Rockefeller Park, Cleveland, Ohio

Martin Luther King Boulevard through Rockefeller Park
Martin Luther King Boulevard through Rockefeller Park

Originating with the 1897 donation by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller of 276 acres to the city of Cleveland, Rockefeller Park now forms a key component of Cleveland’s ‘Emerald Necklace’ — that interconnected loop of gardens, parks and recreation areas ringing the city, affording Clevelanders rest, relief and recreation.

Rockefeller Park generally follows the course of Doan Brook and its valley, with East Boulevard running parallel along its eastern ridge. The Doan Brook’s northern course runs from its headwaters in what was once the village of Shaker Heights to its terminus at the shore of Lake Erie. Along that course, the winding brook and its folded valley meander through the inner-city eastern stretches of Cleveland.

The Park was at first conceived as a sedate and romantic green getaway from the city’s congestion, a lå Central Park in Manhattan. And, within certain portions, it still serves that purpose, offering scenery, hiking, biking, and both active and passive recreational areas amid dense foliage to area residents and visitors.

But, as the Park is bisected along much of its course by an uninterrupted roadway providing a key link from the Lake to University Circle, such pastoral uses are undercut by the consistent through-traffic.

Situated along the brook and parkway, much like charms on a bracelet, are the Cultural Gardens of Cleveland. Begun in the mid-1920s, the Cultural Gardens consist of a series of individual gardens, placed intermittently along a three-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard, each dedicated to one of the City’s many different nationality or ethnic groups.

The Gardens took their cue from journalist Leo Weidenthal’s 1925 garden dedicated to Shakespeare. Soon thereafter, gardens were established commemorating Hebrew, German, Italian, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, Ukrainian and Yugoslav ethnic and cultural identities. Since those early years, additional gardens — Korean, Indian and Azerbaijani among them — have been established.

Each of the Cultural Gardens incorporates its own particular mix of features. Many include plazas, plaques, commemorative stones, and sculptures; some have fountains, staircases or balustrades. While a few are accessible directly from Martin Luther King Boulevard at the valley bottom, many more are better reached from East Boulevard along the valley ridge. Recent planning undertaken by McKnight Associates of Cleveland and Siteworks of Charlottesville, Virginia, — under the auspices of University Circle and ParkWorks — promises to restore The Cultural Gardens, and thereby Rockefeller Park, to their historic splendor.  

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