Monday, October 26, 2015

The Grand (Chinese) Army of the Republic

Forbidden Gardens panoramic
Terracotta Army of the Katy Prairie

Forbidden Gardens
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.

Forbidden Gardens 9
Weathered soldiers, Forbidden Gardens
Forbidden Gardens 7- color
Dragon and red, Forbidden Gardens
Forbidden Gardens 10
Column of soldiers, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens 12- Leadership
Emporer Qin surveys his warriors, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens 8
Dragon, Forbidden Gardens
Forbidden Gardens 13
1/3 scale soldiers, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens 4a- colorForbidden Gardens 6
Forbidden Gardens 11- IndividualityTerracotta Warriors
Terracotta warriors, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens Horses
Chariot horses, Forbidden Gardens

Remnants of Forbidden Gardens, 2014

Forbidden Gardens site in 2014, with highway to right


Joel said...

Torn down? I guess there's no point in even going to visit Texas now.

Justin Bower said...

Yeah, leveled, though the entryway banner holders seem to still be there, as well as the parking lot.

As for reasons to visit Texas, I might remind you that you're already importing our Pyrex....