The Noguchi Garden

Eons ago in the age of youth my friends and I did the only reasonable thing agitated teenagers in the suburbs could do: drive aimlessly. Malls were fun to wander around but the fun stops when you run out of money. Parking garages on the other end, were a different enclave of self-imagined fun. After working hours, a parking garage becomes a haven for anyone seeking solitude or space to expand their more absurd ideas of recreation. Some were nicer than others. Mall adjacent garages reflected the safety and luxury of the mall itself. Some had no after hours security, and were often well lit, spacious but also equally hidden. If a rambunctious group of kids screaming unleashed themselves, no one would be disturbed save for the occasional late working office working nearby. Hopefully their evening was injected with the intrigue and adrenaline their day-to-day lacked.

We found a favorite parking garage two blocks east of a local mall called South Coast Plaza and nestled between large office towers with a convenient off ramp from the freeway. A parking garage is a strange ungoverned space. As long as your car is parked, you can be in this space. Sometimes friends would smoke weed, drink beer and listen to the obligatory dose of Megadeth loud enough to feel the rattle in our chest and paranoid enough to think we’d be caught (we weren’t). Other times we’d wander around up to the roof top and watch traffic marching along inventing stories for each driver condemned to suffer capture in the 405’s undertow of traffic.

One day, we opened a door. Up until this point we’d run up ramps to each level toward the roof of this parking garage. Wholly inefficient for easy roof access and dangerous when one car too many honked at us to get out of the way. We realized not only were there elevators (of course) but also a stair well. Thinking it’d be fun to race between the elevator and running up a stair well we naturally divided ourselves for the task and darted. Friend, fun is created, not merely enjoyed. From the basement level half of us took the stairs in a mad dash. Obviously we lost against the well timed elevator awaiting at the ground floor. Still feeling ambitious, we demanded a rematch and nearly fell our way down the stairs. Thinking we were at the basement level, one of us slammed into the exit door nearly falling over. I expected another nondescript garage level built of never ending concrete. What we fell into was The Noguchi Garden.

Night had fallen and the garden was drenched in both artificial and moon light. Its towering walls created a diorama. An obelisk, a tree on a hill, a pyramid — all of it felt like entering a new realm. Was this our Bridge To Terabithia moment? I hoped not, I had to be home by 8 PM. All of us gathered in the door frame — too timid to enter. A sharp deviation from the same reality we all participated in minutes ago seemed so far away. And finally, we wandered. Not knowing what exactly this place was other than it seemed sandwich between the parking garages we spent months playing in eternally here and always waiting.

The Noguchi Garden officially known as California Scenario is a living monument of various sculptures and scenes reflecting the diverse ecosystems of California and its ecological future. I couldn’t distill the monument let alone know who Isamu Noguchi was. We climbed around each monument vocalizing our disbelief that this place existed here. Hours earlier, we were angsty teens alleviating the crushing monotony of suburb living in a parking garage. Now we were transported to a new dimension proving a safe haven for exploration. Built within 1.6 acres, California Scenario felt like a shoebox in the seemingly infinite expanse of the sky. A self contained purgatory prompting the imagination to engineer an escape.

I returned many times after that night well into adulthood. I’ve gone at evening, deep in a contemplative state to mediate. During the day, when the garden becomes a gathering spot for businessmen nearby surprised someone found their well kept secret. In the mornings during summer to watch the sun slowly illuminate the obelisk and pyramid. On my first visit, I didn’t have a vocabulary to explain the works I was seeing. Later did I realize it wasn’t needed, just an appreciation that someone, somewhere wanted to create a space for people to be comforted, hopefully inspired and gather with others.