History of Mission Oaks Recreation & Park District
The Mission Oaks name itself gives reference to the history of California and the heritage of the California missions established by the early Spanish settlers and the majestic oak trees that flourish throughout the Sacramento Valley.
The Carmichael community was named in 1910 for the owner of most of the land in the area, Dan Carmichael. He thought there was no tract of land so large that had such scenic beauty – “It is the lifelong dream of the average man or woman to sometime own a few fertile acres and a home in a beautiful country spot, where the struggle and strife for daily bread will become a work of pleasure, away from the eternal grind of the heartless city… the growing of oranges is a gentlemanly occupation and requires none of the drudgery attached to farm life.”
After the turn of the century, the rich river bottom country from Watt Avenue to the H Street Bridge became huge hop-growing ranches. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that the hop-fields started giving way to businesses, homes and condominiums.
The bottom lands extending from Watt Avenue to Walnut Avenue and into Carmichael were once rich growing lands – tomatoes, potatoes, corn – but in the 1960’s, were replaced with schools and homes, and the farming days became a thing of the past.
Residential Development and Education
In 1914, the only school in the area, Arden School at Watt Avenue and Arden Way, provided education for all students from the first grade to the eighth. Older students attended Sacramento high schools.
Interest in development of the sprawling northeast area of the county gained considerable momentum right after World War II, and as early as 1946, the Town and Country Village shopping center, on the corner of Fulton and Marconi Avenues, was ready for customers. Almost simultaneously homes sprang up nearby.
In April 1947, a real estate firm began selling lots for home construction in the area bounded by Fair Oaks Boulevard, El Camino, Eastern, and Watt Avenues. The area encompassed all of what is known today as Arden Park, Arden Oaks and Del Paso Manor. Realtors were said to have been astounded at the fever pitch enthusiasm of the buyers. Some buyers waited all night long at realtors’ headquarters to be first in line to buy a choice lot. Cheapest lots were about $850, while those selling for $1,200 were considered very expensive. The area’s population began to increase rapidly.
Park District Development
The Mission Oaks district has provided for the acquisition and development in accordance with its master plans, without having to borrow funds or to use general obligation bonds as methods of financing, which was a recommended consideration in the first master plan adopted in 1973. The acquisition and development program has been carried out without incurring any type of long term indebtedness and the district has no outstanding obligations. Sources, other than general revenue used by the district for the capital outlay programs, include fees related to the county’s Land Dedication Ordinance; SB 174 funds; 1974, 1976, 1988, 2000 and 2002 state bond funds; a competitive grant from the Urban Parks Act of 2001general revenue sharing funds, the Mission Oaks Parks and Recreation Maintenance and Improvement District funds, gifts and donations.
Origins of Names of Parks and Areas within Parks
Names of several parks and certain designated areas within parks have been named in honor of persons who have had a significant impact on the early history of the area or have contributed in some significant way to the district or to parks and recreation in general. In some instances, donations have been made by family and friends as memorials to loved ones- a park bench in Mission North Park for Nick Guzzi, a long time resident of the area; a playground equipment area in Oak Meadow Park for Stevie Walters, an eight year old boy who lived near the park; and two tennis courts at Swanston Park donated by Robert C. Powell in memory of his friend and former administrative assistant for former-Supervisor Sandra Smoley, Robert B. Wood. Mr. Wood was a strong supporter of parks and recreation and an avid sports enthusiast who greatly enjoyed tennis. Many other memorials include stands of trees or park benches throughout the district.
Parks and Community Centers
Mission Oaks developed and maintains 16 parks (100 acres). Six school parks were originally developed and maintained by the park district however, two of those, Billy Mitchell and Starr King were given back to the San Juan Unified School District. The remaining four school parks comprised of 13.7 acres; Greer, Del Paso Manor, Cowan and Sierra Oaks School parks continue to be maintained by Mission Oaks. In addition, the district maintains the county-owned Hazelwood Greens (a Storm Water Detention Facility (1.8 acres), providing collectively 105.18 acres for the community’s enjoyment. Three of these facilities are community parks, Gibbons, Mission North, and Swanston, while the others serve as neighborhood parks. Located in the northeast corner of the district and within the 17.5 acre Gibbons Park is the district’s (1982) 12,000+ square foot community center. The district office is located on Mission Avenue within the 12.7-acre Mission North Park. The newest district development (2008) is the Swanston Community Center located within the 10 acre Swanston Park in the southwest corner of the district.
Orville Wright Park
Development of the northwest corner of the Orville Wright School property for a tot lot and small park area had been recommended in the original master plan. Although the allotted space was minimal in terms of neighborhood needs; however, no other vacant parcels were available in the immediate area for consideration of park development.
In 1984, the district reached an agreement with the school district to purchase the 4.2 acres of open space at this site for $84,000 through the Naylor Act.
This ten-acre site, located at 1849 Suffolk Way, was not within the district boundaries when the original master plan was approved. It was annexed as part of a consolidation that occurred when Mission Oaks became a dependent recreation and park district. The property was purchased from the school district in 1975 for $161,966.
Valley Oak Park
The 1974 Master Plan recommended that a neighborhood park be considered on the playground area of the school district’s Eastern Avenue adult education facility. The district fully supported retaining the three baseball diamonds, developed by little league supporters, and an existing nature area on the property. This site was originally referred to as Eastern Avenue Park.
