What once was a bathroom is now a facility for learning.
A sake-barrel breaking ceremony this weekend announced the reopening of Fairmount’s Japanese house and garden, Shofuso House, and the inauguration of its new building, the Sakura Pavilion.
In 2010, the city set out to renovate two brick buildings left over from the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park. The buildings were used as bathrooms during the exposition and are two of the four buildings remaining from the event. City representatives asked the executive director of Shofuso, Kimberly Andrews, if the house could use the buildings for its operations. Andrews, a noted preservationist, jumped at the opportunity.
“Since Shofuso is such an unusual site, we have a lot of people who are very interested in preserving the site,” Andrews said. “Our story is much larger than just the moment in time when Shofuso was installed; these 1876 buildings generate a lot of interest amongst our constituency, among our members, the media, and the public who live around us.”
Friends of the Japanese House and Garden, the nonprofit that runs the Shofuso House, was awarded a Historic Preservation Grant of $184,300 by The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage that was used to renovate the inside of the Sakura building. The eyesore of aged bricks, boarded up windows and sinking roof stood out amongst the beauty of Fairmount Park’s trees and plants. A revival of the original house was achieved through masonry, roof and window conservation by Milner and Carr Conservation and the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust.
Site and program manager Derek Finn said the Sakura Pavilion is an important addition that will enable Shofuso to offer programming that will better educate the public about Japanese culture.
“We are really popular with school groups,” he said. “We love to have the kids here because they are just so excited to see something they have never seen before.”
The Sakura Pavilion will hold classes, exhibitions and lectures, as well as serving as a base of operations for the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden. A year-long presence will ensure the continued care and preservation that the Shofuso House needs, like the $1.2 million project in 1999 to replace its very specialized hinoki-cypress roof.
The Shofuso House was built in Nagoya, Japan, in 1953 as an installation piece for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and was reassembled in 1958 in its current location in Philadelphia. The traditional upper-class Japanese house overlooks a tranquil garden with Japanese trees and bushes and a pond with a bridged island. The pond’s waterfall slides down stone steps into the water, creating a peaceful melody for the radiant koi fish inhabitants.
The Shofuso House has about 15,000 visitors a year. According to the Journal of Japanese Gardening, Shofuso is the third-ranked Japanese garden in America — an impressive feat, considering its $250,000 budget. The gardens ranked Nos. 1 and 2 enjoy budgets in the millions.
Continued perseverance by its caretakers will be needed to keep this bright Japanese gem sparkling in Fairmount Park. For now, though, after putting a lot of time and effort into the renovation, Andrews said she is finally ready for a break.
“I’ve been working at this since November 2010,” she said. “On Saturday, it’s all going to come true. I’m taking off Monday and Tuesday.”