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Hakone Gardens

Location Information

21000 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070

Hakone Gardens is one of the oldest Japanese estate and gardens in the Western Hemisphere. 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.

Free year around entrance for Hakone Foundation Members. Members also enjoy a 10% Gift Shop Discount and discounts on Hakone special events.

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Phone: (408) 741-4994
Website: Click to Visit
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