• Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.
      Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.

Friends group restores 137-year-old Japanese garden in West Fairmount Park

On a pleasant sunny morning in West Fairmount Park, the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden (FJHG) rededicated the 137-year-old Japanese garden and marked the completion of the historic landscape's renovation. 

FJHG supports the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, a traditional-style Japanese house and nationally-ranked garden. The site has had a presence at its West Fairmount Park location since a Japanese garden was first installed in 1876 for Philadelphia's World Centennial Exposition. The 17th-Century style Shofuso house and the garden designed by Japanese landscape architect Tansai Sano were brought to the site in 1957. 

This latest endeavor used Sano's 1957 plans to restore the original design principles of the garden. 

"We're recapturing a truly authentic Japanese garden experience," said Kim Andrews, executive director of FJHG. "We're inviting visitors to enjoy the garden as it was originally intended."

    • Koi pond at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
      Koi pond at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
    • Shofuso house, koi pond and island bridge at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
      Shofuso house, koi pond and island bridge at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
    • The landscape restoration expanded the island to protect the red pine tree
      The landscape restoration expanded the island to protect the red pine tree
    • The newly restored waterfall has increased water flow and is
      The newly restored waterfall has increased water flow and is "much more musical," Andrews said
    • Campers fed koi fish from the restored boat launch and new granite steps
      Campers fed koi fish from the restored boat launch and new granite steps
    • The granite steps and restored boat launch provide direct access to the koi pond
      The granite steps and restored boat launch provide direct access to the koi pond
    • The project added and restored boulder formations in the pond
      The project added and restored boulder formations in the pond
    • The project added and restored boulder formations in the pond
      The project added and restored boulder formations in the pond
    • The 17th-Century style Shofuso house was brought to Philadelphia in 1957
      The 17th-Century style Shofuso house was brought to Philadelphia in 1957
    • The house looks out onto the authentic, and now newly restored, Japanese garden
      The house looks out onto the authentic, and now newly restored, Japanese garden
    • The historic entryway gate is an important feature of Shofuso
      The historic entryway gate is an important feature of Shofuso
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The restoration team installed a new stone bridge, granite steps leading to the restored boat landing, a curving pea-gravel path and new and restored boulder formations in the pond. The restoration also straightened the Yukimi snow lantern at the pond's edge, renovated the waterfall to increase flow, expanded the island's size to protect the red pine tree and rebuilt masonry pond walls using original stones and boulders. 

"The most exciting thing for me was we rediscovered the boat launch," Andrews said. 

The boat launch was built in 1957, but until recently it had been covered by bushes and over growth. After uncovering the original launch pad, the landscape team added granite stairs leading to the platform. While there won't be boats much larger than paper origami crafts floating through the garden's koi pond, the launch provides a place for visitors to get a close view of the pond's inhabitants. 

"It turned from a boat landing into a great koi feeding platform," Andrews said. 

Another highlight Andrews pointed out is the enhanced waterfall with increased water flow, which she said is much more musical. 

These changes are intended to preserve the site, maintain it as an authentic Japanese house and garden and enhance visitor experience. 

Andrews said FJHG takes a somewhat unique approach in talking about the history of the site in that the group includes not only the site's static history but its evolving history. The group talks about both the history of Shofuso in Japan and the history of this site in Philadelphia. This includes talking about how the site has been preserved and how it will continue to be preserved in the future. 

"I [am] really proud of that because it's unusual to include preservation into how [historic groups] talk about a site," she said. 

Now through September, the Shofuso house and garden are open Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. -  4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. The site is open on the weekends in October. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for students, seniors and children ages 3 through 17. 

While the site is closed November through March, Andrews said the friends group hopes to build a visitors center in the next five years. That would allow the house and garden to remain open through the winter months. 

About the author

Christine Fisher, Transportation reporter

From 2012-2014 Christine covered transportation, writing about everything from pedestrian concerns to bicycle infrastructure, bridges, trail networks, public transit and more. Her favorite assignments sent her bushwhacking through Philadelphia’s yet-to-be-cleared bike trails, catching a glimpse of SEPTA’s inner workings or pounding the pavement to find out what pedestrians really think. Christine also covered community news for Eyes on the Street, where her work ranged from food sovereignty to public art and urban greening. She first joined PlanPhilly in fall 2011 as an intern through a partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. 


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