Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's a Lake Merritt Grab Bag!

There are a lot of sites surrounding Lake Merrit that are worth taking a look at. Lake Merritt was the central park space in downtown Oakland for a long time, and even today still serves as the city's primary open space, providing residents with a place to walk, run, picnic, row, and generally enjoy the sunshine.

The Camron-Stanford House
The Camron-Stanford House was built in 1876 on the Western shore of the Lake. Tax records suggest that Samuel Merritt paid for the construction of the house in order to jumpstart the development of the property surrounding the lake. Since Merritt was primarily responsible for the construction of the lake, and had in fact donated much of the land that the lake would eventually cover, he had a vested interest in developing the area. In 1877 the house was purchased to Alice Camron. The Camron-Stanford House is the last of what was once a large number of fine homes that lined the banks of Lake Merritt.

The San Antonio River
The San Antonio River was the original inlet from the San Francisco Bay into what would become Lake Merritt. Prior to the damming and construction that limited the affect of the Bay's tides on the lake, the San Antonio River was used as a shipping lane, with ships from San Francisco carrying goods across the bay and docking at the far end of the lake, where the El Embarcadero Promenade now stands. The river still exists and is surrounded by a nice little park, though it will doubtless become nicer once the construction and improvements are finished at the foot of the lake. You can follow the path of the river out into the bay if you follow the footpath that cuts underneath Seventh Street, near Laney College.

The Necklace of Lights
The Necklace of Lights is a chain of Art Deco lampposts that stretches along the Western shore of Lake Merritt. The Necklace incorporates 126 lampposts and 3,400 individual bulbs hung on strands between the posts. The Necklace of Lights is one of my personal favorite sights in Oakland and is worth a trip out at night to see them reflected in the lake. The Necklace of Lights was first lit in 1925 as a part of the Dons of Peralta Water Festival. Individual lampposts were paid for by charitable residents and organizations. The lights were turned off in 1941 as a part of the blackout restrictions that were put in place during World War II. The Necklace of Lights remained derelict for nearly thirty years until, after nearly a decade of community campaigning, they were re-lit in 1985.

Lake Merritt Bird Sanctuary
Lake Merritt has the distinction of being the nation's oldest wildlife preserve, created in 1870 to protect migrating waterfowl that nested around the lake. In 1963 the Lake Merritt Wild Duck Preserve became a National Historic Landmark. The bird islands are made of material that was dredged from the bottom of the lake, part of a continual process of dredging that was required for the century of the lake's existence since it tended to fill up with sediment and runoff from the city's sewers. The first island was built in 1922, and the remaining four were built in 1956. Since the water in the lake is brackish, the islands have fresh water piped out to them to fill small pools for the birds.
The geodesic dome in the sanctuary is the first ever geodesic dome built based off of blueprints and plans created by Buckminster Fuller. The parts for the dome were created by an engineering class at the University of California, Berkeley, and the dome was built in less than a day.

Lake Merritt and the "City Beautiful" Movement

The City Beautiful Movement was a trend in civic planning that emphasized the creation of beautiful civic surroundings that would elevate and improve the moral, cultural, and social life of the city and it's residents. This movement flourished during the 1890s and the early 1900s, right when a large amount of development was taking place in Oakland, and specifically around Lake Merritt. There are a number of changes and buildings that took place surrounding the lake that were in response to, or because of, this movement. The pergola at the north-east tip of the lake was built on the site of the original docking point for ship travel into the lake from the bay. Adam's Point was cleared of houses and was redeveloped as Lakeside Park with large lawns and imported trees. Eastshore Park was built and the Oakland Civic Auditorium opened its doors.

The Bellevue-Staten Building
The Bellevue-Staten Building is one of the most notable sights along Lake Merritt's shores. Completed in 1929, the 15-story building is a blend of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial styles, and is clearly visible from any point on the lake. The building also serves as the focal point for the Adam's Point/Lakeside neighborhood, which was once one of the wealthiest and most prestigious areas in Oakland.

Getting There By Bike...
All of these sites are located along the shores of Lake Merritt and are all easily visited in a single casual bike ride. Beware of pedestrians and joggers on the paths that surround Lake Merritt, and don't be surprised if you end up walking your bike through some of the more highly congested areas.

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