Piece of Alameda lore could meet wrecking ball

Piece of Alameda lore could meet wrecking ball

Michele Ellson
Clark Memorial Bench

A 94-year-old concrete bench that may be Alameda’s best-known piece of park furniture could fall to the wrecking ball.

The Recreation and Park Commission will consider a proposal Thursday to get rid of the storm-damaged Clark Memorial Bench and to replace it with a new bench and landscaping.

The 16-foot-long, four-foot-tall bench was erected in Jackson Park – Alameda’s oldest park – in 1920, donated by Isabelle Clark in memory of her late husband, a staff report to the commission says. The bench bears a plaque with the inscription “In Memory of My Dumb Friends” – a reference to Isabelle Clark’s love for animals, it says.

A palm tree toppled by a massive windstorm in January “significantly damaged” the bench, including the memorial plaque. So the parks department is talking about removing the bench, which is not listed as an historical monument.

One other reason city staffers would like to remove the bench: Police say its size and location provide “natural concealment” for miscreants who engage in “bad behaviors” at the park, which runs up the middle of Park Avenue at Encinal Avenue, the report says.

Police Chief Paul Rolleri said residents who live near the park have complained to police and members of the City Council about a list of public nuisances they’ve associated with the bench that include underage drinking, drug sales and trash. Wooldridge said she’s heard reports of pot smoking teens and that parks staff are having a hard time keeping up with graffiti; parks workers have found hypodermic needles and condoms in Jackson Park, she said.

“While this bench holds some historical value, that must be weighed with the current issue as an attractive nuisance and significant repair work required,” the report says.

Demolishing and replacing the memorial bench with a new, smaller bench and landscaping would cost $4,000; restoring it would cost $12,000, the report says.

But some are questioning the city’s rationale for demolishing the bench and saying they’d like to see it restored.

Resident David Foote said the bench is one of the things that makes Alameda unique, on par with the park’s bandstand and the wrought iron gate that lines Lincoln Park’s main entrance – things he said no one would propose destroying if they were damaged by a storm. In an e-mail to Wooldridge and members of the City Council, he said destroying the bench won’t make “any meaningful difference” toward controlling illicit behavior in the park.

“The legendary Clark Memorial Bench is one of those very special treasures that give Alameda its quirky and much-admired atmosphere, foster good memories and bind the generations together. Let's fix the Jackson Park bench, not destroy it,” Foote wrote.

While the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society hasn’t taken a formal position on the bench’s fate, first vice president Jim Smallman said most of its members “would very much like to see this historic artifact restored.” Smallman questioned the city’s estimate of the cost to fix the bench, saying that the damage was limited to the concrete apron in front of the bench and the dedication sign.

Smallman said he doesn’t think destroying the bench will halt problems in the park; other suggestions for addressing the problem have included lighting, video monitors, a drinking fountain for dogs to encourage people to walk their pets there and a neighborhood watch program.

“I just hate to see this nearly hundred year old artifact lost to the red herring of drug use,” Smallman said. “Destruction would accomplish nothing, and be another loss to the community.”

Wooldridge said that if people want to raise money to fix the bench or offer suggestions for addressing crime and nuisances in Jackson Park, she’s “completely open to those options.” Regardless of what happens next – which will be a while off, she said – the bench will soon get a fresh coat of paint.

“I’m open for discussion,” Wooldridge said. “It’s not a final decision made.”


Submitted by Bette page (not verified) on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

the best solution I've heard yet - recreate it with the old horse trough - now for dogs - and turn the end of the park into a dog park. The presence of dog owners should discourage any " bad behaviors".

Submitted by L. Jones (not verified) on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

I live across from the park and do walk my dog there every day. The bench is always dirty, trash, bottles etc and kids being loud and hanging out. The bench being redone I think would just be ruined by graffiti and trash plus the location is weird. I say be rid of it.

Submitted by Gale (not verified) on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

I walk my dog by there and the young people pay no attention as they continue to do what they do. I feel like it would be better to put in a new bench that faces the park. That way, you can sit there and see the park, plus people sitting there can be seen by people in the park. It makes no sense to have it facing the street, although the area would have been different when it was installed, with a view of the water.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

Hi L: I just wanted to thank you for adding your voice as I realized last night that I neglected to contact neighbors of the park for this piece, a regrettable omission.

Submitted by Josh M. (not verified) on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

I live across the street from the bench, so I have a really good idea of what happens over there, and I'm here to tell you the number one reason people use the bench is the "concealment" Chief Rolleri mentioned. Drug deals, drug use, underage drinking, underage smoking--it's all happening there and it's not a red herring--check the police and fire (paramedic) logs. The physical location and orientation of the bench is another hazard--you could never get that construction permitted today. A bench that faces oncoming traffic at a fork in the road between two-way and one-way traffic? Not the safest idea. And it's even less safe when the people using the bench skateboard, ride bikes and otherwise bolt out in front of traffic when the drivers least expect it. The historical value of the bench can and will be debated, but the fact that the bench is a magnet for a host of problematic and illicit behaviors is indisputable. I for one wold love to see it removed and replaced with some other more open seating.

