By Jonathan Stumpf
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
In northern West Seattle, just north of South Seattle Community College on a 4.6-acre plot of land, a project is under development that upon completion will house a unique Chinese garden, the only one of its kind outside of China, and tomorrow is your next chance for one of its monthly guided tours, so we visited recently to see how it’s progressing.
The project is a collaborative work in progress between Seattle and its sister city in China, Chongqing and this site was chosen for its commanding views of the Cascades, Olympics and downtown.
The idea was first started in 1986 while then-Mayor Charles Royer was on a trade mission to Chongqing and 23 years later, the Seattle Chinese Garden — now a nonprofit organization—is slowly helping to bring this project into fruition.
What’s taking so long?
Jim Dawson, vice president on the board of directors for the organization, says that is the most common question asked by individuals and donors. He said the various political, social and economic changes in both China and the United States over the past two decades have slowed down the building plans, but also a project of this scale takes time, from the site selection to architecture plans.
The estimated cost of the finished project is $40 million, with various resources coming from individuals, government and corporate donors. The plan is to complete the garden in four phases and presently includes procuring all necessary funding in three years and completing the project in four years. Work is being done on phase one, the Knowing the Spring Courtyard:
This eventually will become the entry point to the finished garden. All building and decoration material unique to China was donated by the city of Chongqing, a gift valued at $1.2 million.
(Jim Dawson stands in front of the four crates of donated material from Chongqing.)
Once construction commences again on the courtyard, thirty Chinese artisans will be living on the grounds, working on the detailed craftsmanship necessary to complete the garden. The public is encouraged to come watch them during their residency and Dawson said it is one of the most amazing things to see them work.
A donation also was made by famed Chinese sculptor Ye Yushan. He came into national prominence after creating the sculpture of Chinese statesman Mao Zedong in a non-traditional relaxed pose that now sits near Tiananmen Square. The sculpture he created for the Seattle Chinese Garden is made from marble and is of the Chinese poet Li Bai, titled Drinking with the Moon.
It currently presides over the South Seattle Community College courtyard; when the garden is completed, it will be at the far north side of the landscape.
The finished garden will have three zones—the mountain, courtyard and water zone. In addition to the Knowing the Spring Courtyard, there’s a bamboo forest:
Also: A teahouse, lotus pond, a three-story viewing pavilion, a 20-foot waterfall, a small lake and over 100 types of various plants native to China.
It will be the only Sichuan-style garden outside of China; this type of garden is traditionally more rustic than other Chinese gardens and tend to borrow from the surrounding scenery.
Essentially, the finished project will be a refuge for Seattle residents to enjoy the world distilled into an ornamental landscape in Chinese tradition. “Overall, the concept of the Chinese garden is a representation of the whole cosmos,“ Dawson said.
Public tours of the Seattle Chinese Garden are offered the second Saturday of every month at 10 am. Reservations are not necessary. Individuals are welcome to make donations to help funding efforts online and annual memberships in the Seattle Chinese Garden Society are currently being offered. For more about the tours and the garden, visit www.seattlechinesegarden.org or call 206-282-8040.