Hakone Estate and Gardens: A Colorful History and Continuing Enchantment

Hakone is the oldest Japanese and Asian estate gardens in the Western Hemisphere, established in 1915, designed and built by San Francisco cultural leaders Isabel and Oliver Stine.

Inspired by the displays at the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exhibition, Mrs. Stine traveled to Japan where she was enchanted by the Fuji-Hakone National Park and wanted to have her own Hakone Gardens in the hillsides of Saratoga, California. In 1917 she retained architect Tsunematsu Shintani to design the Upper “Moon Viewing” house and landscape gardener Naoharu Aihara to design the gardens. See the story in photos here.

In 1932 East Bay financier Major C.I. Tilden purchased the estate and gardens. He hired Japanese landscape gardener James Sasaki to make improvements to the gardens and added the Moon Gate at the entrance. After Tilden died, Hakone was passed on to his sister, Mrs. Walter Gregory. Upon her death in 1959 her son Michael Gregory put the property up for sale.

Hakone was bought in 1961 by a partnership of Saratoga residents Joseph and Clara Gresham, their son Eldon and wife Deon and four Chinese - American couples: John and Helen Kan, Dan and June Lee, George and Marie Hall, and John and Mary Young. This new partnership enhanced the original beauty of Hakone, keeping its traditional Japanese authenticity while using it as a private retreat. In 1966 the partners offered to sell Hakone to the city of Saratoga. See the story in photos - click here.

In 1984 a group of Saratoga citizens, in cooperation with the City, organized a municipal commission, which obtained IRS 501 (C) (3) tax exempt status, to provide financial relief to the budget overseen by the Saratoga City Council. In 2000 an independent Hakone Foundation was launched: to preserve and enhance Hakone Estate and Gardens for the enrichment of the public, promote a deeper understanding of Asian Cultures, and to serve as an international forum for art, music, culture, and ideas. 

Since that time, the Foundation has raised millions of dollars for historic restoration of this exquisite jewel of our global heritage, after nearly a half century of deferred maintenance and neglect. By contractual agreement, the Foundation will oversee Hakone's preservation and improvements through the year 2060.