Gresham's revitalized Japanese garden is taking shape

Gresham's revitalized Japanese garden is taking shape
Tsuru Island, located at Main City Park in Gresham, is being transformed into the beautiful garden it once was decades ago, before it fell into disrepair. Photo courtesy of Tomiko Takeuchi.

GRESHAM, Ore. - An effort to revive the rich history at Gresham's Main City Park is in full swing and those who have been working hard to make it happen are excited about the progress they have made.

Back in the 1970s, Tsuru Island, located on the south side of the park, was a lush and beautiful Japanese garden surrounded by a small creek. Visitors would cross a bridge to get there and then be able to enjoy a peaceful setting.

Over the years, though, tending to the island eventually fell to the wayside. Instead of a place where folks could go to admire nature's beauty or find respite from their daily troubles, it became a hideout for neighborhood kids and a secluded spot for the some of the city's homeless.

That's all changing, though. Today, there is a full-scale effort to bring a Japanese garden back to the island, an idea that was spearheaded by Tomiko Takeuchi, a retired principal who rallied volunteers to help with the project.

"You can't believe the amount of people who have been coming here for 40-plus years and have seen this thing continually going downhill," she told us when we first talked to her about the project last year. "And they're so pleased and tickled to see something actually happening."

We checked in with Takeuchi to find out how the project has been going since then and she told us they hope to have the garden in at least a rough form by spring. She said they have most of the nursery stock they need, enough money to repair the bridge and a master plan that's been approved.

April, 1942, Byron, California. Field laborers of Japanese ancestry stand in front of the Wartime Civil Control Administration station, waiting for instructions on their evacuation under Civilian Exclusion Order Number 24. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

The restoration is much more than just bringing a bright spot back to the city. It's also something that means a lot to the Japanese community. You see, Japanese gardens were an integral part of one of the darker times in American history - the Japanese-American internment.

Takeuchi's family was among those who were moved - she was a newborn when her family was sent to an internment camp. She explained that Japanese gardens at internment camps were not only a way to bide time, but also a way to cope with a highly stressful situation.

"They used to build them right by the mess halls because you'd have to wait in line for so long to get in," she told us. "And everything in a small scale so you could put a lot in it."

Decades later, Takeuchi hopes Tsuru Island will give people a place where they can find peace, focus on healing and get away from the noise of the city. She also hopes it will be a place for learning.

2012 File Video
Tomiko Takeuchi and Landscaper Jim Card talk about the project