Rough Weather and Marauding Visitors: Tough Times in the Forbidden Gardens of Katy

The ravages of the Katy Prairie have taken their toll on the models and unburied treasure at Forbidden Gardens, reports Brittanie Shey:

In 1996, when the museum first opened, it must have been an amazingly detailed sight. But [Forbidden Gardens founder Ira] Poon and his builders didn’t account for the Houston heat and humidity, which ruined a lot of the hand-painted details. Each terra cotta soldier used to hold a wooden weapon in his hand, but reckless children would climb into the display and take the swords to play with. When the soldiers started to break or peel, it was impossible to order more because the molds had been destroyed. [Weekend manager Alicia] Mendez said she and coworkers spend a few hours each summer having at the displays with Gorilla Glue to fix what they can.


How’s life in the model city?

The Forbidden City is under a large metal pavilion, and features the most intricate models, many of which include tiny people in the formation of a ceremonial procession. The pavilion was ostensibly meant to protect the exhibit from the weather, but it gave rise to a new problem, pigeons. Even a large decoy owl can’t keep the pigeons from nesting in the rafters and crapping all over one of China’s most important cultural icons.

Even the location, the rice field which reminded Poon of his hometown, gives rise to problems. In rainy weather the entire museum floods, bringing with it wild animals from the neighboring fields and reservoirs, including water moccasins. The floods mean Forbidden Gardens is occasionally closed.

Photos of Forbidden City model with Williamsburg Parish neighborhood in the distance and soldiers at Forbidden Gardens: Flickr user dreamsrey

8 Comment

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    It’s hard to believe they didn’t consider heat and humidity. I could see missing the pigeon in the planning, but could the outside design be made to be hosed down?

  • I think it more than just not taking weather into consideration … whan I went out there 4 or 5 years ago there were crates of displays at the rear of the the complex. even from the distance you could see the model buildings were left out side to rot in their crate. I’ve lived in south Texas for many years and I can tell you these had been out there for several years. It left me wondering if the craftsmen who created them were paid so little that it didn’t matter … or if those who were the keepers had so little regard of the “treasures” and left them letting them sit outside in their shipping crates. after touring the entire place that day I felt very ripped off for the price of admission. The main memory I have is one of gray rotted wood and pealing paint

  • I wondered whatever had happened to this place. I went there with family not long after it opened, and even then I remember it not looking that great. I also remember that there seemed to be absolutely NO supervision of anything in the park. So it’s not surprise to me that it’s fallen into such disrepair of late.

  • The really bad thing though, was that within an hour after leaving the place, you were hungry again.

  • I tried to take my mom there a few months ago and it was closed. No mention on the website, but the gates were padlocked. Don’t know if it was temporary or not.

  • Pigeon exclusion is not rocket science. All it takes is some screening properly installed. And, yeah, if the builders didn’t understand heat and humidity or how if unsupervised guests did what ever the heck they wanted, well – they got what they deserved.

  • A story I’d read previously about Forbidden Gardens hinted that Poon had decided originally to build in Seattle but moved the location to Houston due to the former’s rainy climes. This story was unconfirmed by the official information given to me during my visit.
    I actually visited the Gardens for my story before they were open for the day, and thus did not have to buy a ticket. But my journalistic integrity got the best of my and as I was leaving I stopped by the ticket booth to pay. For a moment I had the thought that my $10 was not going towards the museum at all, but would be going straight into the pocket of the proprietor.

  • I heard a rumor that Forbidden Gardens was going to be shutting down soon, so I decided to give it a first and possibly final visit this past MLK Day. While I was there, the gift shop employee confirmed that they will be closing next month (February 2011) due to eminent domain for the Grand Parkway Segment E expansion (makes sense when you think about it). I haven’t found anything about it specifically on the internet save for a small notice on the Forbidden Gardens’ website. More importantly, I haven’t found anything about a possible auction of surplus terracotta warriors afterwards.

    Though it is really just a rich man’s plaything and was in some pretty serious disrepair when I visited, it’s kind of sad to think that such a strange curiosity out in the middle of nowhere will soon be lost to something as generic as another freeway. You’ve got one month to check it out before it’s gone forever!