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“One of the largest roof gardens in the world…”

April 20, 2010

I visited the Kaiser Roof Garden yesterday under gorgeous sunny conditions, so I feel a little sheepish sharing this while the next two days are forecast for thunderstorm gloom, but this is a lovely spot to visit, even in the rain.

Perched atop the parking garage for Kaiser Center (300 Lakeside Drive), this garden is a one of Oaktown’s secret gems. I first discovered it several years ago when hired to shoot a wedding here… it struck me as a particularly urban setting for a wedding – very Oaktown appropriate – lush green landscaping giving way to towering skyscrapers beyond.  Very cool.

On the left below, you can see the greenery peeking from the edge of the parking garage’s roof (with the Cathedral of Christ the Light in the distance). Right side pictures the 28-story Kaiser Center building viewed from the garden.

rooftop garden, kaiser center garden

The Kaiser building was built in 1960. At that time it was Oakland’s tallest building, and the largest office tower west of the Rocky Mountains. The building was the home for Kaiser Industries, a large Fortune 500 company headed by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, known as the father of American shipbuilding. (Wikipedia)

In the 40′s, his Kaiser Shipyard located in Richmond California produced “Liberty” cargo ships for WWII; utilizing mass production techniques, a new ship was churned out every 45 days. He went on to form Kaiser Aluminum, Kaiser Steel, and eventually Kaiser Permanente health care for his workers and their families, which by the 1990 was the country’s largest non-profit HMO. (Wikipedia)

Kaiser was known as a man of incredible ambition, famous for wanting to make things bigger, better, faster. You’ll pass a historical display chronicling his life and work on the 2nd floor of the Kaiser Center on your way to the parking garage. According to one of the panels, after hours of deliberation during development planning, all parties had finally agreed on the size the new Kaiser Center to be built. Kaiser responded by simply saying, “Double it.” And they did.

He also orchestrated installation of the roof garden despite unanimous disapproval by his upper management team. Rumor has it he did so, because he resided in a penthouse apartment on the 28th floor of the Kaiser Center, and wanted to have a view of a lovely garden rather than a concrete roof. But according the architect who actually designed the garden, Theodore Osmundson (who later wrote one of the definitive books on rooftop gardens, Roof Gardens: History, Design, & Construction), the garden was conceived by Henry J. Kaiser’s son, Edgar.

Here is the view as the elevator delivers you to the top of the parking garage…

roof garden, kaiser center garden, kaiser rooftop garden

snapdragons, rhodedendron, kaiser roof garden

The garden comprises over 3 acres with 42 species of mature trees, expansive lawns, and smaller plantings, a large reflecting pool with fountains, a wooden bridge, a numerous walkways and benches. The primary challenges in developing the garden were drainage and weight. Drainage is provided across the sloped roof, through the use of downspouts which run through the 5 stories of parking spaces to a storm sewer in the basement. The heavy loads of mature trees were placed directly over support columns running through the garage. All of the trees chosen (olive, holly oak, japanese maple, and southern magnolia) have fibrous root systems, which I suppose makes them well suited for a shallower planting.

kaiser roof garden, bridge on roof garden

pond on roof garden

kaiser center garden, kaiser rooftop garden

bamboo stand, kaiser roof garden

This dedication plaque states that “The beauty and grace of the Kaiser Center Roof Garden is a tribute to Tony Flood’s thirty years of love and dedication as a gardener. (April 30, 1991)” I’ve been unable to locate any info on Tony Flood. Please send comments if you have some…

tony flood, tony flood gardener

Finally, there are a series of large scale black and white photographs hanging in the lobby you can access from the garden. Here is an aerial photo I particularly liked; it shows the rooftop garden in the foreground, Lake Merritt and the lovely Lakeside Park Gardens behind…

aerial photo lake merritt, aerial photo downtown oakland

3 Comments
  1. Matteo Neu permalink
    September 13, 2013 4:58 pm

    My Dad just passed away. The garden is part of his legacy. He was the contracter that did the dirty work and landscaped/built the garden. The crane couldn’t lift the Caterpillar tractor to the roof,,,,,so, my Pop disassembled the tractor and carried it piece by piece up the elevator, where he put it back together. Al Neu 1928-2013

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