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The Oakland Rose Garden
Back in the 1930s, under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, built numerous landscaping projects throughout the Bay Area. Notable were the Aquatic Park in San Francisco, The Mountain Theatre on Mount Tamalpais, the Berkeley Rose Garden and John Hinckle Park in Berkeley, and the Woodminster Theatre in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland.
One of the most beautiful of these WPA projects is the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses designed by landscape architect Arthur Cobbledick. In this wild canyon just off Grand Avenue, Cobbledick laid out a formal Italian garden inspired by the gardens of Florence and Rome. If you enter from Jean Street, there is a classical curved colonnade. Beyond the colonnade you will come to the Florentine: the garden, oval pool and loggia. Before and after the pool are a maze of beds containing from 6,000 to 8,000 varieties of roses. Recent scholarship has determined that all of the specimens in this area of the park hold significant historic value, some dating back to the 1800s and others extinct in the rest of the world. Rose enthusiasts come here to see varieties they can see nowhere else.
Surrounding the Florentine is The Oval, intended by Cobbledick to frame the roses planted within the Florentine with an oval backdrop providing a visual transition to the wilder hillsides above. Beyond The Oval comes The Ring, a collection of trees intended to anchor and frame this historic area with a defined landscape element that blocks the wilder hillsides beyond from below, but does not block the Florentine section from the streets above and bordering the park; Oakland, Monte Vista and Olive Avenues. Cascading down the wild West side of the park, through the upper area, the Ring, The Oval, and into the Florentine is a ten level waterfall beginning at a terraced amphitheater ringed with Italian stone pines.
The Grand Lake District
Surrounding the Rose Garden is a vibrant and distinctive urban neighborhood where people live, work and play. It is a neighborhood where people know each other.
On Saturdays, you will meet your Valle Vista neighbors walking to and from the local Farmer's Market. The Grand Avenue Coffee Shop, soon to be adding a next door restaurant, is owned and operated by a fellow Valle Vista resident. The fellow you meet at a local holiday party turns out to be the proprietor of the local newsstand and tobacco store, located in the historic Grand Lake Theater. When new neighbors buy the house just up the street, you stop by and meet their devoted friends helping them move in; a few months later, one of the friends stops by to introduce herself as a candidate for City Council.
Our neighborhood is rich with music and art. Every Sunday, from 3 to 6 PM, the Coffee Mill Restaurant and Cafe features live jazz music from local artists. Across Grand Avenue from the Coffee Mill, chocolatier Michael Mischer serves up handmade bonbons, truffles and gelatos. At nearby La Taza de Cafe, the wonderful Cuban cuisine is complemented by Andalusian Bellydance, Flamenco, Cuban Son and Latin Jazz every week. Walden Pond Bookstore has been selling great books and records on Grand Avenue since 1973. And of course the beautifully restored Grand Lake Theatre is the piece de resistance.
Besides the Rose Garden, there are several nearby neighborhood playgrounds. Lake Merritt offers miles of trails for strolling, jogging and biking. And the weather is terrific.
Most of all, this is a neighborhood of great spirit. During our short time here, we participated in workdays at the Rose Garden, joined an online list server for the North Lake Merritt Neighborhood Association, and went to several neighborhood potlucks and parties. When a neighbor's son was injured in a motorcycle accident, many neighbors participated in different fundraisers. And though many different candidates in the recent District 2 City Council race found supporters on Valle Vista Avenue, the discussions and debates were spirited and respectful.