Sometime in the 1950s, or perhaps as late as the 1970s, the Cleveland Cascade’s water feature went into disrepair and was turned off. Sometime after that the concrete basins were filled in and planted with rosemary bushes — and the saucers and shell-shaped shields were removed and/or smashed.
Over the years, various groups came together to tend to the Cascade's grounds or even venture thoughts of restoring it to its previous grandeur. Articles appeared discussing the origins and history of the Cascade, some with photographs taken not long after its creation. in 1996, a group called Friends of the Cleveland Cascade had ambitious plans:
Restoration plans are both immediate and long range. The spring 1997 project aims to rebuild the pool, renovate the fountain, and replace the shrubbery around the pool at the top of the stairs. Costs will be borne by community fundraising and Parks Department matching funds. In the long run the Friends envision relandscaping and relighting the entire block-long area. Centerpiece of the restoration will be a rebuilt, reaquified cascade from upper pool to lower level.
We don't know what became of that effort. Times and people involved changed, and the efforts lapsed.
In the summer of 2003, a Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) for the neighborhood was reorganized, and many of the participants were interested in resuscitating the Cleveland Cascade. We had barely heard rumors of previous efforts, and we knew nothing of why they had failed. We scheduled our first work party for the Cascade for May Day, 2004.
None of the photographs we had seen to date was clear enough and sufficiently close-up to get a good idea of what the original water feature looked like, beyond the verbal descriptions we had read. We didn't know how wide it was, or what its scale more generally was.
In April 2004, the leader of the NCPC's Green Team, Barbara Newcombe, went to the Environmental Design Library at the University of California at Berkeley to research the Cascade. She discovered a 1931 article by Howard Gilkey which had the clearest and most-detailed photograph we had ever seen showing how the Cascade was structured and what it looked like when the water was flowing.
Just in time for our May Day work day, thanks to that photograph, we finally had a clear conception of the original water feature. While others were planting at the base, a couple of us picked up picks and shovels, headed for the top of the Cascade, and started probing with a long stiff wire to discern the water feature's more-precise location. Digging yielded quick and satisfying results. Two more weekends later, almost all of the original water feature had been excavated.
While the saucers and shell-shaped shields were no longer attached or intact, we ultimately found sufficient large pieces of the saucers to feel confident that we can construct a mold into which to pour a historically accurate replica. We were less lucky with finding pieces of the shell-shaped light shields; however we did clearly see the mortar joints where they were attached. The remnants of the mortar joints and the 1931 photograph should still give us the information we need for an historically accurate reproduction.
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.