With its 22 Victorian houses from the 1860s and 70s, the secluded pedestrian side street known as Cottage Row feels as if from another era. So, too, do area residents currently objecting to a proposed 25-foot Zen garden that would honor the history of nearby Japantown and its residents who were sent to internment camps during World War II.
Cottage Row mini-park, located on the Sutter entrance to the pedestrian street, was selected for the development of the Zen garden because it's beautiful... and there's nowhere else available. Post-war redevelopment in the Japantown area leveled homes and further displaced Japanese Americans, and it also uprooted trees and demolished all other green spaces. Still, Cottage Row residents object, "digging in their heels" according to KPIX who had the story. Some are even calling the garden an act of "favoritism."
The endeavor is formally called the Issei Commemorative Garden Project, in honor of Issei, or Japanese migrants to North America. It's designed by the prominent Japanese landscape gardener Shigeru Namba."The timeliness of this project is imperative," the Japanese Cultural and Community Center wrote in a press release this July. "Not only is it the 110th anniversary of Japantown this year, but more importantly, the Nisei, or second generation of Japanese Americans, are well into their late eighties and nineties with a substantial percentage of them having already passed away. Being able to dedicate the garden in the place they once lived and played would be of great significance."
Unlike most of Japantown, Cottage Row was spared during redevelopment, an emblem of pre-quake San Francisco. “There’s a lot of history there," Japanese Cultural and Community Center executive director Paul Osaki tells KPIX 5, explaining that it's a perfect site for the garden. However, he adds, “There are some that feel that it’s not part of Japantown and so put your garden over in your community.”
One Cottage Row neighbor who spoke anonymously and off-camera with KPIX 5 says the idea has caused "some tensions." She assures the news channel that, "the bottom line is we all want the park to look its best," registering concerns about the garden's design and its maintenance. "I think it's important to honor all of the people that have come to make the city great," she then says. And she means "all" of them, not just one, confiding that "there is this perception that it's perhaps it's catering to, or providing a portion of public land to, a specific [...] entity, and it may be considered [...] favoritism."
Osaki is wounded by these attitudes, tearfully telling KPIX that now, he senses how "... the earlier generations must have felt.”
Cottage Row was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1991, with the registry's website noting that "In the 1930s the walkway was popularly called 'Japan Street,' because the entire District was inhabited by Japanese-Americans until their internment during World War II. In the tiny rear yards of Cottage Row they grew vegetables, which they offered for public sale at an informal weekly open market held every Saturday along the Row." Yet one area man, KPIX5 reports, went so far as to create a history website for Cottage Row claiming it was never called "Japan Street."
Instead of the Zen garden, one neighbor proposes a monument to all cultures that have contributed to San Francisco.