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Progress in Bid to Save Seko Garden

by Bruce Rutledge

It is anyone’s guess whether Seko Garden, on Phantom Lake in Bellevue, will still exist in 2018. But landscape architect Koichi Kobayashi is doing everything possible to see if he can save it from the bulldozer before the end of this year.
The North American Post first reported this story in July. Since then, The Seattle Times ran a piece on the historic Japanese garden, and several people have expressed interest in buying the property. Kobayashi escorted one of them around the garden this Monday. He said he could not divulge the person’s identity, but an expected asking price of $2.5 million wouldn’t be an issue.
While Kobayashi is optimistic, he’s still not sure what’s in store for the garden, which he says has great historical and cultural import as one of only a few remaining Japanese gardens built by people of Japanese heritage who were imprisoned by their own government during World War II.
The garden is on the private property of Joan Seko, former owner of the Bush Garden restaurant. Her father-in-law, Kaichi Seko, conceived of and designed the garden in the 1950s after returning from the Minidoka concentration camp.
Kobayashi is heading to Japan in October to meet with Japanese garden specialists and have them evaluate Seko Garden. He hopes to come back to Seattle at the end of the month armed with more evidence that this traditional Japanese garden needs to be saved.
Promising leads have turned up since the story broke. One person was ready to purchase the property for $1.3 million, a price mentioned in The Seattle Times article, but that price was based on old estimates. Zillow currently lists the property at more than $2.1 million. Another interested party has offered a six-figure sum to help preserve the garden. And still others have shown interest in the property but haven’t indicated what they intend for the garden.
“In November and December, I will go anywhere and talk to anyone interested in the garden,” he said. “I wonder how long Joan can have patience. Her life will be disrupted.”
Joan Seko can no longer manage her Bellevue home and garden by herself and is looking to move out no later than next spring.
“The property will sell,” Kobayashi said with confidence, but it’s just a matter of whether the new buyer will want to put in the time and money to preserve Seko Garden.