3 Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt

Infobox lake
lake_name = Lake Merritt
image_lake = Lakemerrit02192006.jpg
type = recreation, lagoon, wildlife refuge
caption_lake =A view looking west toward the Lakeside Apartments District, the Tribune Tower and Downtown Oakland
location = East of downtown Oakland
coords = coord|37.8039|N|122.2591|W|region:US-CA_type:waterbody|display=inline,title
area =
max-depth =
basin_countries = United States
elevation =

Infobox_nrhp | name =Lake Merritt Wild Duck Refuge
nrhp_type = nhl

caption = Looking Southwest across Lake Merritt. In the distance are the Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Court House and Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. At the right is the Bellevue-Staten Building.
area =
built = 1870
designated= May 23, 1963cite web|url=http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=112&ResourceType=Site
title=Lake Merritt Wild Duck Refuge|date=2007-09-28|work=National Historic Landmark summary listing|publisher=National Park Service
added = October 15, 1966cite web|url=http://www.nr.nps.gov/|title=National Register Information System|date=2007-01-23|work=National Register of Historic Places|publisher=National Park Service]
governing_body = Local

Lake Merritt is a large tidal lagoon that lies just east of downtown Oakland, California. It is surrounded by parkland and city neighborhoods. A popular 3.5 mile (~5.6 km) walking and jogging path runs along its perimeter. It is historically significant as the United States' first official wildlife refuge, designated in 1870.


The "lake" is a tidal estuary formed where several creeks empty into San Francisco Bay. It was surrounded by a thousand acres of wetlands in the time when Ohlone Indians fished, hunted and gathered food along its shores. By 1810, the remaining Indians were removed to Mission San José and the estuary and convert|44800|acre|km2 of surrounding land was deeded to Sergeant Luis Maria Peralta to become Rancho San Antonio. After gold was discovered in 1848 in present-day Coloma convert|125|mi|km to the northeast, Anglo squatters led by lawyer Horace Carpentier took control of the East Bay area which was to become downtown Oakland, including the estuary known as "San Antonio Slough." [http://www.northlakegroup.org/LakeMerritt.cfm] In 1856, Peralta fought and won a United States Supreme Court case against the squatters but further court cases between his sons and daughters would greatly diminish their holdings. The Peralta brothers had to sell much of the land to Carpentier to pay legal fees and new property taxes. Oakland was incorporated in 1852 with Carpentier as its first mayor and the estuary became the city's sewer. [http://baynature.org/articles/jan-mar-2001/loving-lake-merritt BAY NATURE: Loving Lake Merritt ] ]

As a sewer, it was regarded as ideal due to the flushing action of the tides. Sixty miles of brick and wood channeling sent raw sewage from the new city to the estuary, which worked fine for everybody except those who had set up homes on the shore. The stench at low tide was a problem for Oaklanders on the west shore and residents of Clinton and San Antonio villages on the east.

Dr. Samuel Merritt, a mayor of Oakland who owned property at the shore's edge, was keen to get the body of water cleaned up so that it could become a source of civic pride. In 1868, he proposed and funded a dam between the estuary and the bay by which the flow of water could be controlled, allowing the water level inland to rise higher and become less saline, turning the tidal lagoon into a lake. Sewage was to be redirected elsewhere by two new city projects, though these weren't completed until 1875. The resulting body of water was called variously "Lake Peralta", "Merritt's Lake" and later Lake Merritt. [ [http://www.oaklandheritage.org/OHA25.pdf Project1 ] ]

The lake at that time still had thick wetlands fringing the shores and it continued to attract large numbers of migratory birds. In order to protect the birds from duck hunters and stop the noise and danger of gunfire so close to the city, Dr. Merritt proposed to turn the lake into a wildlife refuge in 1869. The state legislature voted Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge into law in 1870, making it the first such refuge in North America. No hunting of any sort was to be allowed and the only fishing was to be by hook and line. [ [http://www.oaklandnet.com/parks/parks/lakemerritt_wildlifesanctuary.asp Lake Merritt - Wildlife Sanctuary ] ]

