Barron Park History

by Doug Graham, Barron Park Historian

The "Donkey Pasture" becomes a park
Thirty years ago Bol Park was a donkey pasture. The owner, Dr. Cornelis Bol, was a kind and gentle man who enjoyed having the neighborhood children come in and play with the donkeys. He even allowed some to board their own donkeys. "Mickey," who still lives in his smaller pasture near the bikepath bridge, is the last of that herd.

Dr. Bol's Idea of a Park
In the early 1960's, the idea of a park first came up in a conversation between Dr. Bol and Barron Park resident Sam Elster, while they were watching the neighborhood kids playing in the Bol family pool. Dr. Bol wanted very much to preserve the area as a park for the children.

Elster, Dick Placone and other leaders of the Barron Park Improvement Association, as it was then known, were involved in the early 1960s in developing a general plan for the community. The purpose was to resist undesirable developments, particularly large apartment blocks along El Camino. When they produced the first general plan in cooperation with the County Board of Supervisors in 1966, it contained provisions for all the vacant lands along the just-abandoned Southern Pacific RR right of way to become a 30-acre neighborhood park. The biggest and most valuable piece was the donkey pasture.

In the meantime, Dr. Bol died in July 1965. The family indicated that decisions must be made soon, or rising tax pressures would force sale to a developer. Theirs was then the last remaining undeveloped parcel of its size in Barron Park. The Barron Park Association, led by Dick Placone, worked with the County government to develop a way to fund a park. Negotiations led to a very generous offer by the Bol family in November, 1967, to sell approximately 5 acres at half of the market value if its status as a park land could be guaranteed in perpetuity.

Barron Park Taxes Itself
The BPA set out to raise money within the community, and over $11,000 was pledged. Additional funding came from the water district, to perform necessary erosion control and landscaping work on Matadero Creek. A federal government matching grant was approved. But the major funding was to come from a local tax source. In the spring of 1968, the BPA and the County agreed to set up a "County Special Service Area #1" to acquire land, develop, and maintain a neighborhood park for Barron Park. An election was held in July, 1970 to approve a $0.32 tax rate, which passed 2-1. In May, 1971 the County acquired the land for $68,750, and detailed planning began.

The Barn Burns Down
The Bol family had a small "barn" at the upper end of the pasture. Initially there were plans to incorporate this into the park as a 4-H club demonstration project and domestic animal "petting zoo." However, the barn burned on Washington's Birthday weekend in 1973. The Barron Park Volunteer Fire Department made a spectacularly inept attempt to put out the flames, but the barn burned to the ground. (A future history note will tell the story of the BPVFD, which had a proud history.)

Construction begins
Construction began in the fall of 1973. This was Phase I of the park and included only the creekbank, the irrigated turf, the play structure, and the pedestrian walk. The upper end of the park where the barn had been was to remain, and still is, undeveloped in order to retain a little of the rural feeling of the donkey pasture. Long-term BP resident Ken Arutunian did the landscape design. native northern California plants were used, and existing vegetation was disturbed as little as possible.

Community Picnic and Park Dedication
Hundreds of people turned out for a community picnic and dedication of Cornelis Bol Park on April 28, 1974. Mrs. Josina Bol was present to accept the thanks and congratulations of the grateful citizens.

Cornelis Bol, The Inventor
Cornelis Bol deserves a memorial in his own right. He was the inventor of the mercury vapor light, still the brightest artificial light source. A Stanford professor for many years, he also founded and operated the Bol Water Company that supplied water to much of Barron Park in the 1920s, '30s and 40s. The Bol family lived on Roble Ridge for sixty years, from 1936 until Josina Bol's death in 1966. Josina Bol's reminiscences of the life in BP in the 1930s and '40s were recorded in an oral history interview by Ann Knopf in 1977. Material from that interview has appeared in the BP newsletter and on exhibits at May Fetes.

