The Gardens at Lake Merritt’s Entry Gets a Facelift

by Sarah Van Roo and Donald Cooper


Many of us wander bewitched though the Autumn Lights Festival each fall, without knowing that each ticket purchased has gone to help fund the redesign of the entrance plaza for The Gardens at Lake Merritt in Lakeside Park. This plan, six years in unfolding, was created by the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt. It includes a new iron gate, designed by Alameda ironwork artist Shawn Lovell. She is a blacksmith of national stature andwas the cover story for the March/February 2013 issue of American Craft magazine. The gate, which will be next to the Garden Center plaza is separately funded by Measure DD.

The Autumn Lights funds go toward improved fencing in the gate areas, new plant landscaping and hardscaping – that means the concrete pathway entryways, and also proceeding into the garden itself with new gardens.  The current entrance will become a service entry.

Volunteer Emily Geagan has been an important part of the entrance landscape redesign committee – working countless hours over a period of several years, and her architecture and landscape architecture expertise is shining through.   She did the horticulture design, which emphasizes pollinator and bay-friendly plants.

Emily directed and watched last week as over 1000 new plants were settled into fresh soil, many of them planted by yet more volunteers.  The Garden staff helped with the planting and did much of the irrigation installation a few days later. It’s all snuggled in for the winter rains under heaps of fresh mulch.

Bruce Cobbledick

As always, much of the credit for pushing the plan to execution goes to Park Supervisor Tora Rocha.  As she retires at the end of November, this will be one off her many legacies.  Speaking of legacies, full and final credit goes to Bruce Cobbledick.

Bruce served for years as an officer of Oakland East Bay Garden Center Inc. and provided the organizational and practical foundation for what we now know as the Gardens at Lake Merritt. He was the first President of the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt and he spearheaded this gate redesign project during his presidency and afterward. Bruce was instrumental in having the design of the gate included for Measure DD funding. The entry gate area will be named in his honor.

Bruce did the original design for the front gardens, working with Landscape Architects to get the Measure DD funds.  Emily did the landscaping plan which is focused on a pollinator theme.

Oakland’s two beautiful public gardens are the direct legacy of the Cobbledick family. Bruce’s father, Arthur Cobbledick, designed landscaping for the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses, constructed in 1932  as a project of the Works Progress Administration.

Also to be noted is the role of volunteer Dick Austin in this gate project. Aside from the formidable task of attending countless meetings with the city on this effort, he was president of OEBGC and the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt for many years . He and Bill Castellon raised money and renovated the Japanese Garden when it fell in to disrepair, and have been taking care of it ever since.

The good news and bad news: Our secret gardens won’t be so secret any more!

Editor:  Sarah Van Roo, who lives near and loves Lake Merritt, manages social media for the Gardens at Lake Merritt and the Autumn Lights Festival.  Donald Cooper, President of the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt  from 2014 through mid-2017, notes that during his tenure, they surpassed fundraising goals but he says, his, “proudest achievement, as President, was to lead a board of extraordinary community members and recruit new directors who represented Oakland across lines by race, religion, gender orientation and ability”.