Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens

Stretching from I-90, which runs by the shore of Lake Erie, to the University Circle area, are the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. It is a collection of gardens with statuary, decorative ironwork, and fountains,  serving as a living monument representing the diversity of the varying ethnic groups of the Greater Cleveland area. It is an approximately 50 acres section of the much larger 254-acre Rockefeller Park that was created in 1896 on land donated to the city by industrialist John D. Rockefeller. It follows the paths of both East and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History provides some background:

The CLEVELAND CULTURAL GARDEN FEDERATION oversees the Cultural Gardens, landscaped gardens with statuary honoring various ethnic groups in Cleveland situated along East Blvd. and Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd.

The CCGF was founded in 1925 as the Civic Progress League by Leo Weidenthal, who, during the dedication of the Shakespeare Garden in Rockefeller Park in 1916, felt that similar sites should be prepared for each of the city's nationality communities. In 1926 the organization became the Cultural Garden League, and a Hebrew garden was established. On 9 May 1927 the city set aside areas of Rockefeller Park for future gardens. The Italian, German, Lithuanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian gardens were established in 1930; the Polish, Hungarian, Czech, and Yugoslav gardens in 1934; and the American, Rusin, Irish, Greek, and Syrian gardens in 1938. Romanian, Estonian, Afro-American, Chinese, Finnish, and Indian gardens have since been created. Planning and fundraising for each garden was undertaken within the various ethnic communities, while the Cleveland Cultural Garden Fed. (the name adopted in 1952) oversaw overall planning and coordinated various joint programs, including the 2nd UNESCO Conference (1949) and the annual One World Day (begun in 1945). During the 1960s and 1970s, many gardens suffered vandalism and statuary was removed for safekeeping. In 1985-86 a major restructuring of the area was undertaken and plans discussed for rehabilitating the gardens by the federation, including 40 members from the affiliated nationalities.

The gardens had faced some periods of neglect, theft of some of the greenery,  and vandalism of some of the stone and metal works. Frankly, the last time I drove through the area (only a few months ago) I found myself somewhat saddened to see no one walking though the park. While it doesn’t look neglected, it is clear that the city has not capitalized as much as it should on what can be a stunning green space. It certainly makes for a nice drive through, but is not welcoming to just stopping your car to admire the area. Parking is impossible along MLK Blvd., so if you plan to visit, you may have to park at the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse at the north end of the park and walk, or, in other locations in the neighborhood on East Blvd. near Sam Miller Park. There may be other parking locations that are available of which I am not aware.

The park really is one of the gems of the city, one that may need a little clean and polish to get is back to its original, intended state, and to make it more welcoming to Greater Cleveland residents and visitors to the city.

Admission to the Gardens is free, as well as to the Rockefeller Greenhouse.

A new web site for the Cleveland Cultural Gardens can be found at this link. And, if you’d like to sneak a peak before going there, a very nice collection of photographs can be found here.

An interesting web site covering the state and the preservation of the Gardens can be found at the Cultural Landscape Foundation, here.

There are also many photos of the early days of the Gardens which can be found at the Cleveland Press Memory Project, here.

Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information,here.

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