Scene It Before: The Japanese Garden from Star Trek

A Van Nuys water reclamation plant and botanical garden stand in for Starfleet Academy in the sci-fi franchise

As summer comes to a close, I find myself embracing L.A.’s great outdoors at every chance. One of my favorite alfresco spots happens to be a popular filming location, one that should be most recognizable to sci-fi fans. The Japanese Garden SuihoEn at 6100 Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys is easily the city’s most unusual botanical garden. The property is situated on the grounds of the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, which was established in 1985 to purify wastewater for reuse.

The sprawling 6.5-acre property has three gardens—a Zen mediation garden, a “wet” garden, and a tea garden complete with an authentic Japanese tea house serving tea and almond cookies. The beautiful site features waterfalls, streams, winding pathways, a floating bridge, lakes, and countless picturesque vistas.

The Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in May 2012
The Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in May 2012

Photograph by Lindsay Blake

The Japanese Garden’s long film and television resume would be the envy of most actors. It has been featured in the movies Rising Sun, Memoirs of a Geisha, Bio-Dome, Dead Heat, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and in episodes of Charmed, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Alias, Numb3rs, and Knight Rider.

The reclamation plant’s futuristic administration building, which was designed by Anthony J. Lumsden, is the garden’s most well-known feature thanks to its appearance as Starfleet Academy in several Star Trek productions, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. For the productions, some CGI was employed to add a large tower to the building and to superimpose the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay into the background. Eagle-eyed Star Trek fans will also recognize the structure as the planet Rubicon 3, home of the Edo life forms, from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 episode titled “Justice.”

A screen grab from “Star Trek”

The Japanese Garden is a fabulous place for film buffs and non-buffs alike to enjoy a warm day, especially considering its low $5 admission fee. It’s closed on Fridays and Saturdays, though, so look to the future and plan accordingly.

Lindsay Blake is an actress, writer, celebrity admirer and Los Angeles enthusiast who contributes to CityThink each Thursday. Her true love is filming locations, and she founded the Web site IAMNOTASTALKER in 2007 to document her vast findings on the subject. For more “stalking” fun, you can follow Lindsay on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.