Inspired by the rooftop garden at Rockefeller Center in New York City, industrialist Henry Kaiser hired the landscape architecture firm of Osmundson & Staley to design a garden atop the parking garage next to his company’s headquarters. Ted Osmundson negotiated the contract and served as client liaison, while associate David Arbegast developed the landscape design. The City of Oakland Planning Commission granted the company several variances (existing height zoning, setback requirements, and permission to fill a portion of Lake Merritt to expand the buildable site) in exchange for the creation of a significant landscape program. The result was that 90 percent of the land of the Kaiser Center is covered by buildings, while 60 percent of that same area is also landscaped.
The garden opened in 1960 as the first “true” post-war rooftop garden in the United States. The garden’s hardscape incorporated materials such as aluminum and cement made by Kaiser Industries for many of its large-scale projects around the world. The design includes a large reflecting pool with numerous small fountains, a wooden bridge, undulating lawns, a curvilinear path system, benches, and an extensive plant palette comprising 42 mature specimen trees, extensive shrubs, ground covers, and herbaceous plantings.