Carlsbads' Parks and Recreation Department began in 1954 with the acquisition of its first park, Holiday Park, and the appointment of its first employee, Superintendent Nelson Westree. In the years immediately after incorporation, when the city treasury was limited, new Departments were gradually added into the City Government budget as the funds became available. Prior to the establish of the Parks and Recreation Department, a volunteer group that served a similar function was called the Park, Beach and Recreational Commission. Many of the early city employees were volunteers who worked part time for the city while continuing in other occupations. As Park Superintendent Mr. Westree worked part time while continuing as grounds person for the Carlsbad Hotel, and tending to his own Macadamia nut groves. In 1948, when the Westree family arrived in Carlsbad, they promptly began volunteering in their new neighborhood. When asked in a 1969 interview why they volunteered, Mrs. Westree responded, " I simply believe that you have to figure your own 'good' things in life... maybe money isn't as important as we think it is... maybe happiness and satisfaction in the job are equally important." When asked 30 years later if she still felt the same way about volunteering Mrs. Westree added, "we owe something to life, we shouldn't take up space, we should make a contribution to where we are living."
Gradually the Carlsbad Parks and Recreation Department grew from a mostly volunteer organization with one part time employee and one park site, to an organization that today includes a variety of parks, community centers, sports programs and enrichment classes. Many of the land additions to the park system have interesting and unique stories behind their acquisition.
In 1954 the San Diego County Department of Roads sold to the City of Carlsbad three acres of county owned land that the Department used as a road equipment storage yard for $300. After the purchase civic debate arose on what would be the best use of the land. Some residents suggested reselling the property and putting the money into the city treasury, others wanted to construct a library, and still others wanted a park. Mr. Westree conducted a random phone survey and presented the results to the City Council. The land that was bordered by I-5, Basswood, Eureka and Chestnut finally became the genesis of the Carlsbad Park System and was named Holiday Park, in honor of the annual Spring Holiday Event begun 1951 by the Carlsbad Rotary.
Spring Holiday Event
The Spring Holiday Event was conceived as a way to highlight the achievements of Carlsbad's principal volunteer organizations. An annual week long event, it offered an opportunity to participate to everyone in the community. Once the land was acquired and dedicated as Holiday Park, the park became a venue for one of the activities: a community cookout. Other venues were staged throughout town to accommodate the various Spring Holiday events. The activities included operettas performed at the Army- Navy Academy Auditorium, Carnival rides at Saint Patricks' Church, Zany Hat Breakfast held at the Carlsbad Woman's Club, downtown parades, a pet show at the Union Church, and water skiing exhibitions at Agua Hedionda Lagoon. The entire Spring Holiday Event culminated with a huge dinner dance held at two sites, the Twin Inns and across the street at the Carlsbad Hotel. The weeklong Spring Holiday Event was staged each year through the 50s and 60s and it truly was a community event, organized and enjoyed by all. It was only appropriate that the first community park should be named in honor of such a community holiday event.
Rotary Park, located on Grand and Washington, is another City acquisition with an interesting origin that also points to the significance and importance of the resident volunteer spirit that benefited the community. By 1960 trains were no longer stopping in Carlsbad for freight or passenger service. The 1907 Santa Fe Station was deteriorating. B.M. (Chris) Christiansen and his wife Kay shared a keen interest in history. It was the Christiansens' shared dream to reopen the Carlsbad Mineral Spring Well, and with this in mind they purchased the property on which the original mineral wells were located. Chris and Kay became founding members of the Carlsbad Historical Society. While researching primary historical documentation relating to the Mineral Wells, it also enabled them to gather information relating to early Carlsbad history. Considering Chris's civic involvement and his interest in local history it was not surprising that he expressed concern in 1960 over the vacant Santa Fe Train Depot that was becoming a downtown eyesore. With his typical energy Mr. Christiansen, wearing his President of the Carlsbad Rotary hat, contacted the President of the Santa Fe Railroad, who also happened to be President of Rotary International. Christiansen was able to convince him that it would be in everyone's best interest to let the community have use of the historic building as well as a few acres of land. The site was designated as Rotary Park and through volunteer efforts the old depot was cleaned up as well as the land around it.
In the mid 1980s, after the sale of the Twin Inn's Restaurant, two of the Inn's famous plaster chickens were moved next door to Rotary Park. Less than 48 hours later, the Chickens were stolen. In December of 1989 one plaster chicken was found abandoned in an apartment house dumpster. Currently the last of the Twin Inns Chickens can be viewed at the Carlsbad Historical Society Museum at Magee Park.
