This entry provides an expanded history of Lake Merritt.

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Pre-1850 : 1850 : 1860 : 1870 : 1880 : 1890

1900 : 1910 : 1920 : 1930 : 1940 : 1950 : 1960 : 1970 : 1980 : 1990

2000 : 2010


Pre-1820: Lake Merritt lake and parklands historically a part of San Antonio Creek and Slough.

c. 1820: Don Luis Peralta owns the “lake” as a part of Rancho San Antonio. It was used as a transport terminus for goods, especially lumber (“El Embarcadero” = “the pier”)



1852: in May, Oakland incorporates (as a town; in 1854, it reincorporated - as a city)

Can you spot a lake? San Antonio Creek, California, 1857. (U.S. Coast Survey chart.)

1853: Horace Carpentier builds the 12th Street toll bridge across San Antonio Creek to connect the town of Oakland and the community of Clinton (later part of Brooklyn).



1868: Carpentier, Merritt and Leland Stanford form the Oakland Waterfront Company and assume control of the entire waterfront. Later that year, the Oakland Waterfront Company sells 500 acres of the waterfront, including parts of the Lake area, to the company then known as the Western Pacific Railroad, which was absorbed into the Central Pacific Railroad in 1870. (The first Western Pacific was unrelated to the Western Pacific Railroad which eventually became part of Union Pacific.)

1869: A dam is built north of the 12th Street bridge, creating the lake.

  • Mayor Merritt’s annual message dedicates the “arm of San Antonio Creek” as a public lake. He also proposes an encircling boulevard 60 feet wide and 4 miles long, plus rerouting 2 main sewers from the lake to the San Francisco Bay.



In March, Governor Henry Haight signs the bill making Lake Merritt the first wildlife refuge in North America.

View of the Lake looking east towards Trestle Glen Creek, taken between 1870 and 1900. (Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)

1874: Merritt, Newton, and Spaulding cede 12th Street dam rights to the City. The name, Lake Merritt, is used for the first time.

1876: 12th Street Dam widened and used as thoroughfare.

1877: 200 foot-wide “Boulevard” proposed to circle lake.

  • Despite some rerouting of raw sewage to the Bay, 90% of the city’s waste is still dumped into Glen Echo arm of the lake.




Looking North from 18th Street, 1885 (Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)

1887: Mayor W.R. Davis proposes to dredge lake and create a water park.



1891: At the urging of Mayor Melvin Chapman, the Oakland Waterfront Company, which was controlled by the Central Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Railroad, “gives” the lake to Oakland in exchange for a promise that the City would spend $30,000 on the roadway over the 12th Street Dam. 9-6-30 Trib.pdf

Physical improvements to lake begin, including a rock embankment for flood control and dredging to create Lake Edge Park.

1892: City Engineer, William Boardman, reports a sedimentation rate for the lake of one inch per year.

Lake Merritt, Oakland, California [between 1898 and 1905] (courtesy Library of Congress)

1893: Dredging of lake sediment begins under Mayor Pardee by John Hackett’s Pacific Dredging and Reclamation Company.




Adams Point, 1902 (Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)

1905: Mayor Frank Mott hires Charles Mulford Robinson to suggest improvements that would add to the city’s attractiveness and enhance civic beauty.

Adams Point, 1905 (Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)

1906: San Francisco Earthquake. Central relief camps established at Adams Point. A public park is proposed for the site.

1907: Pumping station built. $1,000,000 bond passes for new park acquisition and development.


Swimming at Lakeside Park, 1908 (Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)

Park improvements report submitted by landscape architect Oscar Prager.

  • Small land parcels around lake are consolidated.

1909: Oakland’s first Parks Commission is established.



Picnickers at Lakeside Park, 1910 (Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)Look familiar?

Canoe House constructed.

  • Horse and Carriage drive constructed through park.

1912: Swimming prohibited.

  • Bowling greens and tennis courts completed in Lakeside Park.
  • Bandstand constructed (not the current Edoff Bandstand, which was constructed in 1918)
  • Municipal Boathouse constructed.

1913: El Embarcadero completed.

1914: Boathouse wing addition constructed.

  • Ornamental boat landing constructed at 18th Street.
  • Lake loop roads are completed (except for Lakeside Drive).

1915: Lake dredging completed and the 12th Street Dam is raised, widened, and paved.

  • Organized feeding of lake waterfowl begins.

1916: White sand beach constructed near “the willows”, part of a plan to market Lake Merritt as an inland bathing resort.

1918: Edoff Bandstand is built in Lakeside Park.



1922: City fills western shore of lake to complete boulevard. Many waterfront houses lose access.

  • Lake dredging continues. Mud used to create first bird island.
  • Feeding ponds constructed.

1925: The “Necklace of Lights” is lit for the first time during the Dons of Peralta Water Festival. There are 126 lampposts, each given by an organization or an individual, connected by a string of 3,400 bulbs.

1926: Government bird banding station established.

1927: First Bay Area power boat regatta held on lake.

1928: Veterans’ Memorial Building completed.



1931: National Championship for outboard racing is hosted on the Lake.


Pumping Plant, 1934 (Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)

1935: Large quantities of striped bass appear in the Lake after high tide. According to the Lake Merritt Institute, the fish were so plentiful that they could be “taken by pitchforks”.

1937: The Lake Merritt Sailing Club is chartered.

(Courtesy of the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library)

1939: Massive fish kills are reported.



1941: The “Necklace of Lights” goes dark and is removed, for fear Japanese bombers will use it for navigation

1948: Inaugural “Mayor’s Smelt Derby” hosted by the City.



1950’s: Water contact sports prohibited due to lake pollution levels.

  • Three additional bird islands built.
  • Log boom installed to protect birds from boats during winter.
  • Three additional bird islands built.

1956: Proposal issued to ring lake with cherry trees.

1959: Lakeside Garden Center replaces tennis courts.




Lake Flooding at Lakeshore Avenue, 1962 (Courtesy of Alameda County Flood Control District)

Flood! 9.5 inches of water fell within 24 hours, and the water level of the Lake rose to 7.3 feet above normal.

1965: Golf putting green, cactus garden, restaurant and take-out counter installed in Lakeside Park.





1980: The Lake (and surrounding area) is designated as a landmark by the City of Oakland.

1982: First Festival At The Lake, an annual multi-day, multicultural food and arts fair.

1985: The “Necklace of Lights” returns!

c. 1986: The ear-shattering, exhaust-fume-spewing 4th of July speedboat redneckathons, an annual event since the 1920s, finally cease, to the great relief of terrified birds and fish everywhere.

1989: Ferry service or pedestrian bridge is proposed[by whom? just wondering] to connect Snow Park and Lakeside Park.



1992: The Lake Merritt Institute is founded.

1995: The first aeration fountain is installed by the Lake Merritt Institute in order to increase oxygen levels in the Lake water.

1997: Final Festival At The Lake (poor attendance, likely due to its reputation for violence).

1999: Two additional fountains are added at Bandstand Cove and at the Trestle Glen arm of the Lake.



2002: Measure DD is passed.




  • March 24 - Oakland Running Festival includes Lake Merritt Path as part of official course route in the first Oakland Marathon, half-marathon and 5K. In the following years, the 5K moved, but the other races continue the path around the lake. In 2012, Oakland Running Festival moved the start of the races from downtown to Snow Park.

2011: Lake Merritt is “Aquapied” in December. (Photos here.)

2012: In January, Lake Merritt is once again “Aquapied”. (Photos here.)

2013: An online petition aims to ban smoking around the Lake.