The University of Houston Digital Library is not only home to items that are historically significant to Houston, it also contains items that are significant to the rest of Texas as well. Scanning through the Harry Walker Photographs you'll come across photos taken from all across the state. One of the sites you will come across is of a large gazebo that sits within a beautiful garden. This is actually the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Antonio, Texas. Once an abandoned limestone quarry, this site is now home to a beautifully landscaped garden with a variety of plant life native to Texas. It is a beautiful place to take photographs.
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In 1880 the Alamo Cement Company was incorporated and produced cement for 26 years in the kiln, which is the tall chimney structure that can be seen on the left. The site became home to Mexican-American workers and their families living on-site and became a popular spot for tourists who wished to buy pottery, hand woven baskets, and food.
Around 1917, San Antonio City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert envisioned an oriental-style garden to occupy and beautify the quarry. A design was developed by Lambert's engineer, W.S. Delery, although plans did not commence until they received a considerable amount of funding by 1918. In order to establish a sense of authenticity, Mr. Lambert commissioned local Japanese-American artist Kimi Eizo Jingo to manage and maintain the site. Jingo moved in along with his family and developed a snack bar called the Bamboo Room that served light lunches and tea.
If you get the chance to visit the site, you may notice that the front entrance gate says "Chinese Tea Gardens" despite the fact that it is known today as the Japanese Tea Gardens. This was due to World War II and the anti-Japanese sentiment that was around during that time period. The Jingu family had to move out of the gardens, and Chinese-Americans Ted and Ester Wu were brought in to maintain the Bamboo Room. During this period, Mexican-American artist Dionicio Rodriguez, who was famous for his faux wood sculptures, constructed the "Chinese Torii Gate."
|Dionicio Rodriguez's Chinese Torii Gate at the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Antonio|
After a while the Wu family moved out, and the garden became known as the Oriental Gardens or simply as the Sunken Gardens. In 1984, the city of San Antonio decided to rename the site back to the Japanese Tea Gardens to honor Mr. Jingo and his family for their early contributions. Despite the name change, the Chinese Torii gate still remains on the premises as a relic of a time gone by.
Today the Sunken Gardens is designated as a Texas Civil Engineering Landmark, a Registered Texas Historic Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.