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About Splash Pad Park

Walter Hood

Walter Hood

Splash Pad Park was designed by Walter Hood — the founder of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, California.  He is a professor and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Bay Area commissions also include the gardens surrounding the De Young Museum, Oakland’s

Lafayette Park and in 2021, a total revamp of the Oakland Museum’s exterior. In 2023, Hood Design Studio was selected by the City of Piedmont to design a monument in honor of the first black Piedmont residents (the Sidney Dearing family) who were forcibly removed from their home on Wildwood Avenue in 1925.

During a November 7, 2023 presentation in Piedmont, Hood explained the process his team uses to incorporate community input and preserve history using as examples, a slide show of previous projects culminating in his design for the exterior of the International African American Museum in South Carolina.

The Grand Opening of the new Splash Pad Park was in October of 2003.

“The challenge is how to make good space so that people occupy it in different ways,”

Walter Hood
Hood Design Studio, Splash Pad Park
Hood Design Photo

The Hood Design Studio website includes photos, plans and architectural drawings for Splash Pad Park.

In the ensuing years, Hood has been featured in innumerable articles and has been honored with major awards including the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in 2009 and a MacArthur Genius Award in 2019. A partial list of other awards and articles are listed below:

Birth and Rebirth

In the past 150 years, the space has had a number of incarnations.  Some of that historical background is outlined below.

Splash Pad History

1876 Map

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 northern most boundary of Lakeside park.

1876 Map

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.

Splash Pad Park Dwell Magazine Photo

In November of 1999, Russo announced that he was willing to consider other options for park improvements and later  successfully lobbied his fellow council members for initial park funding.

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 primary contractor was Ray’s Electric owned by Oakland native, Greg Gruendl. The construction foreman was Luke Middleton.

park

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.

he 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 which 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.

Music was a major part of the day’s success and featured Rob Robinson, Jim Grantham‘s Jazz Quartet plus Yancey Taylor, the Zydeco Flames and Asheba.

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In early 2002, when park supporters learned that the “Fountain Wall”, a central feature in Walter Hood’s tentative plans, had been axed due to a shortage of funds, they made a commitment to raise the necessary funds. Some of the $50,000 goal was reached through the sale of “Splish Splash, Thanks for the Cash” t-shirts and a much more substantial amount through major donations from Safeway, Albertson’s, The Marin County Farmers Market Association (now AIM), The Public Financial Management Group and Grand Lake Neighbor, Gordon Shell. Those donations are memorialized through a bronze plaque that is mounted to the left of the fountain.

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

California Community Native Garden

As construction plans for the new park were being finalized in 2002, 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 later  a Park Supervisor), Michael Sasso (then owner of Potrero Gardens) and Tom Nelson (then 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.

Some of what was planted  in 2003 is thriving — but over time,  additional California natives have been added to fill holes in the original beds. In 2014, Splash Pad’s “Grand Crew” team of volunteers, under the leadership of Mary Jo Sutton, also began expanding into three adjacent Dogwood beds – the last and largest of which was landscaped in 2017. Subsequently, two fern beds were also replanted with California Natives. Funding for these projects were provided through grants from Keep Oakland Beautiful plus a substantial donation from Marcia Lam, owner of Lin Jia Asian Kitchen .

THE SHORTAGE OF PARK MAINTENANCE STAFF REMAINS AN ISSUE AND THE ONGOING SUCCESS OF THE CALIFORNIA NATIVE GARDEN IS WHOLLY DEPENDENT ON VOLUNTEER SUPPORT. IF YOU’D LIKE TO VOLUNTEER FOR A 4TH SUNDAY WORK DAY FROM 9 TO NOON, PLEASE EMAIL: MJMATRIX2@GMAIL.COM.