Neighborhood Series: Cultural Gardens

Cultural Gardens

Liberty Boulevard. Remember that? Now it is named Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and you’ve ridden on it if you make your way from I 90 to University Circle or one of hospitals near there.

In your haste, you may not have noticed the one mile stretch of Rockefeller Park that includes the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. There are a few signs that say “Syrian,” “African American,” or “Italian” along the Blvd., but most of the signs and gardens are entered on East Blvd.

The Cultural Gardens wind through lovely, mature, shade trees and aren’t really a neighborhood by themselves. They are part of University Circle. But the gardens are so distinctive that they deserve their own description.

This property is owned by Cleveland and the city pays for the lights, mowing, and water in the fountains but the upkeep is up to each cultural organization that it represents. Therefore, some gardens are lovingly cared for and others need a lot of attention.

All the gardens have some statuary representing notable people from their culture. Let’s stop here and distinguish between nationality and culture. These are not national gardens. Instead, they represent the culture that may be contained in national boundaries, or may not. Italian food, religious customs, language, dress, and more MAY be contained inside Italy, but Clevelanders know that there is a lot of Italian culture right here in our town.



So those statues that are in the 25 gardens may be of people born in the country, raised in country or maybe just died there. One thing for sure, they are not athletes of the culture. They are poets, statesman, religious leaders, artists, industrialists, philosophers and other intellectual types. Apparently, athletes weren’t erudite enough to make the cut.

Why have the gardens at all? Back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s city leaders wanted to bring all the ethnic communities together to lessen tensions among “foreigners.”They created this “unique memorial to peace and to the richness of our pluralistic society.” Our smart leaders back then realized that this diversity helped the whole city and the gardens helped us respect one another.

That seems, especially today, to be a rather lofty goal. But one thing is for sure. The gardens are a peaceful, inspiring place to walk and rest. Most gardens have flagstone walks that step down to terraces and mason railings with views over the Doan Creek valley running along MLK Blvd. Some have operating fountains, some have benches, some have life sized (make that larger than life) statues, some have only stylish memorials. They all have landscaping that invites rest and contemplation.

The gardens are a beautiful retreat in the city.

The gardens are a beautiful retreat in the city.

The newest garden hasn’t been started yet. It was just dedicated this spring. When finished, the African American Garden will cost $2,000,000 and have an impressive cascading fountain with steps leading from the top (past), down a hill to the present, and finally pointing to the future.
It seems that the Cultural Gardens are a well kept secret to many Clevelanders. But if you are an outdoor enthusiast and also like history then you want to spend part of a day walking your way through these gardens.

(PS. Bring along a trash bay and pick up some litter. The Gardens will thank you.)