Rafu Staff Report
SANTA MONICA — The grand opening of Ishihara Park was held on Feb. 25 in Santa Monica as part of the city’s Parks Day.
Formerly known as Buffer Park and located at 2909 Exposition Blvd., the park was renamed in honor of George Haruyoshi Ishihara (1921-2009), a World War II veteran who took part in the liberation of Dachau as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. Raised in Washington state and Northern California, he moved to Santa Monica in 1958 and lived there for 51 years.
John C. Smith, chair of the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission, noted that four parks were being celebrated that day, two of them dedicated to “Santa Monica heroes, George Ishihara and Joseph Gandara. Both men came from different walks of life, but they had a couple of things in common. They both served their country in World War II. They both served in the Army. Joe was a Medal of Honor winner. George served while his family was being interned.”
In addition to Ishihara and Gandara parks, Reed Park and Los Amigos Park were reopened. Officials taking part in the celebration included Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis, Councilmembers Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez and Terry O’Day, Consul Shigeru Kikuma, and Recreation and Park Commissioners Lori Brown and Maryanne LaGuardia.
“Ishihara Park was made possible through community advocacy,” Mayor Ted Winterer said. “Two community meetings were held in 2011 to determine the use of the site. A park was not a predetermined use, but it was the land use chosen by residents. Three well-attended community outreach meetings were hosted between December 2012 and May 2013 to inform the park’s design.
“The community process for naming the park garnered 135 different name suggestions. With support from the Pico Neighborhood Association and the Japanese community, including the Consulate General of Japan, the Japanese American Veterans Association, and the Venice Japanese Community Center, and through advocacy by neighborhood resident Christel Andersen, the park was named in honor of George Ishihara.”
The mayor added that two grants made the park possible — $2.2 million from the State of California Housing-Related Parks Program, “an award directly correlated with the number of affordable housing units built in Santa Monica from January 2010 to June 2013,” and $40,000 from Miracle-Gro, which he accepted at the U.S. Conference of Mayors to support Santa Monica’s first park-based learning center.
Mia Lehrer, whose landscape company designed the park, said, “It’s been an amazing experience creating this park with you and for you … The DNA of this park is your park with a series of rooms that you could choose every day to use differently. People of all ages, young children, older families … can always be experiencing this park in many different ways.
“It’s particularly poignant for me today to be celebrating such a wonderful American for his contribution to our country and celebrating multiculturalism. This park stands as a rejection of discrimination and hate, and it celebrates beauty and unity, which are the essence of this community and should be the essence of all of our communities in Los Angeles.”
Assemblymember Richard Bloom, a former mayor of Santa Monica, recalled that the city has been “parks-poor” like its neighbors. “But find me another community that has been able to add to its park space in the way that Santa Monica has in the past few decades … refurbishment of virtually every park … It’s something that we should be very proud of.”
Renaming two of the parks was also an opportunity to “redress the humiliation, the indignities, the wrongs of the past,” Bloom said. “Joe Gandara, the son of Mexican immigrants, a man who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and died after taking out three machine-gun nests and protecting his fellow soldiers …. was passed over, because of his heritage, for a Medal of Honor …. something that was redressed, thankfully, by President Obama in 2014 …
“George Ishihara, who served his country also … did so with valor and great dignity, while his very family was being interned … We hear a lot about executive orders right now. It’s a very important topic that we all need to pay attention to. It was an executive order 75 years ago, 9066, that was signed by President Roosevelt that set up the internment camp system … We’re able, in a small way, to redress that wrong by honoring George Ishihara and his family here today in this beautiful park.”
Oscar de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board and the Pico Neighborhood Association, also discussed the importance of remembering EO 9066. “You have to imagine what it must feel like to have this type of discrimination occur in your life and then still have the honor and courage to fight to defend the values that are good in this country. That’s what George Ishihara did.”
The association supported the renaming of the park, he said, “because there is no other public space in the city of Santa Monica named for an Asian American or Japanese American. We thought this needed to change, especially in this part of the neighborhood, where there’s a long history … Japanese Americans have been in this community for many, many, many years. Even after what happened in World War II, people are still living here. Japanese Americans have made a great contribution to the city of Santa Monica.”
De la Torre was also “very happy” that nearby Stewart Park, located at 1819 Stewart St., was renamed in honor of Gandara, who grew up in Santa Monica and was killed in action at the age of 20. Citing both Ishihara and Gandara as role models, he said, “I was telling my son this morning about sacrifice, about giving back to your community, about giving back to your state, your country, to make this a better place.”
He added that Buffer Park was a result of community activism, recalling that the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority wanted to build a maintenance yard in the Pico neighborhood. “Many residents didn’t feel this was the appropriate place because we were dealing already with the freeway … We felt that this part of the community was already overburdened … But through the advocacy … people speaking out, we had the government acknowledge the wrong and we ended up with what we called at first a buffer zone … to protect the residents of the community from what we knew was going to happen.”
Winterer noted that Ishihara lived on Delaware Avenue, just a block from the park, and that his daughter, Monica Saito, still lives in Santa Monica. Although the family was split up into two camps during the war, Ishihara’s military service enabled him to have them reunited in one camp, the mayor said. The family remained at Minidoka in Idaho until their release in September 1945.
“Mr. Ishihara was an active member of the community,” the mayor continued. “He volunteered weekly with the Go For Broke National Education Center and was well regarded by neighbors. He lived in the Pico neighborhood until his death in 2009. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the timing of the naming of this park as it coincides with the 75th anniversary of the internment of our Japanese neighbors.”
Winterer and Davis presented a commemorative plaque to Saito and her brother Randy Ishihara from Spokane, Wash. Hannah Adams, Gandara’s great-niece, also received a plaque.
Ishihara Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. For questions about park maintenance, call (310) 458-8974. For questions about park operations, call (310) 458-8310. For more information, visit www.santamonicaparks.org.
Photos courtesy of Monica Ishihara Saito