Maxton Brown Bird Sanctuary
In 1965, a small three-acre park was dedicated as Lt. Maxton Brown Jr. Bird Sanctuary at the Buena Vista Lagoon. Maxton Brown Jr. was lost while flying over North Africa during World War II. Prior to the war he spent many hours at the lagoon sighting and recording over 150 species of birds. In consideration of his dedication to the Buena Vista Lagoon and to its inhabitants, the bird sanctuary carries his name.
Magee Park was acquired by the city in 1974 when Florence Shipley Magee passed away, willing her home and the property around it to the City of Carlsbad for a Historic and Recreational Park. This bountiful donation was the partial answer to a serious dilemma facing the city. In 1971 a report to the Mayor and City Council pointed out that because the city lacked an adequate industrial tax base it was not in a financial position to acquire or develop new parks.
In 1972, Chairperson of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Betty Wollrich, proposed a one million dollar bond election for purchase and development of neighborhood parkland. This bond election was in direct response to a city questionnaire that stated 90% of Carlsbad residents wanted more parks. In 1972 Carlsbad owned just 13 acres of parkland. The hope was that bond approval would allow the city to increase that to a total of 40 park acres.
A 2/3 majority vote was necessary for passage of the park acquisition bond. This bond would tax 11 cents on every accessed $100 of land valuation. Opponents to the bond issue expressed discontent with the tax assessment and suggested that other methods be exhausted before more taxes were levied. With a 54.6% approval of the park bond, it failed to gain the necessary number of votes and the city was forced to find other ways to add more land to their park system.
The Parks and Recreation Department made a list of what Carlsbad lacked and what was desired: more ball parks, elimination of lumpy school tennis courts, enlargement of the undersized soccer fields, more basketball courts and at least one community swimming pool. With this list in mind the city needed to find ways to resolve and correct what was lacking in the park system.
A variety of solutions presented themselves, in 1979 the city and the school district entered into an agreement that would guarantee joint use of school facilities. This eventually led to the 1980s construction of a community pool on Carlsbad High School grounds. Additionally, a Park Dedication ordinance was enacted that required developers to either give land or money for park acquisition and development.
When Florence Magee's will bequeathed her home and gardens to the City of Carlsbad for use within the park system in 1974. It was a most welcome and needed addition, since the city had none of the previously mentioned solutions. The land surrounding Mrs. Magee’s home eventually provided a home for other displaced historical buildings, such as Heritage Hall, originally Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church on Harding Street. Later the church was used as Carlsbad's first Police Department, City Hall, and Library. Without question Magee Park, with Mrs. Magee's home as a centerpiece, is one of Carlsbad's most unique and special parks, providing a glimpse of a more tranquil time.
Magee House and its Inhabitants
Samuel Church Smith, one of the founding members of the Carlsbad Land and Water Company, originally constructed the house in 1886. It has retained much of its original charm, having housed only 2 families. The Smith family lived for a few short years in Carlsbad before moving to San Diego. It was left empty until 1896, when the Shipley family arrived looking for a healthier place in which to live. Florence, an only child, was 14 years old on her arrival with her parents Alexander and Julia. Originally from New York, the family had more recently lived in Napa, California after returning from New Zealand, where Mr. Shipley served as Vice Consul for the United States Government. Quite wealthy with financial investments throughout California and the United States, well educated and traveled, the family had a difficult adjustment to small town Carlsbad. However, Mr. Shipley suffered from a variety of ailments that caused considerable strain and upheaval on the family. Carlsbad, with its yearlong spring like climate, seemed ideal for Alexander's health. Florence was educated at Our Lady of Peace Academy, a Catholic boarding school in San Diego. Upon her graduation in 1902, Florence was given an opportunity to do a bit of traveling. However, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake also had a profound impact on the Shipley family finances. This setback, plus her father’s failing health forced Florence to accept considerable responsibility for handling much of the family’s business affairs. Considering that this took place in a time when women in this country were still not allowed to vote, it points to the great respect that Mr. Shipley showed for his daughter’s intellectual abilities. In 1912, after Florence married Hugh Magee, she left Carlsbad for over 29 years, living at Condor's Nest, the Magee family ranch near Pala. Florence was able to visit her parents often, considering the difficulty of travel over unpaved roads, and the difficulty of leaving a working ranch. A close relationship with her parents was maintained through her almost daily correspondence.
