By the time we discovered the Cleveland Cascade Park, all signs of the original cascading fountain were, and had been for decades, buried under dirt, weeds, and rosemary bushes.
What happened? When did it happen? Who did it?
A trip to the Oakland Library's History Room, plus the knowledgeable help of librarian Steve Lavoie, provided a partial solution to the when? part of the mystery.
Steve disappeared into the back room, returning with an envelope of photographic negatives, dated November 1950, taken by what was then called the Parks Department. Digitally scanning the negatives, inverting them into positives, and enhancing the otherwise too-washed-out photos revealed a then-surprising conclusion….
The Parks Department photographs clearly showed that by November 1950 the Cleveland Cascade was no longer operational. There was no water in the bottom retaining pool. Vegetation had overgrown the beds on either side of the fountain; greenery flopped into the basins themselves.
Indeed, an enlarged detail shows that the basins’ saucers and shell-shaped shields had already been effectively demolished. In fact, the 1950 photographs showed the basins and their accessories in essentially the same condition we found them when we excavated in 2004.
The Cleveland Cascade never even reached its 30th birthday as a functioning fountain.
See a side-by-side comparison: 1950 vs. today.
The Parks Department photographs substantially moved earlier our estimate of when the Cascade fell into utter despair.
Their 1950 date naturally suggested that World War II might have been a causal contributor to the Cascade’s neglect.
The war effort put great demands on both people and physical resources. City personnel who would have maintained parks became soldiers. Commodities were rationed. Blackout restrictions darkened the Necklace of Lights surrounding Lake Merritt.
It seems plausible then that the extreme demands World War II placed on all City services might be the explanation for the collapse of the Cleveland Cascade.
So far, though, this remains a speculation. The mystery of the fall of the Cleveland Cascade continues.
Cleveland Cascade at The Organic City
Our big thanks to filmmakers Seamus Byrne and Sarah Mattern, creators of TheOrganicCity.com, an awesomely creative interactive site chronicling the stories of the Lake Merritt area. It’s open source, so you can contribute your own stories.
Your opportunity for major, long-lasting impact
If you are a philanthropically inclined individual or organization or a public-spirited company, and if the restoration of the Cleveland Cascade is a project that might align with your interests, values, and goals, please email.
There are exciting opportunities for you to have a major, long-lasting impact on Oakland, its residents, and visitors — by simultaenously honoring Oakland’s past and enriching its future — and for you to receive the recognition you deserve.