The ornate Camron-Stanford house was built in 1876 near the lake's western shore. Tax records suggest that Samuel Merritt built the Italianate Victorian as part of his plan to promote and develop downtown Oakland and the new lake. In 1877, the house's title was transferred to Mrs. Alice Camron, a purchase she was able to make due to an inheritance. She, her husband Will and their two daughters were the first residents of the home. Further fine homes were built on the lakeshore by others following Dr. Merritt's lead, though none but Camron-Stanford remain today. [ [http://www.cshouse.org/ Welcome to the Camron-Stanford House web site ] ]

Protection for the wetlands was nonexistent and residences kept being built on reclaimed land around the shore of the lake. Cleanliness continued to be a problem because of incomplete sewage projects and the lake kept silting up since the natural tidal flow had been interrupted by Merritt's dam. Dredging of the lake began in 1891, with the removed silt being piled along the eastern shore to make a foundation for a road which became Lakeshore Avenue.

From 1893 to 1915, Lake Merritt saw major changes. Inspired by the new City Beautiful movement which got its start at the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair), the lake became a city-owned park. An elaborate Mission Revival pergola was constructed at the northeastern tip of the lake. Adam's Point was cleared of houses, planted with lawns and imported trees and became Lakeside Park. Eastshore Park was created where East 18th Street brought Trestle Glen's watershed to the lake. Oakland Civic Auditorium was built at the south edge of the lake.

1923 saw Cleveland Cascade spring into life, conceived and assisted by noted landscape architect, Howard Gilkey. This was a three-tiered water feature incorporating multiple waterfalls tumbling sequentially into twenty large collection basins and a pool at the bottom, flanked by twin stairs descending from Cleveland Heights to Lakeshore Avenue. Colored lights in rainbow sequence lit the waterfall at night. [ [http://clevelandcascade.org/ Oakland's Cleveland Cascade ] ]

1925: The "Necklace of Lights" is turned on.

1929 is the year the luxurious Bellevue-Staten apartments were completed at 492 Staten Avenue in Adam's Point near Lakeside Park. The 15-story blend of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial styles is one of the most prominent sights viewable from nearly every point of Lake Merritt. [ [http://clevelandcascade.org/Photo.BellevueStatenTopCascade.html Bellevue-Staten Building from top of Cleveland Cascade ] ]

Lake Merritt's natural wetlands are long gone--converted to parks, pathways and roads. Some of the wetland vegetation has been restored to five "Bird Islands" constructed of dredged silt between 1925 and 1956; islands which shelter hundreds of nesting and roosting water fowl. The islands have a fresh water irrigation system to bring drinking water to the birds. A boom and a rope/buoy barrier protects the islands from recreational boaters. [ [http://www.scc.ca.gov/sccbb/0610bb/1006Board04_Lake_Merritt_Bird_Islands.pdf Project Name ] ]

Children's Fairyland was built in 1950 in Lakeside Park.

Under the name Lake Merritt Wild Duck Refuge, the site became a National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1963.,cite web|url=http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Text/66000205.pdf|title=Lake Merritt Wild Duck Refuge|first=Cecil |last=McKithan|size=201 KiB |title=National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination|date=1977-10-18|publisher=National Park Service|format=PDF] ,cite web|url=http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Photos/66000205.pdf|title=Lake Merritt Wild Duck Refuge--Accompanying 4 photos, from 1977|size=340 KiB |title=National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination|date=1977-10-18|publisher=National Park Service|format=PDF]

Necklace of lights

A "necklace of lights" encircles Lake Merritt. Featuring 126 lampposts and 3,400 "pearly bulbs", the necklace was first lit in 1925. In 1941, the lights were dimmed to comply with World War II blackout conditions. After a decade-long campaign, the lights were again illuminated in 1985.

During Oakland's annual gay pride celebration, the city replaces the white bulbs with multicolored bulbs. [cite web
title=Rainbow Necklace Launches East Bay Pride
publisher=City of Oakland Parks and Recreation Department
date=August 22 2002

Birds of Lake Merritt

The lake features a healthy year-round population of birds. It sees seasonal fluctuations in the types of birds that call the lake home.

