Michael Horvath was a landscape architect who immigrated from Hungary to New York and eventually to Cleveland where he became the City Forester in 1903. In that role he designed Wade Park and Rockefeller Park, among others. These two parks are connected by Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly Liberty Boulevard), a majestic entryway to the city with international gardens, shady lawns and stone bridges. Later, Horvath designed Lakeview Cemetery, numerous estates and began his own nursery in Lake County.
I thank Mr. Horvath for some of my earliest recollections which include walks along the pond at Wade Park with my grandfather, a stern English immigrant. The Garden Center of Greater Cleveland was still in the former boat-house at the water’s edge where the roof leaked whenever it rained. I was strapped into a leather harness that must have looked like Lederhosen gone wrong. Attached to the back was a leash that my grandfather gripped firmly. I don’t know which foreign devil contrived such a combination. As I doodled around, thick glasses, long moppish hair, a vacant stare, he sometimes yanked on the leash to punish my spontaneous behavior. I also had a speech impediment which prevented me from saying my name correctly. I must have looked like a little monkey or wolf-boy. My grandfather has been gone for many years but, clearly, I still have issues emanating from those walks on the leash. My mother told me he was a metallurgy professor at Case Technical Institute but I suspect he was only a janitor with aspirations.
Some years later, I was wearing a leash of a different kind, dating a girl at Case Western Reserve University. CWRU is adjacent to Wade Park. On weekends home from Ohio State I would borrow a car and visit her in the campus dormitory. Once we tried to make out on a bench in the relocated botanical garden but they had some funding by now and could afford not only a roof that did not leak but uniformed guards to shoo young people away. Our dates were forgettable, but I remember cruising back down Liberty Boulevard, past Wade Park and Rockefeller Park, at one in the morning in my parents’ Dodge Monaco station wagon. I hit seventy on that twisting road and the giant car seemed to float in the air.
Perhaps resulting from a brief visit by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831, Cleveland became known as the “forest city”. Sports teams, breweries and business enterprises took on this moniker over the decades that followed. We have a new City Forester now, a woman, who seeks to guide a historic replanting of trees… up to 1000 trees in 2015 and 500 each year afterwards. I support this effort. But when I learned that certain entities intended to harvest a great number of these trees from bank-owned property in Perry that had not been maintained in several years, it raised my ire and, with the ghost of Michael Horvath looking over my shoulder, I fired off some angry emails that reached the Mayor’s Office. For better or worse, those trees are now coming, I believe, from existing for-profit nurseries. No wrong-doing was ever suggested, just an insensitivity to the nursery industry in Northern Ohio. The headline should read: Former Monkey-Boy Defends and Supports Legacy of Trees in Cleveland.
We’re approaching the end of our landscaping season… but the weather is bidding us to keep going!
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