Splash Pad Park was designed by Walter Hood — the founder of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, California. He is a professor and former Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. His commissions in the Bay Area also include the gardens surrounding the De Young Museum and Oakland’s Lafayette Park. Since Splash Pad’s opening in 2003, Walter has received numerous awards including recognition in 2009 by the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum as the Landscape Architect of the Year. He has been honored with numerous awards and has been featured (along with the park, itself) in a stunning array of publications. Here’s a partial list:
- March 2004 New York Times
- April 2, 2004 article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Patrick Hoge
- The July 2006 issue of California, the UC Berkeley alumni magazine
- The August 2005 issue of Metropolis
- Excerpt from May 2006 article by George Hazelrigg in Landscape Architecture Magazine
- Dwell Magazine, April 2006
- Named 2009 Black History Month Local Hero by KQED
- Fast Company Magazine, October 2010
- Architect Magazine, June 2011
- Appointed Inaugural Holder of the David K. Woo Chair in Environmental Design, February 2013
- Named a Knight Foundation Public Spaces Fellow, June 2019
- Awarded a $20 million contract to revamp Oakland Museum landscaping and open it to Lake Merritt, September 2019
- Awarded a MacArthur Genius Award, October 2019
- Honored with the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, October 2019
“The challenge is how to make good space so that people occupy it in different ways,”
The Hood Design Studio website includes photos, plans and architectural drawings for Splash Pad Park.
Birth and Rebirth
The “new” Splash Pad Park opened in 2003 but in the past 125 years, the space has had a number of incarnations. Some of that historical background is outlined below.
Splash Pad History
As pictured in an 1876 pictorial atlas, what is now Splash Pad Park was then adjacent to the farthest reaches of Lake Merritt. Over time, the marshes were filled and the space became the northernmost boundary of Lakeside park.
When Highway 580 was built circa 1960, palms and other landscaping were planted around a concrete-lined pond into which water splashed giving the park the name it has since retained. Eventually, the fountain became inoperative and the landscaping sadly neglected.
In the late 1990′s, recognizing that the space was a forbidding, pedestrian barrier, council member John Russo began lobbying that it be leased for commercial purposes. A petition in opposition circulated by Caroline Kim and the East Shore Park Preservation Association garnered in excess of 7,000 signatures.
As the debate intensified, Ken Katz called the first meeting of what would become the Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum. Questionnaires circulated by SPNF quickly confirmed an overwhelming desire to preserve the space as a park, but also began
to focus on what kind of changes were required to improve pedestrian access and make it an attractive and useable asset.
An all volunteer Design Team consisting of Donald Wardlaw, Edith Robertson, Chiye Azuma, Liz Pulver, Leo Lozano, Daniel Galvez and Jeanette Sayre was organized as a SPNF subcommittee and they eventually came to a basic consensus on some fundamental improvements and goals.
Meanwhile, the SPNF Traffic and Pedestrian Committee chaired by Jerry Cauthen was drafting its own recommendations. Members of that committee included Bruce de Benedictis, David Bolanos, Ken Pratt, Chris Pederson, Lou Grantham, Bob Moorhead, Jack McCoy and Jon Barrileaux.
In July of 2000, SPNF presented its Final Report to the City which laid the groundwork for the hiring of Landscape Architect Walter Hood. Asked to comment on the Splash Pad Project, he replied: “It has transformed the space into a park that people can actually occupy with flexible spaces that support a variety of uses”.
Other members of the Hood design team included Sarah Raube who provided day-to-day oversight of construction and Rich Seyfarth who played an integral role in the drafting and implementation of the park design.
Since the project required the removal of Lake Park Way, as well as other pedestrian and traffic improvements, the Public Works Department was designated as the lead agency. Jadia Wu supervised the design process and Randy Mach provided on-site, construction supervision.
The successful conclusion of the park project was due in large part to the ongoing support and encouragement of District 2 Council Member Danny Wan whose advocacy of Measure DD further underscored his commitment to park improvements. His Chief of Staff, Pat Kernighan, also played a quiet, but pivotal role working adeptly with city staff, the architects and the community.
Grand Opening Party 2003
The October 20, 2003 Grand Opening Celebration for the newly improved Splash Pad Park was eagerly anticipated by the entire community — but especially so, by the vendors and patrons of the weekly Farmers’ Market who had been banished to the parking lot under the freeway for a full year while construction was ongoing. October 20 was to be our day in the sun and that turned out to be quite literally the case as temperatures zoomed into the 90’s.
When the fountain was switched on, dozens of little ones stormed the fountain while speaker after speaker marveled at the weather and the size of the turnout and outdid one another with superlatives extolling the new park and the process which brought it to fruition.
The major portion of the funding, however, came through donations for the, “Names in Lights” panels – an idea that Hood came up with on the spur of the moment. Names, logos and messages from over 300 businesses, individuals and families were cut with water jets into 1/4 inch high density steel. Two of those donations merit special mention. Lakeview School raised $500 in the space of a week in a campaign that was orchestrated by one of their teachers, Michelle Lewis. Equally appreciated was a donation from Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church whose message etched in steel reads, “We Believe in this Community”. In addition, the church hosted all the major Splash Pad Meetings as part of an “Open Door” policy that continues to this day.
Fundraising Committee members included campaign treasurer, Liza Calef, Lou Grantham, Thomas and Maxine O’Guinn, Jennie Gerard, Mary Ellen Navas and Leasa Sutliffe with an assist from Linda Kiehle, Shanti Corrigan, John Pendleton and James Dinh. They also had the invaluable assistance of their fiscal sponsor The Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation.
The Names in Lights panels were officially dedicated with a well-attended, lighting ceremony on January 10, 2004 that was documented with photos by Miron Murcury.
California Native Community Garden
As construction plans for the new park were being finalized, the Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum learned that the amount of proposed landscaping would be minimal due to a shortage of park maintenance staff. As a compromise, Walter Hood and the City agreed to add a lineal, 1400 square foot California Native Garden that the community would plant and support. Tora Rocha ( then a City Gardener and until late 2017, a Park Supervisor), Michael Sasso (then owner of Potrero Gardens) and Tom Nelson (Manager of Ace Grand Lake Ace Nursery), put together a plant list and Mary Ellen Navas solicited donations. On October 4, 2003, over twenty enthusiastic volunteers landscaped the entire bed in one morning. One hundred per cent of the plants were donated. Donors included Michael Sasso, the Grand Lake Nursery, the California Horticultural Society, Emerisa Gardens and Sebastapol Growers in Santa Rosa, the Suncrest Nursery in Watsonville and the Native Sons Nursery in Arroyo Grande.
The majority of what was planted in 2003 is thriving — but over time, additional California natives have been added to fill holes in the landscaping. In 2014, Splash Pad’s “Grand Crew” team of volunteers, under the leadership of Mary Jo Sutton, began expanding into three adjacent Dogwood beds – the last and largest of which was landscaped in 2017. Much of the funding for these expansion projects was provided through grants from Keep Oakland Beautiful. In 2018, the Grand Crew’s goal is to install plant tags, brochures and interpretative signage with funding again provided by KOB.