A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


With the weather warming up, now is the perfect time for a deep dive into Lake Merritt (not literally!). First, we’ll explore the wild side of this body of water (which is technically a tidal estuary) with Constance Taylor, a naturalist from the California Center for Natural History. We’ll discuss everything from what Oakland looked like 10,000 years ago to the creatures lurking in the lake’s murky depths. In the second half of this episode, C.J. Hirschfield, former director of Children’s Fairyland, will answer all your queries about the myths, legends, and history of this enchanting wonderland. Want to know if it’s really haunted? Or if Walt Disney really “stole” his ideas from Fairyland? Or why the park’s designer smashed his original model with a baseball bat? Listen to the podcast to find out! To hear the episode, listen via Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts. Don’t forget to follow the East Bay Yesterday Substack for updates on events, tours, exhibits, and other local history news. [Note: A slightly different version of this episode was originally published in 2019.]

Also, I’m currently helping to produce a documentary about the cultural and ecological history of Lake Merritt. Director Brandon Jourdan is doing a fundraiser campaign so we can finally finish this project after +3 years of filming, so please check out the GoFundMe page after viewing the trailer for more details…

Special thanks to the sponsors of this episode: UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals Oakland and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. I encourage you to learn more about UCSF Benioff Oakland’s upcoming event Notes and Words, happening on Saturday, May 11 at Oakland’s historic Fox Theater. To get tickets and view the incredible lineup of talent, visit notesandwords.org. To learn more about BAMPFA’s summer program, which features the films of Les Blank and much more, visit: BAMPFA.org/film.

This ain’t Westeros: Children’s Fairyland executive director C.J. Hirschfield poses with the park’s iconic dragon.

East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your donations. Please make a pledge to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday. You can also support East Bay Yesterday by purchasing the official t-shirt or hat from Oaklandish.

Promotional poster for Fairyland’s opening in 1950.
In the early days of Fairyland, all visitors had to duck through this tiny doorway in order to enter the park. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
Children eagerly anticipate the opening of America’s first “storybook theme park” circa 1950. [Photo courtesy of Children’s Fairyland]

Frank Oz (right) is best known as the voice and puppeteer of Yoda from Star Wars, but he started his career in Fairyland’s theater. Seen here with Fairyland puppet director Lewis Mahlmann and Bert the Muppet in 1970, Oz also spent many years working for Muppets creator Jim Henson. To hear an interview with Fairyland’s current Storybook Puppet Theater director Randal Metz, check out this episode of the Under the Puppet podcast. [Photo courtesy of Children’s Fairyland]
One of the many murals adorning Fairyland’s play areas.
Downtown Oakland’s Kaiser Center is visible from the entrance to Fairyland’s dragon-themed slide. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
The first geodesic dome on the west coast was constructed as a bird sanctuary on the north side of Lake Merritt. To learn more about this structure, listen to the episode – and check out the Oakland Wiki. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
Want to know why you should never eat mussels out of Lake Merritt? Listen to the California Center for Natural History’s Constance Taylor on the new episode to find out. [Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda]
Giant sea slugs are one of the many creatures that appear sporadically in Lake Merritt. To learn more about this species, check out Bay Nature’s “Ask the Naturalist” column. [Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda]
Unfortunately, aquatic birds aren’t the only thing you’ll see floating in Lake Merritt. Because many of Oakland’s storm drains flow into the lake, plastic waste and other garbage often accumulates following rain storms. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
Lake Merritt was designated as America’s first official wildlife refuge back in 1870. It remains an oasis for thousands of native birds, introduced species (such as those pesky Canada geese) and migrating flocks. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
A model of the lake resides at the Camron-Stanford House, the last remaining Victorian mansion located directly on the shores of Lake Merritt. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]

Don’t forget to follow East Bay Yesterday’s Substack newsletter to stay updated on upcoming tours, events, and other local history news.

“The jewel of Oakland”

Exploring Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland
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