Bigger road means the closure of local museum

January 20, 2011 5:00:50 PM PST
It's a place people from all over the world visit. Now the Forbidden Gardens tourist attraction in Katy is closing down to make way for the Grand Parkway expansion. The gardens are a replica of the Forbidden City and include statues, gardens and courtyards. It's located off Frantz Road in Katy.

The outdoor museum once nestled in the quiet Katy prairie, north of I-10. The Grand Parkway changed that. The four-lane highway now dead ends adjacent to the museum and planned expansion will likely consume a large chunk of its facility through eminent domain.

"It is a shame," said Kristina Cortez of the Forbidden Gardens.

The gardens were built almost 15 years ago by a Chinese-American.

"And he was finding out that a lot of Asians didn't know a lot about their history or culture, so he wanted to build a place outside of China to help educate people," said Cortez.

Fourteen million dollars later, the museum was developed with an emphasis on being authentic. The Imperial City is almost an acre alone, constructed to 1/20th the original size as it is in Beijing.

The terra cotta warrior exhibit features more than 4,000 soldiers, all constructed in China. But Segment E of the Grand Parkway plans to run through it -- a stretch of highway that would connect I-10 to Highway 290. The Texas Department of Transportation will soon oversee it and with $425 million on hand, TxDOT says Segment E is a priority.

"It is a project that we anticipate looking at every viable means to being forward," said Raquele Lewis of TxDOT.

But it's not quite a done deal. The Sierra Club lost an initial lawsuit, but filed an appeal on environmental grounds that the Katy prairie is an endangered ecosystem.

"The Katy prairie is an endangered ecosystem. When I say endangered, it's what's called a tall grass prairie. Ninety-nine percent of tall grass prairies in the United States have been destroyed," said Brandtt Mannchen of the Sierra Club.

Now employees are preparing to box up the thousands of pieces that tourists have enjoyed.

"It's sad to see things like this; something very unique and cultural is having to close because an expansion or something with a highway," Cortez said.

Employees expect to close in late February and it's not clear if it will be reopened elsewhere. TxDOT says currently there is no official timeline for groundbreaking.


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