In February 1984, after the school district declared the school surplus to its needs, Mission Oaks purchased this site from the school district through the Naylor Act, for $335,520. The park is approximately 10.2 acres of the entire school site, which included all the open space and half the paved parking area. The school building and the other portion of the parking lot were purchased from the school district by River Oak Center for Children, Inc. (formerly known as Re-Ed West), a private, non-profit school.
In Mission North Park, there is a wonderful grove of trees that the district’s Board designated as the Edwin Z’berg Memorial Grove. Mr. Z’berg was a state assemblyman who represented the area for 16 years, from 1959-1975. He was responsible for major legislation and development of park land throughout the state. Assemblyman Z’berg was one of the strongest supporters of parks and recreation programs that ever served in the California legislature. The Edwin Z’berg Memorial Grove was dedicated in ceremonies conducted in conjunction with the official dedication of the park on June 14, 1980.
Maddox Park, dedicated on January 13, 1979, was named in honor of the memory of Kate Herrick Maddox whose family formerly owned the land when it was part of a large walnut and olive ranch. Mrs. Maddox was born in 1875 in Maine and in 1883 moved to Sacramento where she attended local schools and graduated, along with U. S. President Herbert Hoover, from the first class at Stanford University in 1895. She was co-editor of the Stanford Quad while attending the university, active in the American Red Cross and the Belgium Relief during World War I, a co-founder of Pro-America and a member of the American Association of University Women. Mrs. Maddox, who had a great love for nature and animals, taught at Sacramento High School for 26 years until her marriage in 1921 to Elmer Lee Maddox, a retired furniture manufacturer from Michigan, who purchased the land in 1917. Mr. Maddox passed away in 1948 and Mrs. Maddox continued living on the ranch until her death in January 1972 at the age of 97.
Gibbons Park, named in honor of Robert Linus Gibbons, was dedicated during ceremonies conducted on May 19, 1979. Mr. Gibbons, whose grandparents came to the area from Massachusetts in a covered wagon, was a member of the second graduating class of the University of California at Davis in 1913, at which time it was known as the University Farm School. In 1914, he married. The marriage lasted 53 years, until his death in 1966 at the age of 73. Maude Gibbons attended the dedication ceremonies, accompanied by several members of her family.
The Gibbons family came to the Carmichael area in 1921, where they became involved in the ranching and dairy business. The family sold milk directly from the farm until the retail store, Gibbons Dairy located on Walnut Avenue, opened in 1964. They owned 130 acres in the community where Mr. Gibbons was very active in civic affairs, giving of his time and energy to help make the community a better place to live. He was a charter member of the Carmichael Presbyterian Church and a member of the Carmichael Rotary Club, the Masonic Order, the Board of Trustees of the Carmichael School District, and the Carmichael Farm Bureau. He was also founder and president of the former Northridge Water District.
Within Gibbons Park is a remnant of the grove of almond and olive trees that the board has designated as the Leif Owre Grove. On June 28, 1980, the district and the Ronald Amundsen Lodge #48 of the Sons of Norway conducted ceremonies dedicating the grove in honor of the memory of Leif Owre, who was president of the lodge in 1929, 30, 31, and 35. Mr. Owen was a former owner of the land where he and his brothers, Anders and Alfred, planted and harvested crops of hay and wheat and tended horses and cattle. The family planted olive and almond trees that greatly enhanced the beauty of the park, until the 1990’s when they succumbed to age and disease. Mr. Owre was involved in community and church activities and was an innovator and avid supporter of youth programs in the area.
The open space site at 4701 Gibbons Drive was purchased for $100,000 in 1973 from the school district as a ten-acre parcel and originally designated a neighborhood park. In 1978, the district acquired an additional seven and one half acres of abandoned freeway property (known as Route 143) from the California Department of Transportation for $281,468, which expanded the park acreage from Gibbons Drive to Cypress Avenue. The 17.5 acre site became the largest park in the district.
In the 1979-80 fiscal year, a master plan for the additional 7.5 acres was prepared for the board’s approval by the county Department of Parks and Recreation’s Planning Division. The plan included the re-designation from a neighborhood to a community park, and provided for a 12,000 square foot senior citizen/community center on the original ten acres. The center was completed in 1982, at a cost of $826,987.
The center includes a club room, a crafts room, a large auditorium, a kitchen, offices and counseling rooms, a four-lane shuffleboard court, restrooms, patio, and a 72-space parking lot. An exercise course designed for senior citizen use was provided next to the center.
On June 23, 1979, Swanston Park was dedicated in memory of Charles Swanston, a man whose name was synonymous with cattle raising and ranching in the Sacramento area dating back to 1870. Mr. Swanston settled in Ohio upon his arrival to the United States from Ireland in the late 1850’s and traveled to Sacramento in 1870 where he started a cattle ranch and packing plant. In 1910, he owned land encompassing approximately 3,500 acres, including most of the area between El Camino Avenue on the north to the American River on the south, to Howe Avenue on the east and the railroad tracks to the west just beyond what later became Interstate 80. Under Mr. Swanston’s son, George, and George’s son, Robert, C. Swanston & Sons, whose trademark of the single “S” was the fourth oldest trademark in California, purchased an additional 1,000 acres in Sacramento and from Yolo Counties where they continued raising livestock for many years.