The Cleveland Cascade was born in Oakland, California, in 1923, conceived and midwifed by noted landscape architect Howard Gilkey.
A stunning Italian-inspired water feature, it hugged the steep hill, falling almost into Lake Merritt from the Cleveland Heights hill above. Water spilled from bowl to bowl, illuminated at night by colored lights ordered in rainbow sequence.
Two flights of steps, flanking the Cascade on the left and right, ascend the hill. Today these steps are heavily trafficked by walkers, runners, and even more-extreme exercisers.
Sometime by 1950, the water feature had slipped into disrepair and was turned off. Sometime after that the concrete basins were filled in with dirt and planted with rosemary bushes. As time passed, fewer and fewer even knew of the water feature the Cascade once was.
In the spring of 2004, neighbors interested in resuscitating the Cleveland Cascade organized. We scheduled our first work party for the Cascade for May Day.
PGA Design, a local landscape-architecture firm, heard about our project and called to generously donate their services, selecting appropriate plants and plotting out their best placement.
Volunteers planted and mulched on the lowest level. Some of us went upward to find whatever we could of the original water feature, spurred on by the recent discovery of a photograph, published in a 1931 issue of American Landscape Architect, clearly showing water flowing from bowl to bowl. Digging yielded quick and satisfying results. Two more weekends later, almost all of the original water feature had been excavated.
The Cascade's underlying concrete structure was in great shape (for an 81 year old). Between the artifacts we retrieved and the photographs we have found, we feel confident we have enough information to create historically accurate reproductions of the missing pieces.
The beauty of that ALA photograph, our love for our neighborhood, the great progress we so quickly made, and the encouraging condition of the Cascade's foundation combined to unite us behind the obvious ultimate goal: We want to restore the Cleveland Cascade to its original flowing-water gurgling vitality!
The Oakland City Council has allocated $300,000 of Measure DD money toward the restoration of the Cleveland Cascade and we have raised significant funds privately. That’s a great start — that will get us through Phase I.
We are funding the planning for Phase I privately, in order to save the Measure DD money for construction. Our design team has been assembled and they are currently developing the master plan for the site. We are simultaneously working on a Historic Landscape Report, which will be required by Oakland’s Landmarks Advisory Board. All along the way, we’ll be holding a series of public meetings to get your input on the project. Stay tuned!
If you'd like to be involved in any way, we need you! Please email us.
Phase I will address critical infrastructure issues, including safety, ADA compliance, drainage, and structural stability. But it won’t, alas, deliver a restored fountain.
Phase II will be exciting, because it will bring back to life the fountain that has inspired us. We’ll need to raise serious money to make Phase II a reality.
As the design process unfolds, we’ll get a better idea of how much Phase II will cost. Once we have a reliable target, we’ll launch a major capital campaign to take the Cleveland Cascade’s restoration all the way home.
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. Now is not too early to get involved!
Here’s how you can donate to the cause…
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 or phone: (510)903-9216.
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.