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Rockefeller Park and the Cleveland Cultural Gardens are a misunderstood, untapped resource and may represent one of this City’s greatest assets.

Rockefeller Park

Once hailed as one of this country’s finest public parks, Rockefeller Park is a beautiful urban green space linking two of Cleveland’s and this regions greatest assets, Lake Erie and University Circle.  A 1981 general management plan for this district by the Cleveland Foundation made the following assessment; "Rockefeller Park is the magnificent legacy of one of Cleveland’s most famed and fabled capitalists -- John Davidson Rockefeller. Unique within the world, Rockefeller Park, its Cultural Gardens, lagoon, paths, roadway and romantic stone bridges symbolically express the strength and diversity of Cleveland’s past -- and a bedrock for its future."

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens – A true national landmark

"Cleveland -- proud to possess this true garden spot of the nation where ideas and foliage flourish in unison -- possesses it, however, only in the geographical sense.  For in the more profound sense of dedication to cosmopolitan friendship and universal culture, the Cultural Gardens of Cleveland belong to America and to the world."

Their Paths are Peace

"True cultures impose no barriers of race or creed.  In fact, their influence is toward mutual understanding and wider sympathy.  Cleveland offers the world a tangible manifestation of this truth.  Cosmopolitan to a degree that few cities have been since the far dawn of civilization, Cleveland possesses a cultural institution which exemplifies the oneness of purpose linking great cultures of the world."

Leo Weidenthal, founder of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens


"The City of Cleveland can take justifiable pride in the fact that nowhere else in the world can a similar testimonial of understanding between peoples be found."

Anthony J. Celebrezze, Mayor of Cleveland


"These Gardens are utterly unique in the world.  They provide for the enlightenment of not only the Cleveland community, but for all Americans and beyond."

Mitch Berbrier, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Alabama


"America is filled with monuments and memorials, but few exemplify the dream of peace and brotherhood as powerfully as this unique site on the East Side of Cleveland.  I cannot think of another monument quite like it, even if we include Washington D.C. itself."

John Bodnar, Chancellor’s Professor and Chair, Department of History, Indiana University


"Very often I am asked what about the City is truly significant in national or even international terms.   The Cleveland Cultural Gardens is one of the aspects of the community that truly falls into that category.  The Gardens need to be recognized, fully revitalized and cherished."

John Grabowski, Director of Research WRHS, and Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History, CWRU.


"It certainly can be argued that by establishing the Cultural Gardens, Cleveland set an example for dealing with diversity, an example that much of America would 'catch up to' only in the 1960s."

John Grabowski, Director of Research WRHS, and Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History, CWRU


The Cleveland Cultural Garden Federation’s opposition to the existing Doan Brook Renovation plan is based on the following:

1. The project is being carried out to compensate for the loss of a natural watershed that occurred as part of the expansion of Cleveland Hopkins Airport.  This will be accomplished by returning the Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park to a more natural state, without any consideration given to the adverse impact that this will have on its infrastructure, historic features or function as a public park.

2. The Adverse Effect Analysis performed as part of the section 106 process identifies 12 major adverse effects that this project will have on the Park and Gardens. It summarizes the overall impact as creating “a more rough appearance reminiscent of a nature preserve.”

3. Hydrosphere Engineering carried out an evaluation of the Stream Renovation Proposal and stated the following;  “ There is a definite possibility that this experimental channel restoration will not work as designed.  The land dedicated to the Cultural Gardens could be irreparably eroded.”  The report goes on to even recommend a long-term performance bond, which would be required to repair the banks because the cost would certainly exceed the financial resources of the City of Cleveland. 

The report makes the following points regarding the goals of the proposal:

a. This plan utilizes methods that have been extensively used on streams and rivers that are not within urbanized watersheds.  In the few cases that urbanized watersheds were involved the results were mixed.  Some failed within a few years after construction.  There is not adequate data regarding long-term outcomes.

b. The stated reduction in flooding will be as much as 2 feet in certain areas. According to the independent analysis, this is not possible, and that even 2 and 1/2 inches would be an accomplishment. Flooding can still occur even if the project is completed as designed.

c. The project will result in improved water quality.  According to the independent analysis the proposed restoration project will do nothing to reduce contamination.  "The claim that the water quality will improve is at best wishful thinking."

d. The independent analysis cites Kenneth Brown at the Center for Watershed Protection in Maryland, stating that the proposed restoration project of Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park is exactly the type of project he warns against because of the significant risk of failure and lack of long-term data.

4. The stone retaining walls along the brook have stopped erosion for over 70 years and are a unique and beautiful design feature of Rockefeller Park.  Over 50% of the retaining walls in the Park will be removed by the existing plan. Not one penny will be spent on repairing the walls that are left behind.  Without routine maintenance these walls will also eventually collapse.  There is no provision for removal of trees that are close to the walls that will remain. These trees will accelerate destabilization of the walls as their roots push through the mortar joints.

5. According to the Section 106 Adverse Impact Analysis, over 11 acres of lawn that would typically be used for recreational purposes will be lost to regrading  of the Doan Brook Stream bed.  Over 14 acres of lawn will be replaced with naturalistic vegetation and trees to create more of a woodland type effect.  As a result the Park will lose one third of its lawn space. This will greatly diminish the function of the area as a public park.

6. Many of the open views of the Park and Gardens along MLK, the Harrison Dillard bike and walking paths will be eventually blocked by the plantings along the regarded brook as they mature.  This will not only detract from the beauty of the park, but it will also create substantial security issues because of poor visibility.

7. The FAA states that it has no further financial obligation to the project in the event of unanticipated cost overruns or structural failure.

In summary, the proposed changes to the Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park will;

1. Irreparably damage its historic features

2. Diminish its use as a public park.

3. Jeopardize the future of an invaluable resource of the City of Cleveland and a unique national landmark.

Rockefeller Park is Cleveland’s "Central Park."  Rockefeller Park and its Cultural Gardens clearly represent one of this City’s most important and unique assets.  In the past several years we have seen a renewed interest in the Park and Gardens as evidenced by an increased use of the park for recreation and special events as well as a significant commitment of funds from individual nationality groups toward the restoration of their gardens. With the proper long-term planning and funding the Park and Gardens could be fully restored to their former glory.  In addition to preserving its function as a grand public park, this unique cultural resource could significantly contribute to the evolution of University Circle into the cultural and educational Mecca that is currently envisioned.

The Cleveland Cultural Garden Federation proposes the following:

Replace the existing Doan Brook Renovation plan for one that places priority on historic preservation of the Park and Gardens and one that will maintain Rockefeller Park as a public park.  Adopt a plan that will realize the full potential of one of Cleveland’s greatest cultural resources.

A. Restore the masonry retaining walls to permanently eliminate long-term erosion and to preserve a unique and beautiful design feature of the Park.

B. Restore the historic stone bridges.

C. Remove trees along the brook that may, by their proximity, destabilize the retaining walls.

D. Restore open lawn spaces in the Park to facilitate recreational use by the community.

E. Remove dense underbrush and trees as necessary to restore open views through out the Park, to enhance appearance and eliminate security issues associated with decreased visibility.

F. Establish a PROPERLY funded long-term maintenance plan that will prevent the gradual deterioration of the natural and historic features of the Park that we are currently faced with.

G. Establish the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, a unique national landmark, as the National Peace and Cultural Gardens.

H. Create an organization to manage the Park and Gardens exclusively.  This could take the form of a public-private partnership similar to the Central Park Conservancy, through which the Conservancy manages Central Park under contract with New York City’s parks department.  This same model could also apply if Rockefeller Park and its Cultural Gardens became part of the National Parks.