History

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are a major part of the city’s 254-acre Rockefeller Park. The tranquil area spans two miles between University Circle, Cleveland’s renowned arts and cultural center, and Lake Erie. The land was donated to the city by oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller in 1896 as a part of the celebration of Cleveland’s first centennial. The park was designed by prominent landscape architect Ernest W. Bowditch.

The Cultural Gardens were born in 1916, with the establishment of the Shakespeare Garden by Shakespeare enthusiast and journalist Leo Weidenthal. Weidenthal, editor and publisher of the Jewish Independent, conceived the idea of a garden chain that would represent the many cultures of the world and stand as a symbol of peace. His idea, and the efforts of Charles Wolfram, led to founding of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation and to many more gardens representing the ethnic cultures of the city.

After the Shakespeare Garden, which was renamed the British Garden, came the Hebrew Garden in 1926. The gardens, then and now, are sponsored and developed by the individual ethnic communities after which they’re named. They work in conjunction with the CCGF and the city to bring their cultural “homes” to life. In the 1930s and 1940s, the federal Works Progress Administration – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s jobs and infrastructure program – helped the city build the bridges and stonework that to this day beautify Rockefeller Park. Many of the early gardens representing European immigrants were helped along by the WPA and were an early testament to multiculturalism in Cleveland and the country.

In more recent decades the celebration of diversity has continued. Communities from countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East have developed gardens; as of early 2018, 30 cultural gems had been established and eight more were in the planning stages.

It is the mission of the Cultural Gardens to embrace multicultural diversity and deepen awareness of the peoples of the world. Our mission is “peace through mutual understanding.” (If you’d like to know more about the early years of the gardens, and how our mission came to be, read Clara Lederer’s book “Their Paths are Peace,” published in 1954. They’re available by calling 216-220-3075.)

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The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are aptly named. The statues and inscriptions in the gardens depict significant figure in the world’s cultural history. They represent artists, writers, composers, philosophers, peacemakers, saints and scientists.

In the Italian Garden, for example, you’ll find the poet Dante. In the German Garden, you’ll learn about the writers Goethe and Schiller. Gandhi is in the Indian Garden and Mother Teresa in the Albanian. The Polish Garden features the composer Chopin, the astronomer Copernicus and Marie Curie, the scientist who helped discover radiation and developed x-rays. The composer Franz Liszt is a highlight of the Hungarian Garden. In the Syrian Garden can be found a written history of Arab culture and a replica of the Arch of Palmyra.

The Ethiopian Garden features a mosaic wall depicting aspects of the country’s history and culture.

Learn more on our Frequently Asked Questions page.