The Lake Merritt Breakfast Club was created “to promote activities and call attention to Lake Merritt.” (The members admitted that in going by the lake every day, they had lost their awareness of its attractiveness, and it was unanimously agreed that if our lake were in Los Angeles, the southerners would surely publicize it.) Thanks to “the beneficence of the Lake Merritt Hotel,” breakfast cost just 35 cents, and guests attended free. Membership was only open to men, who were required to wear suits, ties and vests.

More than 80 years later, the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club continues to be an active supporter of improvements to Lakeside Park. But one improvement stands out: the gift to the City of Oakland, in 1950, of Children’s Fairyland.

This year, as we celebrate our 65th birthday, I want to share with you how our “once upon a time” story began.

Club members William Penn Mott, Jr. — then head of the Oakland Parks Department— and nurseryman Arthur Navlet, recognizing the need in Oakland for “a safe, comforting environment where children could play on their own terms,” began planning a “dream of every child come true.” As they explained it in a Lake Merritt Breakfast Club fundraising brochure, “The object of Children’s Fairyland is to supply diversion, interest and education for Toddlers and Youngsters on a scale hitherto unknown in the West.”

They raised enough money to construct and donate the sets that made it possible for Children’s Fairyland — the nation’s first storybook theme park — to open on September 2, 1950. Later, similar storybook parks would open all over the country. But while the vast majority of those other parks were ultimately paved over because of lack of ongoing funding or the increased value of real estate, Oakland’s Fairyland has not only survived but thrived.

An important reason for Fairyland’s survival is the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, which opened its membership to women in 1987. For 65 years the club has organized work parties to build, plant and restore nearly every inch of Children’s Fairyland. It has donated the funds for improvements as various as professional curtains for our theater and our current work theming out the JollyTrolly Tunnel with fantastic glowing crystals and stalactites. And club members show up in great numbers at our annual gala fundraiser, which will take place on June 4 this year. (Yes, tickets are still available! Keep reading.) The club’s donations of fine wine are always a hit at the event’s silent auction.

Of course, Fairyland isn’t LMBC’s only important contribution to the lake. The club also is responsible for the full restoration and illumination, in 1987, of the lake’s beautiful Necklace of Lights, as well as countless other improvements. But Fairyland is its pride and joy.

Is it possible that on June 4 Children’s Fairyland will honor the organization that gave it birth? Well, William Penn Mott and Arthur Navlet’s dream for Fairyland was a place with “no straight lines, and a surprise around every corner,” and we must honor their intention. You’ll just have to attend our big event to find out.

By the way, lest you think the club is stodgy or cliquish, let me tell you what happens every Thursday morning. Outside, you’re greeted by name; inside, you’re treated to live music, a hot breakfast, a rousing singalong of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” an interesting speaker, and — most important — the camaraderie of good people who love their lake and have spent over 80 years making a positive difference in the life of our community.

We’d love to welcome you to the club. For information on how to join, go to www.lmbclub.org.

And for information on Children’s Fairyland’s June 4 costume gala, go to www.fairyland.org.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see: http://oaklandlocal.com/guidelines.

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