ASU's Secret Garden finds its place in campus lore

Nestled between Dixie Gammage Hall and West Hall is a secluded garden area, affectionately known to many current students and alumni as the Secret Garden.

"A" Mountain. Palm Walk. The Memorial Union.

Arizona State University is filled with unique and iconic locations on its Tempe campus, but there may be one popular spot you might not have seen.

Nestled between Dixie Gammage Hall and West Hall is a secluded garden area, affectionately known to many current students and alumni as the Secret Garden.

In recent years, students have found visiting the secluded sanctuary as a kind of rite of passage during their time at the school. While no one officially knows how the courtyard got its now familiar nickname, the garden's appeal is easily seen.

The courtyard features a large grassy area with several benches and trees, providing a great place to study, relax or escape the hustle and bustle of college life.

But when the courtyard area was first created in 1941 after the completion of Dixie Gammage Hall, the garden was more than just a place to get away. It was actually considered one of the hot spots for social activities on campus.

"The buildings surrounding the garden were originally women's dormitories," said Rob Spindler, University Archivist and Head of Archives and Special Collections at Arizona State University. "It wasn't uncommon to see the courtyard used for various activities and events during that time."

Spindler also said it wouldn't be a surprise to see events in West Hall spill into the courtyard. With the frequent use and popularity of the garden, calling the area a secret would be anything but accurate.

While the area was an important part of the social scene during its early years, the garden eventually started to lose its notoriety in the 60s and 70s.

According to Spindler, the buildings enclosing the garden were transitioned to offices during that time.

With no students actively using the buildings nearby, Spindler believes that is when the area started to lose its popularity.

"Once the buildings were no longer being used as dorms, you didn't have students looking out the windows and seeing the beautiful courtyard area," Spindler said. "And with the area completely closed in, you wouldn't really see it unless you knew it was there."

For the next few decades, the Secret Garden sat in relative obscurity until recently. According to Spindler, the earliest reference to the term "Secret Garden" wasn't until 1999 in a State Press database.

When I heard that tidbit, I was shocked. I began my college career at ASU in 2001 and I vividly recall hearing stories from classmates about the Secret Garden and the importance of stopping by to see it for myself. While on the Tempe campus, it just seemed like the Sun Devil college experience wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Secret Garden.

PHOTOS: ASU's Secret Garden

Even though the garden is finding new life among a new generation of ASU students, the origin of its new moniker still remains a mystery.

Spindler believes the meaning behind the name "Secret Garden" can be found in its location. Since the garden can't be seen from the outside of West Hall or Dixie Gammage Hall, and its minimal accessibility, the secrecy of its location became part of the courtyard's identity.

While secrecy is part of its new namesake, the garden is now very much a part of ASU lore and is a popular hot spot for students once again.

A quick Instagram search shows that the space is a popular destination for school photo shoots, and other events. The Secret Garden is even becoming a favorite Valley spot for weddings.

Students may no longer live in the buildings surrounding the Secret Garden, but the courtyard now lives in the hearts of ASU students across the campus.

Do you have a unique or interesting story about an experience at the Secret Garden? Share them with us on our Facebook page or our Twitter feed using #BeOn12.


Copyright 2016 KPNX


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