Kotani-En is a national landmark, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 by William Robson, owner of Kotani-En (1969 - 2017). The construction of Hakone, a nearby garden also commenced about 1918 and took 10 years to finish. San Francisco industrialist Max M. Cohen commissioned the garden in 1918. Mr. and Mrs. Cohen lived in San Francisco and Mr. Cohen was associated with Crown Zellerback, the Clorox Company and others. It was reported that he made a substantial amount of money selling printers inks to clients like the San Francisco Examiner.
Today Kotani-En is privately owned and is one of the most interesting and unusual Japanese style gardens in the existence. The garden is situated in ravine and straddles a natural creek. The creek has been dammed to create a small pond that is surrounded by many rare maples, evergreens (Hinoki Cypress, Cedar, Pine and Juniper) and other specimens that were originally imported from Japan. Many of the large boulders that line the side of the ravine were also selected in Japan and shipped to Saratoga.
The architect was Mr. Takahashi Takashima, an architect that Max Cohen discovered working as a cook in an Arizona resort. The garden features a pond and waterfalls, a 13th century style residence, a Buddhist temple, stone lanterns, bronze sculptures of cranes and turtles and Torii gates. Kotani-En was constructed by Japanese craftsmen using hand tools. No nails were used in construction and all structures were put together with mortise-and-tenon joinery and splint-and-wedge techniques.
The structures are made of cryptomeria cedar and mahogany with gilded bronze lanterns and glazed ceramic tile roof. The interior of the house features traditional construction and furnishings. The garden temple is dedicated to the deity Ben-ten, and a Roji wall that is fifteen feet high in some places surrounds the entire garden.
Kotani-En, the Japanese garden is apparently part of a much larger design and installation coordinated by landscape architect Emerson Knight. Max Cohen died December 2, 1935, and his obituary referred to his development of "Little Brook Farm" on Bainter Avenue. The obituary mentions that nearly all of the 20-acre estate was landscaped. It lists a one-acre Japanese garden as well as other gardens including wild flowers, cactus, vegetables, a barbecue grounds with hot and cold water, a dance pavilion, a small outdoor theater, dovecotes, a swimming pool and a residence. Emerson Knight installed two known plaques with his name. One is dated 1924 and located on the entrance of the amphitheater.
Sources: Clipping from files of the Saratoga Museum; National Register application for Kotani-en; Saratoga's First Hundred Years by Florence Russell Cunningham