UCLA alumnus, philanthropist and environmental champion Morton La Kretz has given a $5 million gift to UCLA's Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, the largest in the garden’s history.

The funds donated by La Kretz will be used to build a garden pavilion that will house a welcome center and classroom, and to establish an endowment to maintain the new pavilion building. The new facility will be named the La Kretz Garden Pavilion. Construction is scheduled to begin in November 2015 and conclude by the end of 2016.

In January 2013, La Kretz made a $1 million gift to develop a new entrance to the seven-acre botanical garden, the first step in a series of renovations to increase the garden’s visibility, upgrade its infrastructure, improve its accessibility for the disabled and make it an increased focal point for visitors to UCLA. The new entrance will open with a free public celebration on Monday, June 2, at noon.

"We are extremely grateful for Morton La Kretz’s generous support and leadership," said Victoria Sork, dean of the UCLA Division of Life Sciences. "He shares our vision and commitment to developing the beautiful garden's full potential to serve the campus and community. The garden is a cherished part of our campus but has been desperately in need of improved infrastructure and maintenance for its continued role in education and outreach."

"This garden is a gem on the UCLA campus," La Kretz said. "It is exciting to support such a great asset to the university, one which contributes to outdoor learning and research in areas such as plant diversity and biology. The results of this research have important implications for the future of our environment."

The architecture and landscape design for the La Kretz Entrance were conceived and implemented by the award-winning firms Lehrer Architects and Mia Lehrer + Associates, in partnership with UCLA’s Life Sciences.

Created in 1929, the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is home to thousands of species of plants, including many that cannot be found anywhere else in California. Among its offerings are notable collections of tropical and subtropical trees, Australian plants, conifers and Hawaiian species, as well as salamanders, turtles, lizards and koi.

Located on the Westwood campus, the garden serves an important role for the university, both for conservation and as an outdoor laboratory for courses in botany, ecology, evolution and biogeography.

"The garden is special," said its director, Philip Rundel, a UCLA distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who holds a joint appointment at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. "When I give tours, everybody is amazed by the beauty of the garden, particularly if they are seeing it for the first time. They can't believe they are in West L.A. The garden serves as an oasis of tranquility for students, faculty, staff and the public."

Sork and Rundel envision many new possibilities for the garden with private support, including cultural and artistic events; exhibits and classes at the new welcome center; a large medicinal herb garden; a wheelchair-accessible tree-canopy walkway; and perhaps weddings and receptions.

La Kretz remembers, as a UCLA undergraduate, gathering "swampy" water from the garden for a biology class experiment. Years later, he traveled to Costa Rica on a popular field-study tour led by renowned scientist and horticulturist Mildred Mathias, for whom the garden is named and who served as its director from 1956 to 1974.

Located west of Hilgard Avenue and east of Tiverton Avenue, just a short walk south from Parking Structure 2 (map), the botanical garden is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter, and until 5 p.m. at other times of the year. It is closed on university holidays. Admission is free.

For information about supporting the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, please contact Siana-Lea Gildard at 310-206-0666 or slgildard@support.ucla.edu.