Harnessing History: Anaheim's Park System Is Using the Fruits of Its Past to Propagate a Healthy Future

Article excerpt

WHEN ANAHEIM SET OUT TO CREATE ITS FIRST PARK IN THE 1920S, the city was determined to build a community gem that embraced the values of its founders. Known at that time for its citrus industry, Anaheim was first established in 1857 as a wine colony by an educated group of 50 German immigrants from San Francisco many of whom were artists and musicians. Though just one had experience with viticulture and wine production, by 1864 Anaheim had become one of the country's principal wine regions. A blight destroyed the city's grape industry in the 1880s, forcing the advent of walnut, chili, and ultimately Valencia orange farming--but the cultural influences of the city's forefathers remained.

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"They wanted a community that thrived on agriculture ... and to have a very strong emphasis on the arts," says eight-year Community Services Director Terry Lowe. "They were seeking what they defined as an 'agricultural utopia.'"

Constructed on 20 acres of an old vineyard, City Park (renamed Pearson Park in 1960 after former Mayor Charles Pearson) would become what Lowe calls the "jewel" of the park system. The promenade-style park plans included an Olympic-sized pool, tennis courts, lagoons, and the crowning achievement--a 2,0O0-seat outdoor amphitheatre, which is now the oldest arts facility in Orange County.

According to planning commissioner and local historian Stephen Faessel, Anaheim would later be known as "the city with the beautiful park." He attributes this reputation largely to a man named Rudy Boysen, who Faessel says "single-handedly did more to beautify [City Park] than anybody before him and anybody after him."

A farmer and self-schooled botanist who first propagated the berries made famous by Knott's Berry Farm (Walter Knott named them boysenberries after their creator), Boysen is credited for planting the diverse range of trees, California native plants, and rare cacti that still grow in the park today.

After becoming park superintendent in 1927, Boysen--who would later have a park named after him--constructed La Palma Park, home to the city's municipal football and baseball stadiums, and a large special event facility. A devastating flood destroyed the park before its opening in 1938, but the city persevered, and the park was rebuilt.

In the 1950s and 1960s, agricultural costs increased and the citrus industry declined. Disneyland made its debut and new industries emerged, both of which increased demand for residential development. According to Lowe, the city's leaders began a concerted effort to acquire unincorporated land, culminating in +the 47 parks spanning 600 acres in Anaheim today.

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He emphasizes what he feels was a particularly important strategy for the system's development. "Our city fathers were smart enough to lay out many of the parks next to schools," he states. "It doubles our open space, as the community has full use of the athletic areas of the schools during non-peak hours."

"The city leadership always had a long view...not of 'Anaheim today,' but Anaheim in the future," adds Faessel. …