In 1941, after Hugh's death, the childless Florence returned to Carlsbad living with her widowed mother. After her mother’s death in 1943, Florence remained alone in her family home for the next 30 years with just her pet cats as companions. So numerous and well known were her pets, that in 1985, after her death, their descendants were still living around the park. Irma Algover, who lived nearby, often fed the semi wild cats. When asked why she did this, Ms. Algover said that when she looked at their hungry eyes, she remembered herself and other Hungarian refugees who fled Europe during World War II. The cats had the same look.
After the City acquired the Magee home, some renovations were required to bring the house into compliance with modern safety standards. However, for the most part the original structure remains. Today, two volunteer gardening groups, the Carlsbad Arboretum Foundation and Coastal Rose Society, maintain the gardens that surround the home. Various planting themes that dominate the flower beds: plants native to southern California, those grown commercially in Carlsbad and of course old garden roses as well as modern teas, providing an interesting history lesson to those who visit.
In the years immediately after acquisition of Magee Park, four additional sites in Carlsbad with unique historical connections were incorporated into the Carlsbad Park and Recreation Department. In 1977, through the Quimby Act, Carlsbad received ownership of 10.5 acres of Carrillo Ranch, the former weekend home of Hollywood star Leo Carrillo. The Quimby Act is a California State provision in which a developer may give land to a city or county in lieu of fees to obtain approval for their subdivision map. Park plans drawn by the City were intended to use the special features at Carrillo Ranch to highlight the ambiance of the old California style ranch, and to create an environment applicable for general public use. By 2001 the park is still unavailable for public use due to lack of funding for renovation and restoration as well as conversion from a working ranch to an interpretive park. Currently, the City of Carlsbad is in the process of restoring and seismic retrofitting all existing buildings as funds become available. Plans call for the opening of Carrillo Ranch in the near future.
Carrillo Ranch is just a small part of the former 10,000-acre Los Kiotes (Quiotes) Ranch, one of Carlsbad's oldest homesteads. In 1868 Matthew Kelly established a homestead south of Rancho Agua Hedionda land grant. The Kelly family retained title to this ranch until 1922, when Matthew’s children sold off part of the land. In 1937, during the depth of the national depression, Leo Carrillo bought 840 acres of the land from a San Francisco syndicate and set about establishing a weekend retreat. Retaining part of the original Kelly adobe home, Carrillo was able to renovate and add to the structure, creating a replica of an Old California Style Rancho. His efforts to create a working ranch were completed with the addition of a barn bunkhouse, as well as other ranch structures.
Before 1982, acquisition of parks in the City of Carlsbad was a haphazard and opportunistic affair. In 1982 the Carlsbad General Plan added a Parks and Recreation Element that incorporated a long-range strategy for location of parks throughout the city. In spite of the City's plans, the citizens of Carlsbad had a few ideas of their own.
One of the changes to the Parks and Recreational overall park plan was the addition of Hosp Grove. Hosp Grove’s existence began in 1908 when 45 acres of land were planted with over 40,000 eucalyptus trees overlooking Buena Vista Lagoon. Nurseryman F. P. Hosp secured investment funds from Messrs. Martin, McGee and Whitaker. They collectively formed the Hosp Eucalyptus Corporation. The original focus of the Corporation was to plant 219 acres, with a fast growing, drought tolerant tree that could be harvested for use as railroad ties. The plans came to naught when they discovered that the eucalyptus trees were inadequate for this purpose. Over the years Hosp Grove shrank as parcels of land were sold off for housing developments. Hosp Grove held a special place in many local hearts as a childhood playground, where as kids they camped out or rode horses. After construction of the Plaza Camino Real Mall in the late 1960s and widening of Highway 78, the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove became the tranquil guardians of Carlsbad's northern border. In 1986, the remaining eucalyptus filled acres went on the market for $6.5 million dollars. Fearing commercial development of this last bit of open space in the northern end of town, a citizen-initiated proposition was placed on the ballot. If passed it would require the city to purchase a total of 53 acres of land. After two election attempts the proposition passed, thus authorizing the City of Carlsbad to pay the asking price of $6.5 million dollars. The City argued it could not afford the Hosp Grove asking price. The Sustain Hosp Grove Committee agreed with the city government's argument and opposed purchase of the 53 acres. Sponsored by many of Carlsbad's former mayors, the Sustain Hosp Grove group proposed an alternative solution that would honor citizens’ wishes and at the same time allow the city to afford the purchase. Their proposal required the city to lease some of the Hosp Grove acres for commercial development, thus generating the funds needed to purchase the entire 53 acres. A second group, Save Our Open Space, rejected the Sustain Hosp Grove's proposal. Offering a proposal of their own, one that would thwart the Sustain Hosp Grove proposal, it would require a two thirds vote for any rezoning of designated open space land.
