Most Endangered East Bay Landmark

Cleveland Cascade

Back in 1923, the Cleveland Cascade must have given Lake Merritt the look of the Riviera with a side order of Miami Beach. On a steep incline, water cascaded from one bowl to the next — with twenty mini-waterfalls, decorative concrete shells, and rainbow lighting. Howard Gilkey, the city landscape architect, designed it to resemble Italian waterfalls, but by 1950, the falls had ceased operation. Fifty years later, it was overgrown with weeds and all-but forgotten. Aware of its existence, Barbara Newcombe, a retired newspaper librarian, sleuthed through a UC library and experienced a eureka! moment, uncovering a photo of the Cascade. That was the clue neighbors needed. On weekends they excavated. Since then, activists convinced the city of Oakland to spend more than $200,000 in park bond measure money to install LED lights and repair railings for the 139 steps on both sides of the cascade. The work will begin in early winter. Jim Ratliff, who led the dig, says neighbors will raise $1.5 million (or more) in private funds to bring the Cleveland Cascade back. Meanwhile, the stairs are alive with exercisers but the Cascade remains scruffy, save for the basins from which water once overflowed and where potted native plants now grow.

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