Parks commission to consider fate of bench

Parks commission to consider fate of bench

Jeffrey Heyman
Clark Memorial Bench

Teens enjoy an outdoor sing-a-long on the Clark Memorial Bench in Jackson Park. Photo by Jeffrey Heyman.

“In Memory of My Dumb Friends,” reads the inscription on a nearly 95-year old bench in Jackson Park, Alameda’s oldest public park. And last Sunday, those “dumb friends” and the bench’s patron, Isabel Derby Clark, were honored when more than 25 neighbors attended a watermelon social to help save the historic Clark Memorial Bench from demolition.

The Recreation and Park Commission is expected to make a recommendation Thursday night on whether to restore or replace the Clark Memorial Bench in Jackson Park. It promises to be a packed house as supporters, led by a community group, Save The Bench, headed by Alameda resident Denise Shelton, will try to persuade the commission to restore the iconic bench.

Clark erected the 16-foot concrete bench in Jackson in 1920 in memory of her late husband, George B. Clark. The inscription to “my dumb friends” is Clark’s tribute to the animals that inhabited the park. (The urban myth that Doors singer Jim Morrison, briefly an Alameda resident, donated the bench to area teenagers, while colorful, is false.)

But a palm tree weakened by a massive beehive fell on the bench during a windstorm in January and severely damaged the bench, including the famous inscription. So the city began making plans to remove the historic bench.

Alameda parks director Amy Wooldridge said a full restoration would cost between $10,000 and $15,000; grassroots efforts to save the bench and raise money for the restoration are underway. The response so far has been enthusiastic: More than 1,000 Alameda residents have signed a petition in support of saving the bench.

The Friends of the Parks Foundation has signed on to keep the Clark Memorial Bench from disappearing, as have the Native Sons of the Golden West and the E Clampus Vitas Fraternal Order. The Alameda Architectural Preservation Society is also opposed to the removal of the bench. Even the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter have joined the effort to restore Clark’s bench.

The Alameda Masonic Lodge has voiced its support for the restoration. Clark, who was a Worthy Matron of the Caritas Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, had her funeral held at the Lodge on January 14, 1924. So this is personal to the Brethren of Island City Lodge – the remaining Masonic Lodge to meet at Alameda’s historic lodge building – and many have pledged to contribute funds for the restoration of the bench.

Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri, who said he’s not in favor of demolition, said he would like to see better lighting around the bench and a sign listing park hours posted so that people don’t use the bench – and disturb neighbors – throughout the night.

Neighbors have complained of a list of public nuisances they’ve associated with the bench that include underage drinking, drug sales and trash, and Wooldridge has said her department has a hard time keeping up with the graffiti painted there.

A chart drawn up by city staff showed three times as many police calls and stops in the bench’s Jackson Park home over the past two years compared to Towata Park, another small, passive park on the Island. Police initiated 238 stops at Jackson Park between January 2012 and March 15, and none at Towata Park, the chart shows.

Members of Save The Bench would like to install a modern pet watering station nearby so that Clark's original plan for the structure would finally be honored. The group believes changes to lighting and traffic signs at the site would be welcome, and members said money to help cover upkeep could also be raised.

“But we have been cautious about making suggestions at this point that would add to the scope, cost, and complexity of the project,” Shelton said.

The Recreation and Park Commission meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 12 in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue. The commission will accept the public’s comments on the bench.

Disclosure: Denise Shelton writes for The Alamedan.

Related: Piece of Alameda lore could meet wrecking ball


Submitted by frank on Thu, Jun 12, 2014

Windstorm was actually in November.

Submitted by david kirwin (not verified) on Thu, Jun 12, 2014

$10k - $15k? who sells the city buy cement from, - the Pentagon?
This would be the type of long lasting, fairly easy project some boy scouts would love to take on at almost no expense to the city. $10 -15,000 is way out of line for what is needed there. Who came up with such an outrageous figure? Don't they have any contacts within the community? Don't they understand this is a caring community and will be as long as CC the City Manager Russo don't destroy it with their over-development plans?

If you want this bench repaired for under $1,000 cost to the city, contact me. This is a fun/easy one. Jeez - where is the city leadership?