Today, Hosp Grove, owned by the City of Carlsbad, provides a natural environment for Carlsbad 's citizens by remaining a eucalyptus filled oasis in the midst of urban development.
Stagecoach and Calavera
In the late 1980s, Carlsbad constructed two parks, Stagecoach and Calavera, on sites that had documented historical backgrounds. Each shared the same overall park design that included large recreation centers, baseball fields, and tennis and basketball courts. However, treatment of the historical sites was totally different. At Stagecoach Park, some conservation of the original historical structure remains, while at Calavera every aspect of its historical significance was removed. Stagecoach Park occupies a small portion of the former Las Encinitas Rancho, a Mexican land grant given to Don Andres Ybarra in 1842. Las Encinitas, which translates into Little Live Oaks, passed through many hands. In 1860, subsequent owners Joseph S. Mannassee and Marcus Schiller converted Don Ybarra’s adobe home into a stagecoach stop. The remnants of this adobe structure can still be found on the grounds of Stagecoach Park beneath a roofed enclosure.
Calavera Park occupies the site of the former Calavera School. Calavera was one of Carlsbad's earliest schools, begun in 1897. At the time of park construction in 1987, the land still retained some of the original features. A cistern used for water collection and a grove of trees planted by the first group of students in 1897 was still on the property. None of the existing features were retained, protected or included into the new park design.
Special Niche Parks
During the 1990s, the Parks Department planned and developed a variety of Parks throughout Carlsbad according to the Carlsbad General Plan Park Element. A small Art Park was constructed in 1991 on Carlsbad Boulevard. And Ocean Street as part of the overall Street Scape improvement project. From the very beginning, this small triangular piece of land was embroiled in controversy. Before the park construction began, various agencies needed to approve different aspects of the plan. Delays occurred which pushed back construction. This delay caused financial hardship for businesses in the area. Some business owners claimed to have suffered as much as a 70% drop in revenue.
The next big issue faced was the design of the park itself. Community input was solicited and proposed designs of the new "art" park were made available to all residents. However, what the public viewed on display did not translate well once built. Huge wooden fences surrounded the site, within which a streamlined Park centerpiece entitled Spilt Pavilion, designed by New York Artist Andrea Blum was constructed. When the unveiling occurred, Spilt Pavilion came to be known locally as The Bars. Eight-foot high-galvanized metal bars framed the view of a reflection pool and the Pacific Ocean. Critics complained that the resulting design was unlike anything they had viewed in the numerous public displays before construction. Cement, xeriscape plants and metal provided a harsh vista for park visitors. Citizen protests convinced the city that something needed to be done to change the appearance of Split Pavilion. California laws protect artistic expression. Therefore, before changes occurred, an agreement had to be reached with the artist. Once an agreement was reached, changes desired by citizens were enacted over a period of years. Currently, the Park itself has evolved into a site for expressionist art. A simple triangular strip of grassy land facing the ocean provides a stage for street entertainers and spontaneous artistic displays.
In 1999 a skate park opened in response to complaints regarding the safety of pedestrians and skateboards coexisting on city streets. The city developed a series of cement shallow bowls, stairways and handrails in a 15,000 square foot open-air facility adjacent to the safety center.
Carlsbad’s first dog park, which opened in September of 2001off of Carlsbad Village Drive east of El Camino Real, is another example of citizen-generated changes in the overall Park plan. The City of Carlsbad has an ordinance that restricts dogs on city parkland or beaches. In 1996, Ann L'Heureux asked the city consider constructing a fenced park area for dogs, similar to those of other Southern California cities, a place where dog owners could allow their pets off leash. Finally, five years after the initial request, a 13,200 square foot fenced park was dedicated for dog use.
Over a period of 50 years, the needs, interests and finances of Carlsbad have grown. One can chart the progress of the city by looking at the evolution from a one-park town to a city where we can even provide special park space for our pets.