A Freeway Runs Past It
A revitalized public space makes a splash in Oakland.
By George Hazelrigg, ASLA
In the Grand Lake district of Oakland, California, a large
crowd gathers every Saturday year-round at one of the most successful farmers’
markets in northern California. Some 50-plus vendors sell vegetables, fruits,
crafts, and prepared foods, while children play in a fountain, East Bay
residents have lunch at tables scattered around an adjacent plaza, and area
musicians perform. The site is named Splash Pad Park. During the week, although
the crowds have gone, it remains a composite of spaces supporting a variety of
more leisurely uses for the people who occupy them. The fountain remains an
attraction on hot summer days, a young couple throw a Frisbee on a nearby lawn,
several people sit to read or eat their take-out lunches, and a group of school
kids gathers on a grassy knoll across the street from the historic Grand Lake
Theater. Customers in the commercial area periodically cross the attractive
site, passing through a community garden en route to cars parked under an
elevated freeway that edges one length of the park.
Splash Pad’s central plaza of wood and pavers, ideal for
community gatherings in what some tag the district’s new “town square,” is
delineated by a serpentine seat wall that separates paved from planted, with
the fountain a prominent section of the wall. Red and yellow twig dogwood
shrubs planted along the wall serve as indicators of an earlier marshland
history. In addition to the grassy knoll, there are lawn areas between the wall
and the freeway. A paved plaza space at the corner of Grand and Lake Park
avenues reinforces the park’s connection to the theater, commercial area, and
Grand Avenue street life.
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