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Sunken Gardens Renovation
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"I expect to make this spot the most beautiful place in the city, either in or out of the parks. The ground lends itself perfectly to the making of a sunken garden, and at the same time a spot rich in beauty, at a small expense."

- E.M. Bair, Lincoln Park Superintendent, November 1930

In 2003, a major campaign began to renovate the historic Sunken Gardens. Located on the SW corner of 27th Street and Capitol Parkway, its infrastructure was aged -- creating safety concerns, limiting accessibility and increasing annual maintenance.

History of the Gardens

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Built in 1930, the Sunken Gardens was a Depression-era project, built on a former abandoned neighborhood dumpsite. The 1.5 acres were originally donated by the Seacrests, the Faulkners and the Freys -- long time Lincoln families.

As a part of a city program helping unemployed men to earn money, E.M. Bair hired crew members to work on this garden. The men worked eight-hour shifts, two days a week for a total of $6.40 per week.

Lincoln's "Rock Garden" (as it was originally called) reflected the popular 1930's trend for rock gardens in progressive communities. Rocks were used for the garden's skeleton, structures like water fountains and retaining walls at different heights to create terraced levels.

In 1931, the Gardens were in full bloom with 416 trees and shrubs. Final construction cost for the Sunken Gardens was $2,500.

"Polishing the Gem" Campaign

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The following 73 years saw many minor improvements to the Gardens and was even named as one of the "300 Best Gardens to Visit in the U.S. and Canada" in the National Geographic Guide to America's Public Gardens. It was the only Nebraska garden to be in this prestigious list, and the only concentrated public garden in Lincoln.

However, by 2003 the Gardens were showing their wear and were in dire need of a facelift. The Lincoln Parks Foundation proudly led a $1.7 million campaign that provided the first-ever major renovation and allowed for a partial endowment to be established. They led the campaign to "Polish the Gem" that we all know as Lincoln's Sunken Gardens. Impressively, the campaign met its goal in less than 12 months.

As part of the "Polishing the Gem" campaign, the Foundation created two successful programs: One Flower Forever and Paving the Path. These programs allow people to support the Sunken Gardens on an ongoing basis -- in honor of friends, loved ones and special events.

Renovation Completion

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Major renovation work was completed in the summer of 2005. The two new sculptures were unveiled in early July and the Sunken Gardens Re-Dedication was held on the afternoon of August 21.

Improvements include:
  • Handicap accessible entrances, walkways and parking
  • Entry garden pavilion
  • New sculptural elements
  • Restrooms
  • Renovated lily ponds
  • Restored cascading water feature
  • Additional lawn space for events
With the renovation came more wedding locations - in the pavilion overlooking the Gardens, in the white healing garden or a top or below the waterfall, the Sunken Gardens holds a variety of perfect locations.

During August and September of 2005, over 21 couples made wedding reservations at Sunken Gardens and 51 reservations have been made for 2006. If you would like more information, call the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department's Reservation Line at 402-441-8262 or visit the City's Website, keyword: wedding.

Future Plans

While the major renovation work has been completed, improvements are continually being planned, with an upgraded kiosk and additional lighting in the works.

Contributions can still be made to this project to continually improve the Gardens and to help fund the Sunken Gardens Endowment Fund for future maintenance. Gifts of any size are appreciated and all contributions are tax deductible as allowed by law. DONATE TODAY
2740 A Street, Box 201, Lincoln, NE 68502 - (402) 441-8258