Katy Tourist Attraction Finds Itself in Path of Grand Parkway

For Texans seeking a window into ancient Chinese history, the Forbidden Gardens in Katy has offered an educational space to do just that. But this window is about to close. The quirky cultural gem of Katy has announced that it is shutting down. The reason — to make way for the Grand Parkway. Wendy Siegle reports.
Forbidden Gardens sits a couple thousand feet back from the main road. It’s quiet out here. A slight gust of wind rustles the bamboo that greets me at the foot of a bridge. The bright yellow and red arch takes me over a small pond. On the other side are the Chinese exhibits. Some are housed in small buildings designed in traditional Chinese architecture with sweeping roofs and thick red pillars. Others, too big to fit indoors are on display outside. There are replicas of ancient weaponry, miniature buildings from Beijing’s Forbidden City, and of course the terracotta soldiers.



“This right here is our replica of the terracotta soldier pit that’s in Xi’an, China. It replicates the main center area with the emperor’s chariot and his main Calvary, his protectors. And then in the back over here…”

Kristina Cortez is showing me around the exhibits. The entire property spans around sixty acres. The exhibits make up less than a tenth of the total area, leaving a quiet buffer of green space between the world outside. The terracotta soldiers exhibit is one of the attractions here that’s been drawing people to the park since 1996. Math teacher Alyssa Dodson was one of them.

“I went here when I was in middle school and I learned so much. It was a lot of fun. It was really interesting. And seeing the miniature terracotta soldiers was awesome. I remember that; I talk about it all the time.”

The name Forbidden Gardens reflects an aspiration that never became a reality. There are no gardens on the property, but Cortez, my tour guide, tells me there were always plans to plant some. Now, it’s certain the cultural center will never live up to its name. The owner has announced plans to close the museum down. Again, Cortez.

“We were devastated. We were upset. We were sad, but we kind of expected it at the same time, so it wasn’t as big of a blow. But you know, it hits you really hard.”

Attorney Dixon Montague represents the owners of Forbidden Gardens. They live in Hong Kong. He says Forbidden Gardens is closing because a segment of the Grand Parkway, which will connect highway 10 with 290, is slated to go through part of the property.

“One of the primary purposes of Forbidden Gardens is to provide an aesthetically pleasing, serene, and contemplative environment, free from the hustle, bustle, and city life.”

He says Harris County sent Forbidden Gardens a letter proposing to acquire 12 and half acres on the east side of the 60 acre tract of land.

“The problem is with the Grand Parkway is that the proposed route of the Grand Parkway through the Forbidden Gardens property will destroy this intended purpose that was meant for Forbidden Gardens.”

The road, if built, wouldn’t run through any of the actual exhibits. But Dixon says it would disrupt the brush beyond and disturb the tranquil ambience that is necessary for a contemplative place. Plus, he says the road would come with a lot of noise pollution.

Cortez says the owners are trying to sell all 6000 terracotta soldiers to a museum or other cultural center in hopes of keeping the army together. Cortez says the museum is scheduled to close in the middle of February.