Donald Gray Gardens

The Donald Gray Gardens were situated on 3.5 acres of lakefront just to the north of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The gardens and the Horticulture Building (1000 feet to the west of the gardens) were built in 1936 as part of the Great Lakes Exposition. One visiting the Expo had to pay twenty-five cents to reach the gardens, entering through the building. Ironically, the gardens sat on what was once the city dump, also a haven for the homeless during the Great Depression. Winsor French of the Cleveland Press remarked on this saying, "Incredible, to pass a dump one day and the next to find it a garden, complete with rolling lawns and flowering shrubs, but that's the way they do things."

Hundreds of workers from the New Deal's WPA (Works Progress Administration) were in charge of planting and landscaping the gardens. The man who designed the gardens was a prominent Cleveland architect by the name of A. Donald Gray who also had a private landscaping business and served as gardening editor for the Cleveland Press. Gray accomplished the task of constructing the gardens in only sixty-eight days. He created a rich and diverse setting in his landscape with waterfalls, ferns, mosses, vines, annuals, perennials, and rhododendron, to name just a few. Different gardens existed within the space, too, such as the various nationality gardens in the "Gardens of the Nations" and period gardens representing the eras of the frontier, Civil War, World War I, and the garden of the future. Expo visitors could relax in the gardens and enjoy views of Lake Erie on one of the many benches that lined a gravel walkway.

The Horticulture Building, meanwhile, was 60 feet wide and stretched 190 feet in length, with outdoor terraces at the top two levels holding umbrella tables and floral boxes It was built with the intention of being one of the permanent gifts left behind after the two year Expo ended, along with the gardens and the East 9th Street underpass. The building was designed in a modern, oval-tiered shape. Its fifty-foot tall entrance was embellished with Roman-style murals depicting harvesting and gardening scenes intricately painted by local artists. The building was under the sponsorship of the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland with contributions from other groups such as the Mentor Headlands Garden Club and Our Garden Club of Rocky River. Chairman of the project was Mrs. Elizabeth Mather, who planted the first tree outside the gardens. There were rotating flower shows in the building each month, along with space for garden club meetings and exhibition areas.

Unfortunately, the Horticultural Building burned down in 1941, only five years after it had opened. The gardens, however, lasted longer than any other part of the Expo. Indeed, they remained in their original location north of Municipal Stadium until being dug up and destroyed during the construction of the new Cleveland Browns Football Stadium in the late 1990s.

Images

Audio

"The Last Surviving Vestige"
John Vacha, historian and author of Meet Me on Lake Erie, Dearie!: Cleveland's Great Lakes Exposition, talks about the size of the Donald Gray Gardens and their eventual demise.
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Horticultural Building
John Vacha, historian and author of Meet Me on Lake Erie, Dearie!: Cleveland's Great Lakes Exposition, leads us from the Hall of Progress to the Horticultural Building.
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