Commission to Decide Fate of Isabelle’s Bench

Eric J. Kos If neighbors don’t speak up to save it, the Public Works Department has offered to demolish this bench in Jackson Park “for free.”

Police claim Jackson Park site attracts bad behavior

In the early part of the 20th century Isabelle and George Clark lived in an apartment at 1173 Park Ave., just three houses from the southern tip of oval-shaped Jackson Park. In 1920, sometime after George died, Isabel installed a bench at the park’s southern tip to remember him.

Isabelle’s bench provided both a respite for people visiting the park and watering trough for their horses. She and George loved animals. In case anyone questioned why Isabel built the bench, she included a sign that read "In memory of my dumb friends," with "dumb friends" referring to no one human, but to the animals that she and George loved so much. The bench also had a trough for horses to drink from.

Stories that the Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison had something to do with the bench do not ring true. Morrison didn’t live in Alameda until 1957, some 37 years after Isabelle installed the bench to honor her husband and remember their "dumb friends."

The bench survived intact for almost 100 years. On Nov. 21, 2013, a wind storm toppled a tree onto the bench. According to the city the tree "significantly damaged" Isabelle’s creation.

Alameda Police Department Chief Paul Rolleri wants to see the bench disappear. He stated in the city’s report to the Recreation Commission that the bench "provides natural concealment for bad behaviors."

"The sheer size and location (of the bench) creates the ability for people sitting on the bench to see approaching patrol cars coming from Encinal Avenue before the officers can see what is happening at the bench," Rolleri stated in the report.

City staff pegs the cost to repair the bench at "at least $12,000." According to the staff report, Public Works has offered to demolish the concrete bench at no cost. If this were done, the report suggests "installing a standard-size concrete park bench with a plaque to memorialize Isabelle Clark with her name and the inscription. Work would include "attractive groundcover and landscape."

The fate of Isabelle’s bench comes before the Recreation Commission this evening at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Ave. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.