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Oakland's Rose

This past Wednesday was the Wednesday before Mother's Day, so it was time for our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group to make our annual visit to the Morcom Rose Garden on Jean Street in Oakland, just across Grand Avenue and the Piedmont border. There was big turnout of 45 walkers and four K-9 best friends at the Exedra at our regular start time for the tour.

Meghan Bennett has created a website for the garden, so we had lots of information about it. It is in a natural bowl on a 7.5 acre site that was purchased by the City of Oakland in 1911 and named the Linda Vista Park. Local Oakland residents had petitioned and promised to contribute $8,000 for it. However, the best park entrance was through land in Piedmont. The Piedmont City Council joined the effort in June 1911 by acquiring Piedmont lots at the southern corner of Olive and Oakland Avenues to provide a "handsome entrance."

It was proposed in 1913 that the park be converted into a zoological garden. A number of animal offers were received. The Golden Gate Park offered elk and buffalo. F. M. "Borax" Smith offered a number of llama from the large herd on his East Oakland estate, but the park directors decided not to do it.

Linda Vista Park's conversion to a rose garden was a project of the Oakland Businessmen's Garden Club in 1930 with the support of the city. It was originally known as the Municipal Rose Garden. Work began on the garden in 1931 or 1932. The first rose was planted on Jan. 27, 1933 and the garden was officially opened on May 28, 1933. Presumably, work was completed in 1935

with Depression New Deal and the State Employment Relief Administration funding.

The park's name was changed in 1954 to honor former Oakland Mayor Fred Morcom, who served from 1931 to 1933. The park has been refurbished at least twice, in the 1950s and 1990s, with many of the old roses, some going back to the 19th century, being regrafted on new rootstock.

We headed off, going down Magnolia Avenue to Wildwood Avenue, which are named "Piedmont Avenue" on early 20th Century street maps, and crossed Grand Avenue, which was called "Pleasant Valley Road." We passed homes along the way with lovely roses, California golden poppies, Mexican sage, and other flowers in their front yards.

The walkers asked about the house on Wildwood where the Sidney Dearing family, Piedmont's first African-Americans, lived before they were shamefully run out of the city because of racism in 1924. The City of Piedmont's current recognition of this injustice and creation a memorial in

the nearby redwood park were also recognized.

We went up Jean Street to the garden's entrance. Signs said "No Dogs Allowed," so the attached group photo of all two and four legged walkers was taken in front of the classical, curved colonnade entrance. Walker volunteers dog-sat the four K-9 best friends while their humans went down the rose-lined walkway to see the flowers. However, inside the park there was a city employee who said dogs on leaches were okay, and the four K-9s were reunited with their best friends.

The garden's design was inspired by those of Italy and the park has over 2,400 rose bushes in three sections. There are winding walkways with a reflecting pool across from a 14-step cascade that goes down the hillside to the west and an octagonal wedding terrace above with more rose beds.

The essential design has changed very little in the park's nearly 90 year history. What has changed is the City of Oakland's ability to care for it. In the early 2000s, the hours of Oakland city workers to maintain the garden were reduced. A group of volunteers, the "Dedicated Deadheaders," was organized to keep the garden beautiful. They work every Wednesday and we came upon four of them weeding.

In the early 2000s "The Mother's Walk" was created above the reflecting pool up to a Florentine oval garden at the north end of the park. There are brass plaques in the cement with the names of women honored each year in an annual ceremony for Mother's Day.

We splintered off on the paths, going to see different sections of the garden. There was also a neighbor's chicken coop just beyond the park's south fence to see. We took our time and retraced our steps, smelling the roses along the way, to the Exedra at our own paces.


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