Tanso Ishihara, Jack Tomlinson,  Bruce Parkinson, Stewart Lenox, Syd Dunton, and Jim Marshall to promote a bamboo garden section within Hakone. The Sister City members helped fund the bamboo garden as well as the Sister City Friendship Garden.

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Hakone Everlasting in the New Millennium

 In 2000, the City of Saratoga decided it was time to create a new foundation to assume the full responsibility of running Hakone: the fund raising,  maintaining and enhancing of the historic buildings and gardens.  The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, headed by Cole Wilber provided initial funding of $150,000, and supported an independent board of trustees and chief executive officer. Lon Saavedra became the first CEO of Hakone Foundation. Stewart Lenox and Helen Metcalf were organizers of the first board. The trustees of this new foundation were:  Marge Bunyard, Donna Harris, Norm Koepernik, Don Korn, Steward Lenox, Helen Metcalf, Bruce Parkinson, Dan Pulcrano, Elaine Salter, John Tauchi, and Chuck Thompson.  A lease was signed with the City and the new by-laws were written.  In 2005, details of the lease were renegotiated and re-signed for 55 years.

       In 2004 Hakone Estate and Gardens was chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the twelve national sites to receive funding under their “Save America’s Treasures” program.  Hakone was the dramatic location for the movie, “Memoirs of a Geisha”, winner of three Academy Awards.
      In 2013 Hakone had the distinguished designation of being on the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places.

       Sister City Organization continues to work with Hakone Foundation to organize events, a student exchange program, and host joint Japan trips, with John Tauchi overseeing trip planning.  In 2011 the Northern Culture Museum in Niigata, Japan reached out to the Hakone Foundation to establish a one-of-a-kind international Sister Garden relationship.

       Hakone, a traditional Japanese garden, was created to last forever.  This ideal requires constant and expert care, expensive maintenance, and the support and dedication of a great many.  The Foundation in its first ten years raised funds and resources to restore and upgrade Hakone’s historic buildings and other major improvements.  

       In the Upper House, the roof was replaced the floor restored and the foundation repaired.  The Lower House had a total restoration.  The main entrance gate was lifted five  feet with new granite steps, a pair of stone lanterns, and new landscaping and fencing.  The Moon Bridge was repaired and a new foundation constructed.  The foundation, roof and walls of the Pond Wisteria Pavilion were repaired, and an ADA entrance gate created. A new ADA pathway from the “Mon” gate to CEC mound was built. There is a new water well for the koi pond.  These restoration projects were made possible in large part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Santa Clara County Historic Preservation Commission, and the City of Saratoga. 

       Ogata Kai, a landscape architect group in Japan has come to Hakone every other year for ten days, making these dramatic improvements:  The Tea Garden was refurbished and a new gate added. There are beautiful new stone steps from the “Mon” gate to the pond.  The Wisteria Arbor was rebuilt with a raised ceiling.  The Dry Garden or “Kare San Sui” by the Lower House was renewed, expanded, and enhanced with a new wall.  We are most appreciative of the donation of time, talent and expertise of the dozen or more landscape architects of  Ogata Kai who continue this program in support of Hakone. 

       Caring for Hakone’s treasured grounds is head gardener, Jacob Kellner, with an assistant staff. This year, the Hakone Foundation is overseeing the completion of a new entrance sign with lighting and landscaping, and the lining of the entrance road with 45 Japanese flowering cherry trees, donated by Paul Sakamoto. Alliances with outside agencies and volunteer groups in California and in Japan have been established to help enhance the landscaped Japanese garden areas and to support all the remodeling.

       The Cultural Exchange Center, previously available only for special events meetings and private parties, became an art gallery beginning in 2014, with changing cultural exhibits, open to the public during all garden hours. 

       As increasing numbers of visitors come to enjoy Hakone, and group rentals for the facilities have increased, noise concerns have arisen.  Another pressing issue is the budgeting problem caused by the lack of group rentals during inclement weather, particularly the winter months. The Foundation in conjunction with the City of Saratoga, is upgrading a master plan for Hakone’s future, which will coordinate efforts to design and build a new main entrance with a gift shop, a tea room and an indoor retreat center for large groups to mitigate noise and invite use year-around.

      In April of 2015 Shozo Kagoshima became the new executive director of Hakone Foundation.

       There is so much to celebrate at this point in Hakone’s history when the gardens have never been so beautiful and inviting.   The Hakone Foundation is launching a multi-year commemoration of a century’s worth of illustrious history, from Isabel Stine’s dream of a private Japanese estate, to a magnificent and renowned park enjoyed by all.   Come join in Hakone’s Centennial celebration events, enjoy the beauty of the gardens, experience its rich culture and past, and become part of its future by supporting a national treasure in our midst. 

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