As Recreation and Park Moves to Nix ‘Friends’ Bench, Neighbor Writes

The Alameda Sun received a copy of this letter addressed to Amy Wooldridge, director of the Alameda Recreation and Park Department.

 

Dear Ms. Wooldridge:

Jackson Park has been our family’s front yard for 13 years. As a "passive-use park" Jackson needs places for people to relax. The Clark Memorial Bench is such a place. Its crescent shape makes it ideal for small groups to gather and talk. It is durable — made of solid concrete — and has lasted 94 years.

The bench itself was not damaged during the November 2013 storm that knocked the top half of a palm tree onto the concrete platform in front of the bench. The western portion of the front edge of the platform and a small step were shattered, and the adjacent corner of the platform surface was cracked.

Sadly, half of an animal lover’s quirky inscription "In Memory of My Dumb Friends" was shattered with the platform edge.

The Clark Memorial Bench is public art, a unique curiosity that gives Jackson Park and Alameda a sense of place. Because the bench itself was not damaged, the only repairs required are replacement of a part of the platform (much like replacing a small section of sidewalk), replacement of one small concrete step, and recreation of the cast-concrete inscription and edge of the platform. Recreating the inscription is artistic work, the cost of which likely cannot be found in Means construction cost data books. I suspect, however, that a local artist could be found to create a mold that could be used to cast a replacement for the missing portion of the inscription and platform edge.

I suggest that the plaque that has been proposed to memorialize Isabelle Clark contain not a miniature replica of the inscription but an explanation of the meaning of the inscription and a thank-you to whatever artist donates his or her time and talent to restore the actual full-size inscription.

Jackson Park is many residents’ front yard. There are probably more "eyes on the park" here than at any other park in Alameda. The Clark Memorial Bench is the most visible bench in the park, being immediately adjacent to the street, in the glare of headlights of cars approaching from Otis Drive, and across the street from several front porches and the balconies of a three-story apartment building.

If the bench is demolished, any drug use that has been taking place there will move to a less visible location — a bench farther inside the park, a secluded spot in another park, the dunes on Alameda Beach, or a parked car. I would rather provide a visible place for young people to hang out under the watchful eyes of neighbors and passersby.

If it is absolutely necessary to replace the 94-year-old bench to facilitate law enforcement, a crescent of new benches compatible with the historic character of the park (not "a standard-size concrete park bench") could be positioned around the repaired platform and historic inscription.

Alternatively, the height of the back of the existing bench could be reduced, saving part of a piece of history and using existing rather than new materials.

Let’s not destroy a functional, durable piece of history in an effort to change the behavior of a small percentage of park users.

Ms. Wooldridge, please provide copies of this letter to the Recreation and Park Commissioners before Thursday’s meeting, and please add my family’s names to the list of residents who support the preservation of the Clark Memorial Bench. Thank you.

— Betsy, Scott, Claire and Alec Mathieson