Back in the 1930s, a 47-acre parcel was set aside for recreation by the federal Work Projects Administration and it was given the designation Eastside Park. Its borders were from San Bernardino Road to Foothill Blvd, and from east of what was then the hospital campus’s eastern boundary to the Santa Fe Railroad spur track. It was during that time that Harold Stewart was asked by San Antonio Community Hospital if it could have five acres of the park. Mr. Stewart, who was president of both the Stewart Citrus Association, and the Upland Lemon Growers Association, spent 24 years on the advisory board for the Upland branch of the Bank of America and 15 years with the San Bernardino County Farm Bureau, and was also president for 10 of the 25 years he served on the board of directors for San Antonio Community Hospital. As importantly in the context we are considering, he had spent more than 30 years on the board of directors for the San Antonio Water Company, which appears to have owned the set-aside for the park.
So, when San Antonio Community Hospital in the late 1930s asked the San Antonio Water Company to carve out five acres of Eastside Park, Mr. Stewart, representing both boards, obliged the hospital with the sale of not just five of the park’s acres nearest to the hospital campus but ten, at $350 an acre.
After the end of World War II, in 1947, the German field canon that had been trained on our Doughboys during World War I and which Upland city leaders had secured and placed at Second Avenue and ‘’D’’ Street as a testament to the bravery of our war veterans was moved to the park to memorialize both World War I and World War II veterans. It was shortly thereafter that the park was rechristened Memorial Park.
Later, city rulers in their infinite wisdom or dubious lack thereof took other land: for the Hospital Parkway, a street from Foothill Blvd. to the San Antonio Community Hospital parking lot, for the Landecena Building, for the Upland Animal Shelter, and for the Gretzky Hockey Rink, which became the Scheu YMCA, with its $4 million dollar, 4.29 acre expansion for a swimming pool. These have all cut chunks out of the park, detracting from the grandeur our forefathers envisioned for it.
The YMCA has a 55-year lease agreement with an option for a 2-to-5 year extension. The YMCA pays the city $1,610 a month with an increase of 10 percent every five years. I don’t know how much those leasing other buildings in the park are charged, but park acreage is valuable income for a poor city. As far as I can tell, this is correct information.
If that’s the case, then what chunk will be next? Especially since the so-called Medical Hub is ever expanding and plans for a sports park at the 210 Freeway and north of 16th Street have been discussed, it appears to me that Memorial Park will get smaller and smaller until it is just a lovely little area in which to sit and reflect or wait for an appointment, while the park’s recreation areas will have been moved northwest into the last available land that has remained barren until recently, the remnants of quarry property next to a heavily-traveled freeway from which tons of vehicle exhaust emanate daily, an environs where I do not believe it advisable for children, or anyone for that matter, to be recreating.
You might not know about Mayor John Pomierski changing the zoning of Pioneer Park next to Pioneer Junior High on 18th Street to eliminate that park land and allow housing to be built around the original Chaffey Communities Cultural Center. Mayor Pomierski, subsequently disgraced with a conviction for bribetaking in his role as Upland’s highest political office holder, carried this elimination of Pioneer Park with the support of then Planning Commissioner and later City Councilwoman Carol Timm and one-time City Councilman Dave Stevens. Pioneer Park can be found on the 2010 Chamber of Commerce maps.
This brings us to today’s lawsuits involving 4.6 acres of Memorial Park. The arrangement was made behind closed doors between San Antonio Regional Hospital and the city, before the current council was sworn in. The council, as it was formerly composed, attempted to impose that land grab of our precious park property through what is called a validation action, meaning we have all been passively sued by the city and unless we respond to the lawsuit as active defendants and declare our grounds for resisting the park land sell off, the use of that property for recreational purposes will be lost forever. This validation lawsuit was in reality the city’s way of intimidating its own citizens to keep them from challenging City Hall over having made the park sale without doing what was legally required of it under California law, which is to have held a vote of the city’s residents on whether they wanted to give up that park land, which under the law and by the principles of fairness and rectitude, they are entitled to enjoy.
Marian Nichols is a lifelong Upland resident. Her father was Upland’s former assistant city engineer and chief building inspector.