The theft this week of a “priceless” stone lantern base from the Japanese Gardens in Delaware Park has irked members of the Japanese community who just this spring celebrated their first cherry blossom festival at the site.
To make matters worse, the stone base and the granite lantern it held are one of a set of three given as gifts from Kanazawa, Japan, Buffalo’s sister city. Located at the north side of Mirror Lake, the lanterns are exact replicas of the three lanterns that define Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa.
“We put the lantern away until we get a new base because we were afraid that someone would come back for it,” said Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president and chief executive officer of Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
“I was just in Kanazawa last year,” he said. “They were so kind to me. That relationship is important, and to have someone desecrate that gift is maddening, disappointing and expensive.”
The theft of the cement two-foot flat base with attached two-foot cement legs was discovered on Wednesday morning when zone gardener Abi Echeverria reported for work, said Herrera-Mishler, who estimated that the based weighed at least 200 pounds.
“The garden has really come into its own,” Herrera-Mishler said. “One of our goals as a conservancy is to find someone to adopt the gardens.”
The Kenrokuen strolling garden in Kanazawa is about 25 acres in size and offers city residents a chance to escape the workaday world. Its distinctive stone lantern – called Kotoji toro – is an icon of both the garden and Kanazawa.
Atsuko Nishida-Mitchell is a member of Friends of the Japanese gardens who helped bring the cherry blossom festival to Delaware Park this April. She expressed dismay at the theft.
“Why do people do that?” she asked. “The place is peaceful, and people who visit the garden have a friendship there. We all care for each other as we care for the garden. It is very sad.”
The theft comes at a time of restoration for the Japanese Gardens, said Herrera-Mishler. Two years ago, $200,000 was invested to restore the garden with new plantings.
Another gift from Kanazawa, the gateway that tops the hill coming down from Nottingham Terrace, was installed in the 1970s. It needs a new set of legs, Herrera-Mishler said.
“Unfortunately, the base of the wooden columns rotted from years of being underground,” he said. “The rest is in good condition. It will require some engineering to get it to stand again.”
Meanwhile, the conservancy president will reach out to the Buffalo Arts Commission.
“We get a small portion of our funds from the city,” Herrera-Mishler said. “We’re lucky that the lantern wasn’t taken.”