Upper pools at Woodminster cascade - Oakland CA
Woodminster Amphitheater and Cascade is an astonishing feature of Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland hills and one of the largest New Deal projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. Woodminster lies just off Joaquin Miller Road above Highway 13.
The large complex was constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1935 to 1940. Initial work began in late 1935 after $128,000 in federal funding was approved for Woodminster stairway and amphiteather, as part of a million dollars WPA effort across the city of Oakland (Chronicle 1935). Further funds and more work came with a larger disbursement of almost $700,000 for “a master mountain park project” in 1938, out of a total $1.5 million for Oakland parks. The site of Woodminster was called Sequoia Park at the time; Sequoia Park was later merged with the Joaquin Miller homestead to form the present Joaquin Miller Park. It is owned and operated by the City of Oakland.
The Woodminster Cascade begins at the base of the Woodminster amphitheater with a set of three large pools. From there, water plunges down 100 feet over an elegant cascade of irregularly placed, thin slabs of slate. Paths and stairways follow the sides of the cascade down. It ends with a lovely 10 foot waterfall into a semi-circular pool.
The overall structure continues down the hillside for another 100 yards or so. A large, mid-level decorative fountain features a jet fountain in the center. Below that is a wide central stairway descending to a reflecting pool and plaza. All are bordered by low stone walls in native rock. Stone planter beds and benches flank the lower pools, from which side paths trail off to the edges of the park, which is heavily planted up in trees – presumably also by the WPA.
Woodminster was conceived by Juanita Miller, daughter of Joaquin Miller, Oakland’s famous first poet, whose property became a city park. The amphitheater was designed by Edward Foulkes, who was also the architect of the Oakland Tribune Tower. The cascade was designed by Howard Gilkey, who also created the Cleveland Cascade at Lake Merritt in Oakland. The overall layout and landscaping were done by William Penn Mott, who was just starting with the Oakland Parks & Recreation Department; he would go on to design Children’s Fairyland on Lake Merritt and later became head of the National Park Service.
Woodminster cascade has long suffered from deferred maintenance by the perennially underfunded city of Oakland. The pump for the fountain and cascades has not worked for many years. We were lucky to be treated to a demonstration of the cascade without the pump, but most visitors have little idea of the former glory of this New Deal gem.
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"WPA funds for park project," Oakland Post-Enquirer, December 12, 1935.
"Oakland park to be built as WPA job," San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 1935.
"City to seek $1,500,000 for parks," Oakland Post-Enquirer, February 23, 1938.
"Oakland park project voted," Oakland Tribune, June 21, 1938, p. 7.
"City park work costing million, half will start," Oakland Post-Enquirer, June 21, 1938.
The Architect and Engineer. January 1939.
Project originally submitted by Richard Walker on January 4, 2021.
Additional contributions by Gray Brechin.
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