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A Proper Entryway for UCLA’s Living Museum

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By Jesy Odio '15

Published Aug 1, 2014 8:00 AM


A generous gift from Morton La Kretz is funding improvements to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden.

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Tucked between tall research and classroom buildings on campus lies a magical place dedicated to flora and fauna straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Yet the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden remains unknown to many people who pass by it every day. Soon, however, that will change, thanks to a $5 million gift from UCLA alumnus and philanthropist Morton La Kretz.

The generous gift will fund the addition of a garden pavilion, a medicinal herb garden, and a wheelchair-accessible tree canopy walkway. The garden pavilion will provide a proper entrance to the garden and serve as both a welcome center and a space for classes, exhibits, and artistic and cultural events. The funds will also provide for the pavilion’s upkeep. The main goals of the renovation are to increase the garden’s visibility, upgrade its infrastructure and improve its accessibility for the disabled.

"It is exciting to support such a great asset to the university, one that contributes to outdoor learning and research in areas such as plant diversity and biology,” says La Kretz, for whom UCLA’s first green building is named. “The results of this research have important implications for the future of our environment."

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Since its beginning, in 1929, the garden has inspired awe and wonder. The first plants were native willows along a creek, plus coastal sage scrub. In the first 30 years, when it was known as the UCLA Botanical Garden, the site sparked interest within the community because it was one of the first places in Southern California where eucalyptus and fig trees were widely planted.

Since 1979, the garden has borne the name of Mildred E. Mathias, a botanist who dedicated her life to California horticulture. In 1955, Dr. Mathias, an assistant professor and vice chair in botany, was one of the few women who held a faculty position. In 1956, she became director of the garden, a position she held until her retirement.

Now the site is home to over 3,000 species of plants, from collections of tropical and subtropical trees, to Australian and Hawaiian varieties. And the abundance of vegetation has attracted salamanders, turtles and lizards.

Students in the biology, geology and urban planning departments frequent the garden for projects and research, and so do art students. “The garden serves as an oasis for students, facility, faculty, staff and the public,” says current director Philip Rundel, director of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden.

Construction of the La Kretz Garden Pavilion will begin in November 2015 and continue through 2016.

Located west of Hilgard Avenue and east of Tiverton Avenue, just a short walk south from Parking Structure 2, the botanical garden is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter, and until 5 p.m. at other times of year. It is closed on university holidays. Admission is free.

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