The Norton Simon Museum′s Sculpture Garden is a delight for visitors of all ages. Its lush pond—decorated by several varieties of water lilies—its stately trees, colorful shrubs and flowers and its meandering paths provide a stunning setting for some of the Museum's most important sculpture. The Garden Café, outdoor concerts, plein air drawing classes and family art-making activities make it one of the liveliest areas on the Museum campus.
The history of the garden extends long before the Museum opened in the 1960s. In fact, this area of Southern California was first inhabited by the Hahamongna (Tongva) tribe of Native Americans, then later was part of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. Following several owners, the tract on which the Museum now sits was purchased by the Carr family of Wisconsin in 1877. Matriarch Jeanne Carr transformed the property into a lush and verdant estate that she named “Carmelita” and was known as the most spectacular garden in the area. Having passed through several owners, the land was deeded to the city of Pasadena in 1941, with a proviso that part be preserved for the local art institute, later to become the Pasadena Art Museum (and finally the Norton Simon Museum). In the late 1960s, the Pasadena Art Museum, designed by local firm Ladd & Kelsey, was opened. Its sculpture garden reflected the sparse, minimalist style of the era—acres of turf, a handful of trees, and a long, rectilinear reflecting pool.