Even with busy workers from China and Minnesota applying finishing touches to the three-story granite and wood structure, St. Paul’s new Xiang Jiang Pavilion already exudes a sense of calm contemplation.
On the shore of Lake Phalen, against the deep green and silver-gray backdrops of pines and lake, a replica of China’s famous Aiwan Pavilion will serve as a focal point in what organizers say is the state’s only authentic Changsha-style China Garden.
“It is beautiful already,” Chen Zhou, a board member of the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society, said of the 30th anniversary gift from St. Paul’s sister city of Changsha. “I think it’s touched a lot of people.”
In 1988, under then Mayor George Latimer, St. Paul established a sister city relationship with Changsha, and a committee was started to explore creating a garden here. The project gained momentum in 2005, when the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society became a nonprofit, and in 2011 a Chinese garden was approved as part of the city’s Phalen-Keller Regional Park master plan.
A typical Chinese garden features ponds, rocks, trees and flowers, with assorted halls and pavilions within the garden connected by winding paths.
The 1.2-acre garden at Lake Phalen will be the first in the U.S. designed to resemble gardens in Changsha, officials say. It is also the first sister city Chinese garden in Minnesota. A $50,000 grant from the Legislature helped create conceptual designs. Sculptor Lei Yixin — who designed the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., and a sculpture already in place at Phalen Park — worked behind the scenes to secure the pavilion.
The pavilion was built in China before it was disassembled, packed into five shipping containers and sent to Canada. It went by rail to St. Paul, where it was met by a team of a dozen Chinese artisans who joined American construction workers to reassemble it. Work is expected to be complete by the end of October.
Other elements planned for the site include an arch, a donor wall, a classroom pavilion, a bridge and a Hmong Cultural Plaza.
“It’s a large-scale project, over multiple years and multiple phases,” said Linda Mealey-Lohmann of the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society.
The total project eventually is expected to cost $7 million. About $1 million — enough for the work now being finished in and around the pavilion — has been raised, mostly through individual donors, said Mealey-Lohmann. The project is meant not only to honor Minnesota’s 35,000 Chinese immigrants and their descendants but also the 80,000 Hmong who live here. Minnesota Hmong claim the Changsha area as their ancestral home, officials said. A Hmong Heritage Wall featuring Hmong symbols was the first element installed in the garden.
As part of the sister cities’ 30th anniversary gift exchange, St. Paul sent five Peanuts statues to Changsha’s Yanghu Wetland Park in exchange for the replica pavilion. A Lucy statue wearing traditional Hmong dress was painted by a local Hmong artist. Snoopy’s doghouse featuring Minnesota icons was painted by a local Chinese artist.
The project will also benefit from revenue from the Greatest Spirit, a Sept. 22 performance that combines Chinese poetry, music and dance at Northrop auditorium at the University of Minnesota, Mealey-Lohmann said.