Year round

All year round, the lake is home to moderate Canada Goose, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Cormorant, American Coot, and Western Gull populations. There are also small Mallard Duck and Pelican (both American and Brown) populations.

Rainy season

From November through March, the lake plays host to a very large population of Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup, which spend most of their time floating on the water, mostly just sleeping. Smaller numbers of Canvasback, Bufflehead, and other migratory diving ducks are also present during the cold season.

Dry season

From June until the end of September, the lake's Canada Goose population increases significantly; Canada Geese become nearly ubiquitous around the perimeter of the lake. In late summer and early fall, a moderate Pelican population also arrives.

Cleanup and restoration of Lake Merritt

Because storm drains in downtown Oakland and surrounding areas drain directly into the lake, nutrient pollution has become the single largest problem affecting Lake Merritt. Increased levels of chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus cause algae bloom, which depletes the water of oxygen. [ [http://www.eswusa.org/projects/intl.asp?id=17 Engineers for a Sustainable World - International Projects ] ] For a while, the fountains that infuse oxygen by spraying water were shut off due to electrical problems. The fountains are now back on line, but they have been circulating the litter that can constantly be found floating on the lake surface. Local volunteer groups, such as St. Paul's Episcopal School, have started cleaning the trash, and school children, along with their science teachers clean up the lake using nets.fact|date=August 2007


Measure DD, a $198 million Oakland City park bond measure, passed with 80% voter approval in 2002. The measure will improve the lake area by adding park space and altering the infrastructure that surrounds it. One prime example of a needed improvement is on Lake Merritt's south shore. The current configuration of 12th Street is six lanes in each direction, as an expressway merging and splitting from 14th Street and International on either side, which many consider a detriment to pedestrian and bicycle access to landmarks on the other side, such as Laney College, Oakland Museum of California, Kaiser Convention Center (closed) and Lake Merritt Channel. The dam is backed by a concrete wall supporting 12th Street westbound, a sidewalk, and unusable tunnels, interrupting the trail. Part of the Measure DD project involves returning 12th Street back to a major street, with three lanes in each direction to calm traffic, and realignmant to add park space (the dam being demolished for this), and adding eleven more necklaces of lights to the gap. Lakeshore Avenue on the east is slated to be narrowed to two lanes and striped for bicycle lanes, and an existing three-way triangular intersection (20th, Harrison, and Lakeside) in Uptown Oakland in front of Kaiser Center is slated to be converted to two-way cross traffic. The Lake Merritt Channel will also be daylighted where it crosses under the east split of 12th Street through a culvert; the reconfigured 12th Street will have a bridge crossing over the channel.

The renovation of Lake Merritt, paid for with money from Measure DD, has been stalled by an environmental review lawsuit, which was filed last year by a group of concerned residents, "Friends of the Lake," as well as cost overruns for the project. [cite web
url = http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/10/18/BA00SROE5.DTL&type=printable
title = Lawsuit to block tree-cutting at Oakland's Lake Merritt dismissed
work = San Francisco Chronicle
author = Heredia, Christopher
date = 18 October 2007
] On October 17 2007, an Alameda County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit intended to prevent cutting trees around Oakland's Lake Merritt, making way for city workers to begin removing the trees in the spring

Environmental impacts from nearby land development

In 2005, a group of speculators purchased a land parcel featuring the historic Schilling Gardens, the last remaining portion of a cultivated Japanese garden originally planted in 1886 behind spice magnate August Schilling's mansion once located on the West shore of Lake Merritt in the Lakeside Apartments District. Today the garden features a stand of several mature Coast Redwood trees and the garden as a whole is considered by city's Register of Historical Resources to be a landmark "of highest importance." [cite web
url = http://www.eastbayexpress.com/news/a_wasted_opportunity/Content?oid=596637
title = A Wasted Opportunity: The city of Oakland botched a chance to save a historic garden near Lake Merritt, where a 42-story condominium is now proposed.
work = East Bay Express
author = Patterson, Wendy
date = December 5 2007
] The owners then sought to donate the gardens parcel to the City of Oakland in exchange for historic tax credits. Oakland's Real Estate Division and Parks and Recreation Staff entered into discussions with the owners, which fell apart. The City Council was never alerted to the donation proposal. [cite web
url = http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/13/BAGO3L4L6L1.DTL
title = Councilwoman angry managers didn't tell of garden offer
work = San Francisco Chronicle
author = Heredia, Chris
date = 13 September 2007
accessdate =
] cite web
url = http://www.eastbayexpress.com/news/a_wasted_opportunity/Content?oid=596637
title = A Wasted Opportunity The city of Oakland botched a chance to save a historic garden near Lake Merritt, where a 42-story condominium is now proposed.
work = East Bay Express
author = Patterson, Wendy
date = 5 December 2007
accessdate =

