A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


With the weather warming up, I thought now would be a great 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 an upcoming BioBlitz.

Since the channel connecting Lake Merritt to the Oakland Estuary was reopened in 2013, many bat rays have been spotted prowling the waters. [Video: Liam O’Donoghue]

On social media, I recently asked East Bay Yesterday listeners for questions about Children’s Fairyland and received a bunch of responses. In the second half of this episode, the park’s executive director C.J. Hirschfield 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 here? Or why the park’s designer smashed his original model with a baseball bat? Listen to the podcast to find out!

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

Also, I want to give a shoutout to another story about Lake Merritt. Back in the 1980s and ’90s “Festival at the Lake” was one of Oakland’s most popular annual celebrations. KQED’s Sandhya Dirks recently produced a great piece called “When Oakland was a chocolate city” all about this dearly departed gathering. And speaking of early ’90s vibes…

Bootleg Simpsons t-shirt celebrating “Festival at the Lake” [Photo: Lars C. Peterson]

Stay tuned until the very end of this episode to hear me personally thank every single person who supports this show on Patreon. I wouldn’t be able to keep making it without listener love, so I wanted to express my deep gratitude to everyone who has donated to East Bay Yesterday. If you want to see more photos and videos related to the history of Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland, scroll down and enjoy…

Promotional poster for Fairyland’s opening in 1950. This image will be part of an upcoming exhibit at Oakland International Airport.
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]
Ron Zeno served as Fairyland’s Santa Claus for more than two decades. Although Ron passed away in 2017, Eric Martin carries on the beloved tradition. [Photo courtesy of Randal Metz]

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]
Turf battle: I shot this video of crows defending their territory from a hawk back in 2015. Although not seen in this video, seagulls also joined the brawl.
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. Taylor has studied the lake’s history for years and shared many fascinating stories on her Wild Oakland website. [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]
*Hundreds* of scooters have been fished out of Lake Merritt since their introduction to the streets of Oakland in early 2018. Toxic pollutants from the scooters’ batteries can leach into the ecosystem, harming aquatic life, according to a recent investigation by local journalist April Glaser. [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]

If you enjoy the episode, please support East Bay Yesterday: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday


Exploring Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland
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