Address:1131 East Blvd.
Architect/Designer:John Boddy, head of forestry for the City of Cleveland
Dedication Date:April 14,1916
History & Design:
The British Cultural Garden is considered the first Cultural Garden in Cleveland, though its birth predates the official creation of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. That occurred in 1927, when civic leaders declared that more than one culture should be honored in Rockefeller Park.
The Garden, originally called the Shakespeare Garden, follows an Elizabethan pattern and “mood” (according to early historians of the Garden). At its bottom entrance on Martin Luther King Boulevard are gateposts of English design; they were built in 1925 as a memorial to Maria Leah Bruot, an English teacher and Shakespeare lover at Cleveland’s Central High School. The stone and iron gate was designed by city architect Herman Kregelius.
There is a central flagstone walk on the eastern side of East Boulevard (the Garden’s upper level) leading to a bust of William Shakespeare. The bust was created by sculptors Joseph Motto and Stephen Rebeck.
The Garden was first suggested by Cleveland publisher Leo Weidenthal, who was a member of the city’s Shakespeare commemorative event committee. The committee had joined world-wide efforts to plan the 300th anniversary of the bard’s death. He envisioned the garden as a fitting tribute. Its dedication featured speeches from Mayor Harry Davis, musical renderings of Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and dramatic readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets by actress Julia Marlowe. High school students dressed in Elizabethan costumes escorted guests to their seats.
The garden originally featured plants or trees inspired by or even taken from British Gardens. The included mulberries, roses, daisies, ivy, sycamore maples, and more. Some of the vegetation was donated by famous actors and poets. The Garden was later expanded to include a Poet’s Corner.
In the 1930s, after Weidenthal’s collaboration with Jennie Zwick (executive secretary of Cultural Gardens) and Charles Wolfram (25-year president of Cultural Gardens), the Shakespeare Garden and Poet’s Corner took on a new identity as part of the Cultural Gardens and was renamed the British Garden.
Today, in 2020, the British Garden is under redevelopment, with many of its original features having been removed over the decades. A stand for a Byzantine sundial remains along with the walkway, Shakespeare’s bust, and stone surrounding the bust.
The current British Cultural Garden committee is actively working on restoration plans.