The owners then proposed a 42-story high-rise condominium skyscraper for the gardens parcel. The official planning documents on file with the city of Oakland refer to the "Emerald Views" project as "222 19th Street." This parcel is on 19th Street between Jackson and Alice Streets, one half block from the lake's current shoreline. Standing at approximately ft to m|530 tall (measured from grade to the top of roof spires) [cite web
url = http://www.oaklandnet.com/government/ceda/revised/planningzoning/MajorProjectsSection/emeraldviews.html
title = Project page:"222 19th Street"
work =
author = Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency, Planning and Zoning Division
date =
accessdate =
] , the Emerald Views skyscraper would become the tallest building in Oakland [cite web
url = http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/07/31/BARIR9U4C2.DTL&feed=rss.bayarea
title = 42-story condos sought for lake Developer’s high-rise would be the tallest building in city
work = San Francisco Chronicle
author = Chris Heredia
date = July 31, 2007
] If constructed, the San Francisco-based Project architect [cite web
url = http://www.ibadesign.com/main.html
title = Company Website
work =
author = Ian Birchall and Associates
date = 7 February 2008
] concedes that "the entire site has to be dug up" to construct the new tower, as 5 levels of sub-terranean automobile parking are proposed to be excavated into Lake Merritt slough with a high water table beneath.

The project's height and bulk would cast a long shadow over a significant portion of not only Lakeside Park and the bird sanctuary to the east of the parcel in the afternoons but also the few remaining areas of Snow Park that currently receive easterly sunlight every morning, since trees currently shade much of Snow Park. [ [http://www.oaklandnet.com/parks/parks/snow.asp Snow Park, City Of Oakland, Office of Parks and Recreation ] ] The project has been formally submitted to Oakland's Planning Department and Planning Commission which is currently conducting an environmental review of the project [cite web
url =
title = Staff Report, Environmental Review scoping session, "222 19th Street"
work = Oakland City Planning Commission
author = Oakland Planning Department
date = 28 November 2007
accessdate =
] to include hydro-geological issues, sunlight and shadow impacts, and air and noise pollution, among a host of other potential environmental impacts.

On August 8th, 2008, Tree Removal Permit application notices were posted on the public right of way next to the parcel. The gardens feature several mature Coast Redwood trees.


External links

* [http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceID=112&resourceType=Site National Historic Landmarks Program]
* [http://www.oaklandpw.com/Page257.aspx Oakland Public Works - 12th Street Reconstruction]
* [http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/15/BAG6OOH23S26.DTL Lake Merritt Project Stalls; 12th Street Bid Rejected, "San Francisco Chronicle", March 15, 2007]
* [http://mondomap.com/mondo/map_ocvb.cfm?bid=15 Lake Merritt Interactive
* [http://www.oaklandnet.com/parks/facilities/parks_lakeside.asp Lakeside Park/Lake Merritt]
* [http://wildflowers-cdrom.com/birds/History.html History of Lake Merritt's Wildlife Sanctuary]
* [http://www.wildflowers-cdrom.com/birds/birds.html Birds of Lake Merritt]
* [http://www.lakemerrittinstitute.org/ The Lake Merritt Institute]
* [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/08/17/CM139923.DTL Interview with "The Lakekeeper"]
* [http://clevelandcascade.org/ The Cleveland Cascade] - once-stunning water feature on the shore of Lake Merritt, being restored by Lake Merritt Institute.

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