Filed Under Parks

Rockefeller Park

With the opening of Wade Park in 1882 and then Gordon Park some ten years later, the Doan Brook valley on Cleveland's east side was turning into a picturesque stretch of public parks as the nineteenth century drew to a close. On July 22, 1896, during a celebration of the city's centennial at the Central Armory, John D. Rockefeller's real estate agent J. G. W. Cowles announced another key piece in this transformation: Rockefeller had purchased nearly $250,000 worth of land along the valley to make the chain of parks complete from Lake Erie to Shaker Heights. Moreover, Rockefeller would give over $300,000 to the Cleveland Park Board for the beautification and maintenance of the new park. The crowd at the Armory responded with three cheers for Rockefeller and then quickly passed a resolution declaring that the park would forever bear his name.

Today, the portion of parkland named Rockefeller Park runs between Gordon and Wade Parks. Roughly two miles long, it was the recipient of a good portion of Rockefeller's funds. Here, the Doan Brook, which has been culverted underground for much of its path through University Circle, flows in the open past the Cultural Gardens. The park may bear Rockefeller's name, but it reflects the hand of landscape architect Ernest W. Bowditch of Brookline, Massachusetts. Bowditch, who frequently worked with Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and John Charles Olmsted of the Olmsted Brothers firm as a surveyor or draftsman, sculpted a park that in many ways embodied Olmstedian principles. Charles Schweinfurth's four elegant stone bridges (completed in 1900) carry traffic over Doan Brook and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In addition, this part of Rockefeller Park features tennis courts, picnic areas, and a bike trail. Here, one will also find the Rockefeller Park Lagoon, once a popular destination for ice skating, fishing, and boating. The city drained the lagoon for a time in the 1970s, but it has since been restored.

Audio

"Timeless" Architect Richard Fleischmen shares a childhood memory from Rockefeller Park and describes the park's "timeless" quality.
Speedskating at Rockefeller Park Joseph O'Sickey describes the days when speedskating at Rockefeller Park Lagoon would draw spectators by the tens of thousands.

Images

An Early Scene in Rockefeller Park
An Early Scene in Rockefeller Park Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Date: ca. 1905
Rockefeller Park Lagoon, 1912
Rockefeller Park Lagoon, 1912 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Toy Sailboats, 1943
Toy Sailboats, 1943 Kids race toy sailboats in the Rockefeller Park Lagoon in 1943. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Fishing, May 1943
Fishing, May 1943 Fishing in the Rockefeller Park Lagoon in May 1943. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
"Spuds in the Fire," Oct. 1947
"Spuds in the Fire," Oct. 1947 The caption for this Cleveland Press photograph from October 15, 1947 reads: "The spuds are in the fire and the gang gathers round, proof that autumn is here. This picture was taken on a hillside in Cleveland's Rockefeller Park. Here, only a short distance from busy St. Clair and Superior Avenues, trees drop colored leaves and a roasting pit awaits young athletes with healthy appetites." Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Rockefeller Park Lagoon, 1956
Rockefeller Park Lagoon, 1956 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Drained Lagoon, July 1978
Drained Lagoon, July 1978 The City of Cleveland decided to drain the Rockefeller Park Lagoon for a short period in the late 1970s to prevent flooding. The drained lagoon soon turned into an eyesore, and it was later restored to its original condition. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Location

Martin Luther King Jr Dr, Cleveland, OH

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “Rockefeller Park,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 21, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/144.