While the Second World War was raging across the globe, a different war was being fought on the homefront against food shortages. But victory gardens were more about supporting the U.S. war effort than fighting hunger. The Mall, a park-like civic space in downtown Cleveland, was selected by the city to host a community victory garden as a wartime demonstration project to inspire and educate students and people unfamiliar with growing vegetables. With land donated by the city, the victory garden grew as a successful community project that even lasted for some time after the end of the war.
Victory gardens were a nationwide federal initiative promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the purpose of feeding people amid wartime food rationing and farm labor shortages during World War II. Victory gardens were intended to grow a wide array of vegetables that would feed families while most processed food was shipped overseas to feed the military fighting the war. Victory gardens were thus seen as a patriotic duty towards the war effort.
While many rural Americans already grew their own food, this was less true of people in cities, towns, and suburbs. Most gardens were in suburban residential areas or in small towns, but cities also had gardens in parks, on school grounds and vacant lots, and on rooftops in the most urban areas. It has been estimated that victory gardens produced about 40% of all produce consumed by Americans during the war. However, after the D-Day landings, as an Allied victory looked increasingly attainable, victory gardens slowly declined in popularity.
Cleveland's demonstration victory garden was located on Mall B (the southern portion of the Mall), between Rockwell and St. Clair Avenues. Mayor Frank Lausche and city officals approved the Mall site because it was the a highly visible, central space with natural ground for growing vegetables.The groundbreaking for the Mall Victory Garden did not come until February 1943, during the height of the victory garden craze across the nation. Breaking ground was difficult due to contractors' fear of damaging their plows and equipment on rocks while plowing the ground for the plots. Planting of seeds for the various vegetables started in May, the start of the growing season.
After planting, Bee Taylor was assigned by the Cuyahoga County Victory Garden Committee to be the full-time attendant of the gardens for day-to-day duties. A resident of South Euclid, Taylor was a member of the Harvey Rice Garden Club. The Garden Center (later renamed the Cleveland Botanical Garden) paid her salary. By June, the garden began holding demonstrations to educate people on how to tend to certain vegetables. With twenty-four different kinds of vegetables under cultivation, the garden was a popular attraction for people who came and see the garden grow as well as watch demonstrations. Most of the produce raised there was either sent to local institutions or canned for display purposes. In the 1943 season alone, Bee Taylor counted 50,000 people visiting the garden "to ask questions, compare the growth of their own vegetables with those on the Mall, and hear experienced growers" in 24 lecture demonstrations. The garden was so popular that it expanded to include more plots for crops. By April 1944, the garden was open again with the new expansion. The garden surely played a role in inspiring the planting of some the 115,000 victory gardens in the Cleveland area.
However, as the war started to shift in favor of Allied victory after D-Day, attendance started to decline slightly. Despite the decline, the Mall Victory Garden remained popular for students and those who wanted to learn gardening. There were even talks and demonstrations held by editors of victory garden columns and other publications. By the end of the 1944 growing season, the gardens closed and prepared for the 1945 season. When victory came in 1945, victory gardens decreased significantly after the surrender of the Axis forces and the government program ended a year later. Despite the end of the victory garden program, the city of Cleveland wanted to keep the community gardens around years after the end of the war. However, popularity was never the same as during the war. The Mall Victory Garden finally closed in late 1947. The former Mall Victory Garden site was later repurposed in 1964 for a "war memorial fountain" that is now known as the Fountain of Eternal Life.