What’s it come to that a quirky little roadside attraction in Katy can’t quietly sell off its extensive collections of handcrafted-in-China replica Chinese figurines and miniatures online without getting overwhelmed? In advance of the curious shutdown of Forbidden Gardens, the institution’s stewards had decided to liquidate its entire collection of scale-model attractions, including the more than 6,000 terracotta warriors assembled for a broadly interpreted one-third-scale replica of the partially excavated tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di. And yes, the venue chosen for a good portion of the sales: Craigslist.
(Last month, the venue’s staff announced that Forbidden Gardens, located on Franz Rd. in Katy just off the stub-end of the long-planned Grand Parkway, would be shutting down — to make way for the expansion of the proposed ring road’s Segment E. But plans provided to Swamplot show that the proposed path for the Grand Parkway would only skirt the theme park property, and would perhaps even burnish its credentials as a roadside attraction.)
An ad on the online classifieds site taken out by Forbidden Gardens’ curators over the weekend offered a “variety of terracotta warriors for just $100 each.” Plus: “We are willing to make a deal if you buy in bulk.” Pieces from other exhibits were offered for sale, including 1/20th-scale buildings — and porcelain figurines, for as little as $1 each! Clearly, this was an “everything must go” sort of event: More pieces from Katy’s strange little “museum and cultural center” showed up in other Craigslist postings that featured vases, store furnishings, even those red benches arrayed around the grounds.
By late Wednesday afternoon however, the ads had been taken down. “At this time interest has been so great that it is overwhelming us,” reads a new note on a new Craigslist ad posted by a museum staff member. “There are only 5 of us and we are all part time.” All those goods are still available — it’s just that the staff couldn’t handle the online rush:
If you are interested in seeing the museum one last time we welcome you. If while there you see something that you are interested in and the staff is not overwhelmed, please feel free to make an offer. . . . If you are interested in purchasing an entire exhibit we greatly welcome you to call the main office. For those of you wishing to purchase individual objects we will be having a mass sell off after the museum closes Feb 13. Please check our website where we will post info on this as it becomes available.
Mass sell-off! In other words, the already strange spectacle of Forbidden Gardens has morphed in its final days into something curiouser still: A museum of replicas where visitors can bid on the exhibits and take them home with them.
But a lawyer representing the venue’s mysterious and apparently reclusive owner, Hong Kong real-estate investor Ira Poon, told the Chronicle‘s Lisa Gray earlier this week that the figures offered online didn’t actually include the 6,000 terracotta soldiers that constitute Forbidden Gardens’ main attraction (even after baking in the Katy sun and surviving occasional abuse from Katy schoolchildren for the past decade and a half). That phalanx, the decaying model of the Forbidden City (recently spruced up with miniature Cherry Trees obtained by workers at the local Hobby Lobby) the full-scale Imperial Dragon Throne replica, and a matching set of man-dog statues — yes, all that Poon hopes to sell in a single lot to someone who wants to carry on his unique vision, by setting up his or her own Forbidden Gardens replica, in some other location. No asking price has been named, but there is that February 13th deadline.
If they weren’t part of the main exhibits then, where do the figurines and models that were advertised on Craigslist come from? They’re extras, refugees from pulled exhibitions and others that were never completed. The porcelain figurines, offered for $1 each, were salvaged from collapsed and abandoned exhibits such as the Temple of Heaven, tour director Alicia Mendez tells Gray. And yes, now that you mention it, those terracotta figures in the Craigslist ad did look a bit moldy.
- forbidden gardens – $1 (katy) [Craigslist]
- For sale: pint-size Forbidden City, 6,000 terra-cotta soldiers [Houston Chronicle]
- The strange last days of Forbidden Gardens [Houston Chronicle]
- Previously on Swamplot: Out of the Way, Tiny Soldiers, Here Comes the Grand Parkway: Katy’s Forbidden Gardens Is Closing Down, Rough Weather and Marauding Visitors: Tough Times in the Forbidden Gardens of Katy