The Cities of Portland and Suzhou China have maintained a sister city relationship for many years. Suzhou is known for its urban private gardens many of which survive today. For many years, the two cities had a dream of recreating an authentic Suzhou-style Chinese garden in Portland.
At the time of his death in 1996, Bill Naito was serving as the chair of the capital campaign for the Classical Chinese Garden. A full-block adjacent to Chinatown had been secured for the garden and the official capital campaign was being developed. After his death, then Mayor Vera Katz asked his son Bob to chair the Classical Chinese Garden Trust which was created to carry out the capital campaign and oversee the construction and operation of the garden.
Portland Development Commission provided approximately one-half of the construction cost using urban renewal tax-increment financing. The remainder of the money was secured through generous gifts to the capital campaign including several large gifts made in the name of Bill Naito.
The garden was designed in Suzhou by the Garden Design Institute. With the help of local Chinese architects and translators, a local architecture firm prepared construction documents that could be submitted for a building permit. There were countless design and construction problems, especially where Chinese traditional construction methods conflicted with the Uniform Building Code and the ADA. For example, in order to meet US seismic codes, each hand carved wooden column had to be reinforced with a steel core and wrapped with carbon fiber.
Shipping containers began arriving from China containing tons of rock quarried from Lake Tai near Suzhou, heavy timbers, thousands of roof tiles, stone blocks, intricate wood carvings, windows and doors, and countless other materials required to build an authentic Chinese garden.
Finally over 80 Chinese craftsmen arrived from the Suzhou Classical Chinese Garden Architecture Company to build the garden itself.
Most of the plant material for the garden came from commercial nurseries across the United States. However, one day Ms. Hu from the Garden Design Institute spotted a beautiful Magnolia tree in the front yard of a Portland home. When Mayor Katz personally asked the elderly owner if she would allow her tree to be transplanted to the garden, she said that the tree truly belonged to the entire neighborhood. If it was OK with her neighbors, she would agree to give her tree to the garden. Today that Magnolia tree sits in the Courtyard of Tranquility.
The Classical Chinese Garden was completed in September 2000. Over the next 12 months over 250,000 people visited the garden.
Location: Old Town/Chinatown Historic District, Portland, Oregon
Owner: City of Portland
Developer: Classical Chinese Garden Trust (Bob Naito, chairman)
Completion: September 2000
Program: Construct an authentic Suzhou-style Classical Chinese Garden on a city block
Project cost: $12.8 million
Chinese Architect: Suzhou Garden Design Institute
US Architect: Robertson Merriman Barnes
Chinese Contractor: Suzhou Classical Chinese Garden Architecture Company
US Contractor: Schommer & Sons
Financing: Grants, contributions, and tax-increment financing