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Construction began with a ceremonial ground-breaking on March 5, 1966 and was finished in time for the grand opening on June 19, 1966. Groundbreaking, left to right: Karl Tubalkain, Hugo Orro, Herk Visnapuu, Andres Visnapuu, Jüri Pargas and Peeter Lapp.


The Cultural Gardens Federation of Cleveland was founded in 1916. Its goal is to celebrate the diversity of cultures that make up Cleveland, Ohio. The first Garden was dedicated to William Shakespeare and is now part of the British Cultural Garden. Ethnic groups living in Cleveland can request a plot of land from the Cultural Gardens Federation, to build a garden commemorating and celebrating their cultural heritage. The Estonian Cultural Garden was dedicated in 1966.



Dedication of the monument June 19, 1966. L to R: Harri Pärkna, Lia Staaf, Ernst Jaakson, Elmar Pähn, Reeli Meristu, Peeter Lapp, Rita Tubalkain, Jüri Pargas, Karl Tubalkain, Herk Visnapuu, Clarence E. VanDuzer.

Fundraising and organizing the Estonian Cultural Garden began in 1960. The inaugural meeting was held in the German Club (better known in Cleveland as the Haunted Castle on Franklin and West 44th), Eintracht Room on February 14, 1960. The chairman of the first meeting was Jüri Pargas, with Rita Tubalkain, Herk Visnapuu, Bruno Auning, Viktor Lauk, Lembit Kaldma and Endel Reinpõld in attendance. Herk Visnapuu showed an architectural rendering of the Cultural Garden plan.

The Cleveland Estonian community has always been small, with not more than 200 people at its peak in the late 1950s. The Estonians moved here between 1949 and 1960, with the abundance of manufacturing jobs being a major draw for new immigrants. It was decided that the first order of business was to start a fundraising campaign. This campaign took many paths. The first was to craft cardboard ‘piggy’ banks and distribute them to each Estonian household in the Cleveland area. The idea being that any spare change could be put in the bank for donation to the Estonian Cultural Garden Federation. After a few months, $28.82 was collected from the banks. The Cleveland Estonian Society, the Cleveland Ev. Luth Church, and the Estonian Freedom Fighters each donated $50.00. Dishwashing after the Estonian New Year’s party netted $12, after Independence Day - $10, lottery - $50, and collection of old newspapers - $21. This first year of fundraising netted $322, which was way too small a sum for the proposed monument and statue for the Estonian Cultural Garden.

Luckily for all concerned, Mrs. Lia Staaf joined the Estonian Cultural Garden Committee in 1961 and took a firm stand, that as this land was granted to the Estonians of Cleveland, and that the City Government was taking care of the property, that Cleveland Estonians must not falter in their resolve to build a Cultural Garden that would be a credit to the Estonian community.

After three years, the ECG nearly dissolved, due to the slow pace of fundraising. The original plan to cast the statue by Rohusaare “Kaotud Vabadus” or “Lost Freedom” and use it as the centerpiece of our garden was deemed too political by the Fine Arts Commission and the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation. A new plan was needed and architect Herk Visnapuu, using his connections, found local sculptor Clarence Van Duzer (of the Cleveland Institute of Art), who came up with a modern, stylized concrete monument supporting a bronze flame, that would be much less expensive and could be used to commemorate the Estonian national epic ‘Kalevipoeg’. A bronze plaque with the opening line of the last verse of the epic, “Aga ükskord algab aega…”. (“But the time will come, when all torches burst into flame at both ends and Kalev will return to bring happiness to the Estonian people”) This design and inscription was accepted by the Fine Arts Commission of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation and the Estonian Cultural Garden Federation courageously began construction, having raised only $1287 over the first six years.


For the grand opening ceremony, dignitaries included:

Reverend Elmar Pähn, Minister of the Cleveland Estonian Lutheran Church;
Mr. Ralph Locher, Mayor of Cleveland;
Mr. Duman, Cleveland Parks Director;
Mr. Leo Weidenthal, Cleveland Cultural Gardens President;
Mr. Ernst Jaakson, Estonian Ambassador to the US;
Mr Leesment, Estonian American National Council;
Mr. Pärkna, Chairman of the Canadian Estonian Organization.

Total cost of the Garden in 1966 was $3,152.83. The hope of the garden committee, that once visible progress was seen that fundraising would pick up was realized. Also, many of the contractors donated time and material, to help us out. The local community met its obligations and the Garden has been taken care of by the Estonian Community of Northern Ohio and the City of Cleveland. The Estonian Cultural Garden committee organizes annual clean-up and flower planting each spring and the City of Cleveland mows the lawn and ensures that an Estonian Flag graces our garden all year. The local Estonian community gathers at the garden to celebrate Võidupüha/jaanipäev (Victory Day/St. John’s Day) each year since the garden’s dedication.

Over the years, vandals had stolen the bronze flame and plaque, but had not been able to damage the monument. For many years, the flame was replaced with a wooden flame. The first one made by Riido Meristu and the second by Toomas Tubalkain and Andres Riiel. When park security was improved, with additional lighting and police patrols, the Estonian Cultural Garden Federation decided it was time to restore the monument and replace the surrounding stonework.

The Estonian Cultural Garden Federation mounted a major fundraising effort, leading to a major rebuild and restoration of the garden in time for its 50th anniversary in 2016. Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to have new bronze cast for the flame, Mr VanDuzer, the original artist had passed away. His widow recommended we contact Mr. David Deming, President of the Cleveland Institute of Art, to find a new sculptor to restore the monument. Mr. Deming, a renowned sculptor, volunteered to do the work at cost, out of respect for Mr. Van Duzer, who had been his sculpture teacher. This work coincided with the Cleveland Cultural Gardens 100th anniversary.

The motto of the Cultural Gardens is “Peace through mutual understanding”. People can relate to and respect each other through culture, even when politics tends to divide them.



The monument after restoration, 2016.

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens, stretching from Lake Erie to the University Circle, along Martin Luther King Blvd. are unique in the US and possibly in the world. They celebrate the cultures of a diverse population. Currently, there are 35 different cultures represented in the park, with more groups petitioning for space. Many of the gardens were established by ‘Captive Nations’ immigrant groups. This became one of the only places in the US, where the flags of occupied lands were flown all year round. To our knowledge, this was the only public display of the Estonian Flag in the United States, on a day to day basis, during the years (from 1966 to 1990) of the Soviet occupation of Estonia.



Victory Day/jaanipäev 2016 with Estonian diplomat Marki Tihonova-Kreek.

The Cleveland Estonian Cultural Garden will remain a standing monument to the Estonians of Greater Cleveland. The Cultural Garden has integrated the Estonian community into the City of Cleveland. Via the garden, Estonians have become acquainted with each mayor of Cleveland and their administrations. We have worked side-by-side with the other gardens in establishing “One World Day”, an annual event in the gardens that celebrates the diversity of Greater Cleveland. Though one of the smallest communities represented in the gardens, we are proud of our monument to Estonian culture and happy to share it with the community.


Current officers of the Estonian Cultural Garden are:

Erika Puussaar, President
Teevi Champa, Vice President
Toomas Tubalkain, Secretary and Treasurer.


History compiled byToomas Tubalkain, January 30, 2019


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