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There is a magical garden tucked away within Mingus Park in Coos Bay.

Morning Song Bridge

Morning Song Bridge © SR Euston

We discovered it recently while having a picnic at the park. At the west end of the big pond we spotted a gracefully arched, bright red bridge. It turned out to be the entrance to a lovely Japanese-style garden named for Choshi, Japan, Coos Bay’s sister city.

Quiet Pond © SR Euston

Quiet Pond © SR Euston

Work on the garden began in 1985 by the  local architectural firm Crow/Clay, assisted by an army of volunteers, and in consultation with city officials from Choshi. It was dedicated in 1996 ceremony which Choshi representatives attended.

From Morning Song Bridge © SR Euston

From Morning Song Bridge © SR Euston

It is a 2.4 acre promenade-style garden, where a seemingly meandering path leads from one “scene” to the next, each meticulously composed with tranquil diagonal view lines across moving water and among carefully chosen plantings. It includes the standard Japanese garden elements: water which begins in a small pond and then cascades gently down a narrow stream (the “Creek of Whispering Waters”) and ultimately into the park’s main lake; carefully chosen and placed rocks; artful bridges and benches; a 3000 pound granite lantern (“Snow Lantern”) on a tiny island in the “Pond of Illusion”; fish; and plantings including flowering cherry trees, Japanese maples, dogwood, azaleas, rhododendrons and bamboo. Taken together they form a lovely, seemingly natural but perfectly conceived garden which welcomes leisurely strolls and quiet contemplation.

Contemplation © SR Euston

Autumn Scene © SR Euston

Time seems to slow down for everyone who enters Choshi Garden. Nothing rushes; no one skate boards; people talk in lowered voices. It is immensely calming.

The red bridge, “The Morning Song”, was rebuilt in 2007 and shored up in 2009. It is painted red like the Japanese garden bridges which it copies.

Choshi is maintained by volunteers who keep its trees and shrubs artfully manicured and is a part of the Coos Bay City Park system. When you go, perhaps you’ll even be greeted by this graceful bird—a perfect symbol of  a magical  Japanese jewel in this lumber city by the sea.

Heron © SR Euston

Snowy Egret © SR Euston

Choshi Gardens is open every day. Off US 101, take Commercial Street west to 10th Street. Turn north. Mingus Park is one block away on the west side of 10th. Choshi Garden is on the west side of the park.

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May is National Historic Preservation Month. In New Mexico this was a very large deal. It seemed every village, town and city hosted multiple events from pioneer days to crafts demonstrations. (See our Folsom blog posts for a New Mexico Preservation Month event.)

Here in Oregon, not so much. Not too surprising, with the penchant for building all wooden towns which frequently burned, in toto, to the ground. (Think Gold Beach, Port Orford, Bandon.)

So we were pleased to find that as part of National Historic Preservation Month, Andy Locati, a local architect, planned to lead a walking tour of downtown Coos Bay’s historic commercial (mostly brick) buildings.  Last Thursday nine of us were taken on a walk which began at the Visitor’s Center, headed east three blocks along Commercial Street and returned west, via Anderson Street to Broadway.

It was amazing to see how much architectural variety and detail early twentieth-century architects and developers had packed into that small area on downtown landmarks like: the art deco remodeled Hub Building (the largest department store on the coast, at one time over 51,000 square feet); the Chandler (a five story, five star hotel); the romanesque-columned and curved Bugge/1st Bank Building (the first incorporated bank in Coos Bay); the Coos Bay Art Museum (originally a WPA-style US Post Office); and the recently repaired and repainted Kendall building.

Of course, as with so many historic buildings, questionable remodels, updates and just plain neglect have left many vacant and in need of very costly repairs. The Bugge Bank building retains much of its stately charm although its original rotunda roof, removed long ago, must have been quite the sight. Many of the buildings have lost their cornices to weather and time. Others have foundation problems, covered over windows or ugly new plate glass ones. One historic building appears totally derelict.

And yet on this bright spring day it wasn’t hard at all to imagine a bustling Commercial Street in its heyday with Coos Bay’s movers and shakers meeting in the Chandler’s roof top restaurant or exchanging pleasantries in the Bank’s foyer.

Take a look at the slide show and see for yourself.

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