The Job Wasn't Done Yet
The Bol Park Advisory Committee had already been working on Phase II -- the acquisition and development of the old Southern Pacific Railroad right of way, where the regional bikepath runs today. This was a more complicated task because the railroad owned only the part of the land that had originally been pat of the old Barron Estate; from the Varian Plant to the VA Hospital at Mickey's Pasture. The remainder, from that point past Gunn High School to Arastradero Road, belonged to Stanford with a long-term lease to the railroad. (The story of our railroad has also been the subject of history notes in the BP Newsletter)

The SPRR Deeds Land for Phase II
However, negotiations were successful and Dick Placone was able to announce the railroad company's gift, in April, 1974, of approximately three acres of land in an 80-foot wide strip. Shortly thereafter, the University was persuaded to re-lease their portion to the County and plans for Phase II were in full swing.

The People Approve At a community meeting in November, 1974 attended by 3000 residents, overwhelming approval was voiced for a tax period extension to pay for development of Phase II. The long-awaited federal funds became available then and provided up-front funding. The following March, Santa Clara County approved the Phase II expansion.

The park advisory committee held many meetings to solicit and weigh community input. Design was done by another Barron Park landscape architect, Jack Buktenica. Money was forthcoming from the city because the bikepath was needed to complete the overall Palo Alto plan. Then on November 4, 1975, the citizens of Barron Park voted 936-478 to join Palo Alto, ending nearly 40 years of political antagonism. On November 25, the formal transfer of responsibility for the park, including the development of Phase II, took place. Bol Park of Barron Park became Palo Alto's newest city park.

Phase II Reaches Completion
Meanwhile, Phase II planning continued and construction began in 1979. Finally, in May, 1980, Phase II was dedicated at a ceremony in the park. Thus was added the regional bikepath running from Arastradero Road to the Varian plant, 9 acres, bringing the total acreage to 13.8.

The Bicentennial Celebration
During the late 1970s, a new community tradition was born: fetes in the park. The BPA organized a bicentennial celebration and community picnic on July 4, 1976. Many people who turned out were enjoying the park for their first time. Jeff and Janet Rulifson assembled a Barron Park History Exhibit that became the inspiration for the later development of the BPA portable displays.

The May Fetes
Paul and Patty Edwards began the May Fetes in the mid-1970s on a small scale, but the first large fete sponsored by the BPA was held in May, 1978. There were three may poles, various musical groups, and Paul arranged for the Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band to put on a show. There were craft displays and face-painting, and Ken Arutunian began a ten-year tradition of Armenian-style barbecued shish kebabs. There were very successful May Fetes both of the next two years.

The Fourth Fetes
After the rainy 1981 May Fete, the BPA decided to try an old-fashioned Fourth of July picnic, like the Bicentennial. It was a rousing success. Will Beckett built a gazebo that could be assembled and disassembled in two hours' time, and which has been used for all the fetes since. There was a program of political speeches, concluding with Congressman Tom Lantos. The Fourth Fetes were repeated in 1983, with Mayor Betsy Bechtel, and 1984 with State Assemblyman Byron Sher. Also in 1984, BPA Chairman Doug Graham organized a Bol Park Tenth Anniversary presentation including and honoring Josina Bol, Dick Placone and others who had made the park possible. After 1984, it was decided to bring back the May Fetes and may pole dancing, which has been the main focus since 1985. As of this writing, the tradition seems likely to continue for many years to come.

Memorial Redwoods
The newest tradition in the park was inaugurated in 1985 and 1986 by the new BPA President John Joynt, with the planting of redwood trees in memory of the loved ones of several Barron Park residents.

The Future of Bol Park
The future of the park lies in the same hands as its past; the capable hands of the self-motivated citizens of Barron Park. The original plan for Bol Park is not yet complete. There were three additional parcels originally planned to be added to the par. One has been lost to development. It is up to you to help save the other two. If you are interested, please call Doug Graham at 493-0689.

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