National Register of Historic Places in San Mateo County

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National Register #92000965
De Sabla Teahouse and Tea Garden
70 De Sabla Avenue
San Mateo
Built c1907

The Eugene de Sabla Japanese teahouse and garden is an early expression of the influence of Japanese culture on the development of California design at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The garden is the work of Asian landscape designer Makota Hagiwara during the time of his association (1894-1925) as chief gardener and concessionaire of the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The de Sabla tea garden is the only other known extant example of his work and the only private Japanese tea garden that remains from the many that existed on the grand estates of San Mateo and Hillsborough. The garden and teahouse were part of the El Cerrito estate owned by Eugene de Sabla during the time he became a major industrialist and a founder of Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

The exact dates and information surrounding the construction of the de Sabla tea garden and teahouse are not known. Numerous historic accounts of the property have stated in error that after the close of the Panama Pacific Exposition of San Francisco, de Sabla had the garden and teahouse moved to its present location.

Extensive research now indicates that the de Sabla tea garden was most likely constructed between 1906 and 1907 in its present form and the teahouse built between 1907 and 1909. These early construction dates have great significance when viewed in the context of the region and the influence of Japanese architecture and landscape design on the development of Craftsman style architecture in California and the anti-Japanese conflict which was a major movement in northern California during this time period.

According to a May, 1906 Craftsman magazine article entitled "Japanese Architecture and its Relation to the Coming American Style," Japanese architecture was seen as "a return to honesty and simplicity in construction, rejection of all false ornamentation and the meeting of all actual requirements in the simplest and most direct way. The architectural gospel preached by The Craftsman ever since the issue of its first number is here echoed in no uncertain tones, and from the other side of the world."

At the time the design magazines began to promote articles and photos of Japanese architecture, the de Sabla teahouse and garden were already in existence. The simple wood construction and Japanese joinery methods of the teahouse and controlled traditional and labor intensive design of the garden were expressive of the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement and its architecture.

Adapted from the NRHP nomination.

Between 1870 and 1920, the wealthy elite of San Francisco transformed the grassland and farms of the San Francisco peninsula into a series of large, majestic estates with meticulously landscaped gardens. After World War II, most of the estates and gardens were demolished and the land subdivided for housing to accommodate suburban growth.

The de Sabla teahouse and garden, surrounded by suburban development, is a unique and splendid survivor of one of these estates, El Cerrito, and is significant in the San Francisco bay region.

The site of the teahouse and garden was originally part of the estate of William Davis Merry Howard, an early wealthy San Mateo pioneer merchant who purchased this part of the San Mateo rancho in 1853. The estate became known for its grounds because they were groomed by John McLaren, who, upon leaving the Howard estate, would become Superintendent of Golden Gate Park.

At the same time that the white wealthy were transforming the peninsula, the first Japanese immigrants began to trickle into San Francisco. Prior to 1880 there were fewer than 200 Japanese living in the San Francisco bay region; by 1889 there were almost 2000. In 1886, Japan re-legalized emigration, which had been suspended in 1868 due to the poor treatment of Japanese workers by Hawaiian planters. The desire of the Emperor of the Meiji period to modernize and westernize the country encouraged many to go abroad and at the same time, laborers from impoverished farming areas were attracted to a new land. Many took the place of laborers in the United States excluded by the 1888 Chinese Exclusion Act, angering members of the labor unions. In

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