During the 1910s, the City of San Antonio expanded the amenities of Brackenridge Park
into the adjacent abandoned quarries. The first mention of the Japanese Tea Garden site came at the end of an article in the San Antonio Light on October 11, 1916: “…[Park] Commissioner [Ray] Lambert revealed another improvement he is planning …This is to be a lily tank which will be located in the basin of one of the old rock quarries and which will form one of the attractions of the Alpine Drive. …” Later that year, an article in the Light on December 22 provided more details: “A Japanese tea garden, modeled somewhat after one in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, will be a feature at Brackenridge Park next season. The site of the garden will be the old cement plant at the rock quarry….” On May 17, 1917 The Light reported that the lily pond was complete and that a “temple-like structure” [the pavilion] would be constructed beside the pond. However, the pavilion wasn’t constructed until the following year.
In 1919 another significant structure was added to the site: a residence for garden manager Kimi Eizo Jingu and his family. Jingu, an artist from Japan, had been working in San Antonio for the U.S. Army and had a part-time job making souvenir art at the Gunter [Hotel] Japanese Garden. The Jingu family resided in the Japanese Tea Garden until 1942, when post Pearl Harbor anti-Japanese sentiments caused city officials to evict the family. Today, their former residence houses the Jingu House Café.
Earlier this month, Special Collections displayed over 80 photographs of the Japanese Tea Garden at an event held in the Jingu House. These are a few of those images.
Alamo Cement Company, future site of the Japanese Tea Garden, circa early 1900s. (General Photograph Collection MS 362: 109-0514)
Japanese Tea Garden pavilion, with roof thatched with palm from local parks. In the background are the cement company smokestack (left) and the Jingu house (behind pavilion). Photograph by Marie Hanlon, 1919. (General Photograph Collection MS 362: 113-062)
Pavilion extension, providing a covered link to a park lookout. Photograph by Al Schaal, circa late 1920s. (General Photograph Collection MS 362: 109-0311)
Miyoshi and Kimi Jingu and their children (l. to r.) Rae, Ruth, and Mary, inside their house, circa 1919. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 084-0349)
The Jingu residence. The upper room was known later as the “Bamboo Room,” where Kimi Jingu sold tea imported from Japan. Photograph by Marie Hanlon, circa 1919 (General Photograph Collection MS362: 113-071)
The Lily Pond, with a division between the two water levels (center foreground). Cars are parked along Alpine Drive at the top of the cliff. Photograph by Smith Studio, circa 1918. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 092-0171)
The island, constructed with earth and debris collected at the site. Near the pathways are lighting standards of native stone and with concealed globes. Photograph by Marie Hanlon, circa 1918. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 113-065)
Visitors admire tropical plants, mostly from the city nurseries. Photograph by Marie Hanlon, circa 1919. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 113-063)
Stone bridge providing access to the island, early 1920s. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 092-0064)
Hugo Gerhardt, the gardener for many years, repairs a planter in which the water lilies grow, February 1942. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359 L-2898-B)
Mary Jingu beside her father’s tea menu. Photograph by Marie Hanlon, 1919. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 113-069)
Ruth Jingu sits at table with sign advertising Sukiyaki, while regular entertainer Santana Perez plays harp, circa 1930. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 112-025)
Helen Jingu prepares iced green tea. Another popular item was green-tea ice cream. Photograph by a newspaper staff photographer, August 1938. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359 L-1915-A)
Tori Gate at Alpine Drive entrance, the main access to the garden before St. Mary’s Street was extended into Brackenridge Park. On left is a plaque with names of the lily pond donors. Photograph by Al Schaal, circa late 1920s. (General Photograph Collection MS 362: 109-0252)
Hand-colored photographic print of the view from Alpine Drive, early 1920s (General Photograph Collection MS362: 092-0170)