|Terracotta Army of the Katy Prairie|
One of the places we visited in the early years as we explored our new Texas landscapes was the inestimably odd Forbidden Gardens. I got thinking about it a bit this week, after finding an old picture which brought back vivid memories of that day.
Forbidden Gardens was built in the late 90's by an enigmatic Chinese businessman named Mr. Poon, who seems to be quite literally an international man of mystery. The original stated intent was to share Chinese culture with the US, and with young Chinese living here. The 80 acre site was developed into an odd amalgamation of roadside attraction and historical museum, plopped down in the middle of a then endless expanse of prairie west of Houston.
The primary exhibits were a large scale replica of the imperial Chinese Forbidden City and a full 1/3 scale replica of the Terracotta Army of Emporer Qin. There were also a series of other statuary and exhibits housed in what were originally immaculately maintained grounds. I won't go too far into the history of the place, but you can read more about it here , here, and here.
Seeing it in person felt like someone dropped a Chinese historical site into a cow pasture in rural Texas. The soldiers stood patiently sentinel, staring out at the cow pastures of the prairie. The whole place had a sense of abandonment, like a inexplicable relic of some past civilization. It was clear that the attraction was on its way out, with weathered paint and broken statuary. In actuality the disrepair contributed to the austere feeling of the place, oddly solemn like a temple fallen to ruin. Compared to the usual roadside attractions, the lack of many other visitors and the decrepit beauty gave a sense of discovering a forgotten place rather than just vintage kitsch. I don't know why we never went back, though I'm sure it would have not had the same impact twice.
The Gardens closed in 2011 prior to the expansion of a major highway through the prairie. It's now being developed into what I'm sure will be more McMansions crowding the landscape. The Gardens were weirdly iconic, and in their passing are an unexpected metaphor for the passing of the prairie and authentic Texas landscapes in the face of ever-advancing sprawl.
When they closed, they auctioned off most of the statues. One of my biggest regrets was not buying one when I had the chance. A local bar bought one of the 6' full sized versions, and placed it initially at a urinal in the men's rest room. I still can't decide if it was juvenile or a brilliant artistic statement about the whole affair.
|Weathered soldiers, Forbidden Gardens|
|Dragon and red, Forbidden Gardens|
|Column of soldiers, Forbidden Gardens|
|Emporer Qin surveys his warriors, Forbidden Gardens|
|Dragon, Forbidden Gardens|
|1/3 scale soldiers, Forbidden Gardens|
Terracotta warriors, Forbidden Gardens
|Chariot horses, Forbidden Gardens|
|Remnants of Forbidden Gardens, 2014|
|Forbidden Gardens site in 2014, with highway to right|