Submitted by frank on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

I've owned the house directly facing the bench for 35 years. I have mixed feelings about it. It has been where generations of Alameda kids have smoked dope since the 60's. For the most part they don't cause that much trouble. On occasion they do. Jackson Park was once a private Park and deeded to the City with the stipulation that they maintain it. They don't. Although the Palm Tree came down during a wind event it was quite ready to fall on its own. There was a giant bee hive near the top of the tree with had bored through and comprised the tree. The City was aware of this and had inspected it but done nothing. It is fortunate that no one was around when it did fall. As far as the bench goes there was an employee who took pride in maintaining the bench. He retired last year and since it has become a mess. We in the neighborhood were willing to repaint it. There are so many coats of paint on it that the kids just peel the paint off whenever a new coat is put on. I have no faith in the City maintaining the bench and as such it will become an ongoing eyesore. The suggestion the individuals raise the funds to replace it is an insult as it was due to City negligence that it became damaged in the first place.

Submitted by Funny (not verified) on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

When I lived in Alameda (94-97) people always said that bench was in memory of Jim Morrison's dumb friends or something. False!

Submitted by Pat (not verified) on Wed, Mar 12, 2014

Benches don't create drug use, people do. Police are supposed to control the bad behavior of people. Why aren't the police driving around this park every hour? If the neighbors and police didn't tolerate this behavior, it wouldn't exist. Removing an almost one hundred year old bench with a colorful history is dumb solution. Then the kids would go behind the bandstand, so might as well demolish it, too.
It's difficult to believe the bench repairs could cost $12,000. It's made out of cement, not bronze.
Restore the bench, and get the police to do their job.

Submitted by An Alameden (not verified) on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

Maybe it can be picked up by a crane and moved to some other better location in the park or somewhere else in town where it would be better respected. It's current location isn't working out very well. The design is too unique too just destroy it and the thick concrete isn't going to be easily busted up either.

Submitted by Another Alamedan (not verified) on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

Relocation is an excellent idea. Rent a heavy duty forklift and relocate to the Encinal end of the park for for bus riders.

Submitted by luczai (not verified) on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

The bench is a treasure and should be restored. Alameda is about preservation and respect for history. Soon we will have the new radio museum and the pinball museum. Alameda is a destination. Let's not spoil what makes it special. This Walnut Creek mentality doesn't fly on the Main Island. I hope everyone who cares about how special our city is will show up to support saving the bench at City Hall tonight. Meeting starts at 7:00 pm.

Submitted by frank on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

Like I said previously I have mixed emotions. The Bench COULD be a treasure if it were maintained and respected. The reality is that it is an eyesore and even if the $$$ are spent for restoration it will fall quickly into disrepair. This is a Community Park and the Southern end is underutilized simply because people don't want to walk their children by a bunch of people doing drugs. For those who want to save it I suggest you move to your houses and deal with the drugs, the noise and the trash.

Submitted by Deanne (not verified) on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

I am from ALameda and my friends and I lived in that park..this bench is an icon of history..of all the kids who have hung out in that park for the last 94 yrs..PLEASE don't get rid of it..fix it up...decorate it..make it fun...but keep it...

Submitted by Donovan WINKLEY (not verified) on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

I think the bench needs to be fixed! 12000 dollars to fix? I don't think so! I grew up across the street from it and played in it and climbed the trees and know very well that tearing it down isn't going to help! If the city and park dept can't do it cheaper then outsource it! Then start outsourcing other jobs.

Submitted by n winter (not verified) on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

Keep the bench it doesn't cost that much to fix. Media blast it down to the concrete and lay some really durable paint down on it, add a trashcan, boom.

Submitted by Anony-moose (not verified) on Fri, Mar 14, 2014

No one has really mentioned that the bench in question is awful looking; not everything old is worth saving. I agree with those that say to build a more open, better looking, inward-facing bench in it's place.

Submitted by bette page (not verified) on Mon, Mar 17, 2014

1. the bench faces the street so the HORSES could get to the trough. As such, we have more dogs than horses these days so turning it and moving it is not a bad re-use.
2. If it gets moved to the Encinal side, facing the street, it will see more use and any 'activities' will be more evident since there is more traffic. $12,000 sounds like a boondoggle amount to fix (my family was in the construction business.) Or, an inflated amount provided as requested to someone in police and parks dept.'s who want it gone.
3. A few years ago the same people wanted to tear down the bandstand, yet it was restored and saved. I find it ironic that NEW home owners now want to destroy the other historic structure in the park.
KEEP ISABEL'S GIFT ALIVE! Call or write the people involved and the city council. Go to the meeting when it comes up again and be heard.

Submitted by frank on Mon, Mar 17, 2014

Dear Bette,
I have been here for 37 years. All these people want to save the historic bench. I go out and clean around it several times a week. I pickup the trash and sweep up the cigarette butts. Sorry I have never seen anyone who wants to save it doing that. I have even offered to paint it. The City doesn't maintain it. The kids deface it as soon as a new coat of paint is applied. The Police have better things to do than chase a bunch of kids around for smoking pot. It is the combination of all this that creates a nuisance. Parks and Rec has pretty much decided to save it. The $$ must come from private funds. So I suggest that all who want to save contribute.