Arroyo Viejo park - Oakland CA
Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center/Park was developed between 1936 and 1939 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), working with the Oakland Recreation Department. The WPA funded the project for around $60,000 in 1935 (Chronicle 1935).
The 16 acre site on Arroyo Viejo Creek was purchased by the city in pieces, starting in 1935. The entire purchase cost about $36,000 (Post-Enquirer 1935). The property had belonged to the Japanese Domoto family, who operated a nursery there. (An interesting sidelight is that Kenji Domoto went on to be a famous landscape architect)
The work of creating a new park began with tearing down acres of old greenhouses from the nursery that had previously occupied the land and selling off thousands of roses and other plants.
WPA relief workers then laid out large grass fields and planted trees, built a recreation center building and an amphitheater. Two baseball diamonds, four tennis courts and a children’s playground were included, as well, according to a newspaper report (Tribune 1939). The park opened to the public with a dedication ceremony in the amphitheater in June 1939.
After World War II, four more acres were added by a 40-year lease with the School Board, which operated the Webster Elementary School on the east flank of the park. Those four acres are probably the site of two baseball diamonds next to the school.
Today, a large grass area and many elegant old trees dominate the site, with some picnic tables. There is no evidence of tennis courts, but two basketball courts are found by the baseball fields.
A beautiful stone bridge carries the entry road across Arroyo Viejo creek on the west side of the park and the amphitheater is still there on the north side of the creek, looking rather neglected, along with more picnic tables. Arroyo Viejo creek was restored in 2002 as part of a general city creeks program.
The disturbing inscription on the restoration sign, now lying on the ground, reminds us that East Oakland needs more social justice along with environmental improvement. But local kids have painted a charming ‘green’ mural on the side of the recreation center.
Curiously, a plaque on the Recreation Center says that it was dedicated in 1956. That suggests that it was not completed in the 1930s or rededicated when a new addition was added in the 1950s. But the older part of the building, with board-and-batten siding looks like the kind of rustic style used in parks during the New Deal. More information is needed on this.
"Recreation beauty in park," Oakland Post-Enquirer, September 19, 1935.
"Oakland park to be built as a WPA job," San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 1935.
"Play center opened to youth," Oakland Tribune, June 18, 1939.
"Oakland's new park center," Oakland Post-Enquirer, June 19, 1939.
Project originally submitted by Gray Brechin on October 17, 2008.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.
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