SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — The Japanese Tea Garden’s towering pagoda, one of the few surviving structures from the 1915 world’s fair, has been revived to its former glory following a restoration, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department officials announced.

The Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States and its pagoda is five stories tall.

Public officials, history buffs, and members of the Japanese American community celebrated the completion of the two-year project Wednesday evening with a ceremony and taiko drumming.

Mayor London Breed said, “The Japanese Tea Garden’s pagoda is part of the fabric of our city and tells a story about the rich Japanese history and culture that exist here in San Francisco. This restoration ensures the iconic pagoda will remain in Golden Gate Park for residents and visitors to enjoy for generations to come.”

“Over the last 100-plus years, the pagoda at the Japanese Tea Garden has attracted millions of residents and visitors alike, weathering significant disruptions throughout history,” said Yasushi Noguchi, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco. “Now, it has been properly restored so it may continue to promote Japanese culture and aesthetics. The pagoda is an iconic landmark of Golden Gate Park and an integral component of San Francisco’s beautiful and diverse spirit.”

(Image courtesy San Francisco Recreation and Park Department)

The pagoda was built as temporary indoor display in the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition’s Palace of Food Products. It was relocated to the Japanese Tea Garden in 1916, where it sat outdoors for more than a century. While it underwent periodic repairs, this was its first complete restoration.

All of the carpentry, roofing, and masonry work was completed by Rec and Park’s structural maintenance crew.  Carpenters removed rotting wood from the interior and exterior, uncovering Japanese characters indicating some of the pagoda’s original components were salvaged from shipping containers.

(Image courtesy San Francisco Recreation and Park Department)

Carpenters replaced some of the damaged wood with 100-year-old redwood salvaged from two water storage tanks at Camp Mather. Roofers re-shingled the pagoda’s five roofs, while painters restored its vermillion trim to vibrancy.

Traditional bells and giboshi adorn the pagoda for the first time in decades. All were custom-made in Niigata, Japan.

Carpenters documented the layout of the badly damaged spire’s copper adornments before creating a new spire from a recycled Douglas fir flagpole, painstakingly turning it on a 16-foot lathe to shape its taper to replicate the original. 

“Restoring a temporary indoor structure built more than a century ago is incredibly challenging, but the end result is nothing short of stunning,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg.

The pagoda restoration is the first half of an approximately $2 million restoration that also includes a redesign of the surrounding landscaping and restoration of its long bridge, which will be completed in fall of 2023.

Designer Hoichi Kurisu, who has built Japanese gardens throughout the United States and abroad for more than 50 years, will lead the project with his daughter, Michiko. Their firm, Kurisu LLC, will open the area around the pagoda to make it feel more cohesive with the rest of the garden and create a gathering space for taiko, bonsai demonstrations, and other cultural events. The design will employ stones donated from the Tatsuyama quarry in Takasago, Japan. 

“The Japanese Tea Garden pagoda is a treasure of Golden Gate Park that all San Franciscans should experience,” said Drew Becher, CEO of SF Parks Alliance.