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Spending Time at South Fullerton Parks

Fullerton is a city rich with parks and recreational trails. Most residents are familiar with Hillcrest Park. However, they may not be aware of the other parks within the City. A few years back, I received a reader suggestion to cover the parks of south Fullerton as they were falling into a state of disrepair at the time. The majority of the City’s 52 parks are located in north Fullerton, while only 13 are south of Commonwealth Avenue, and quite a few of them are not well-maintained by the City.

Let’s start with Valencia Park, which is located right next to Valencia Park Elementary School. According to the City’s website, it opened in 1948, and covers roughly four acres. Employees of the City and Kimberly-Clark, as well as community groups and neighborhood residents, came together to build the play area, which was designed by students from the nearby school. When I drove by in early June, there was a lot of construction going on along West Valencia Drive. A large sign facing the street said that this was “Another Project to Improve California Parks Funded by the 2000 Parks Bond Act.”

At Valencia Park, there was a long basketball court with picnic tables nearby. Two sets of tables were under the shade of a picnic shelter next to a colorful playground for kids. Behind the basketball court was a baseball/softball field with bleacher seating that could fit up to 50 people. There were also barbeques and restrooms available for park-goers. This park had been renovated since the last time I drove by. However, if you do plan on visiting, I recommend parking at the school and walking.

Next, I visited one of Fullerton’s miniparks, Olive Park, which opened in 1998 and is located at 901 Gilbert Street. Parking on West Olive Avenue, I walked over to see the Olive Park Mural, which was created in 2010, and made by Katherine England, who was assisted by Valencia Park Elementary School students along with community and business volunteers. The bright, colorful mural depicts different activities people can do when they put their minds to it. Reading from left to right, the mural says, “Read, celebrate, trust, sing, play, shop, worship, dance, nurture, live, and love in Fullerton.” Besides the mural, there were only benches and a playground surrounded by woodchips next to a small grass area for kids to play in. There were also a few trees that provided shade. The mini park is a mere 0.54 acres, according to the City’s website.

Olive Park

Heading further down Gilbert and turning onto West Orangethorpe Avenue, I stopped by Gilbert Park. Gilbert Park is one of the larger parks in south Fullerton, consisting of 6.19 acres. According to the park’s webpage, back in December 2016, the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Department teamed up with the Orangethorpe Learning Center, OC United, KaBoom! and KaBoom!s funding partner, Northwestern Mutual (OC), to make a playground at Gilbert Park, making this the City’s fourth KaBoom! project.

Gilbert Park

Gilbert Park playground.

KaBoom! is a national non-profit organization that helps local communities build playgrounds. According to the City’s website, over $100,000 was donated by KaBoom! and Northwestern Mutual to build Gilbert Park’s playground. In 2016, over 150 neighbors, community volunteers, and City staff came together to install park benches, constructed a community bulletin board, built picnic tables, storage boxes, cubbies, and soccer goals for the Gilbert Neighborhood Center and the Orangethorpe Learning Center. They also planted new landscaping and put up a child-created wood tile mural.

Gilbert Community Center.

Recently, OC United has leased the Gilbert Neighborhood Center to provide community services.

I drove by Orangethorpe Elementary School and found that the 3-acre Orangethorpe Park had been temporarily closed for renovations with a fence around it, blocking any way of entering, except for a corner on the intersection of West Roberta Avenue and Pacific Drive.

Pacific Drive Park was recently renovated.

The 2-acre Pacific Drive Park, which opened in 1977, was recently renovated after years of community involvement. In August 2021, the City Council approved a bid by Placentia-based Micon Construction to refurbish the 0.32-acre park with a new playground, basketball court, benches, picnic tables, and shade structures. Prior to the renovations, residents in the area felt unsafe at the park, which attracted homeless individuals in recent years. In 2015, Pacific Drive Elementary built fences around the school after multiple occurrences of people from the park trespassing on the campus. Residents have also complained to the City in the past about the park’s restrooms being unclean and unsafe. Hopefully the new renovations to the park will help.

Families who have kids involved in baseball are most likely familiar with the 9-acre Nicolas Park, which opened in 1955 and is now home to the West Fullerton Little League. The metal bleachers at the baseball field seat 100 people. When I walked through the park, I noticed that the playground was smartly positioned underneath the shade of nearby trees. Next to the park’s restrooms, there were a few pine trees that had been planted. Upon a closer look, I noticed that one of these was not a tree at all. There were bolts on the branches and a concrete slab at the base. It was a cell phone tower disguised as a tree, designed to look natural. Towers camouflaged to look like trees started popping up in communities across the country in the early 1990s, according to the 99 Percent Invisible website. The area with the most shade in Nicolas Park was near the playground. The dried-up grass facing Euclid was in the direct sunlight with spots of shade underneath the trees.

Nicolas Park playground.

Cellular tower disguised as a tree at Nicolas Park.

Driving over to Highland Avenue, I stopped at Richman Park, which provides an excellent picnic and play area for children and families in the neighboring community. Opening in 1969, this 2-acre park next to Richman Elementary was funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency. The Richman Community Center and Don Castro Building provide recreation and social services, and the St. Jude Neighborhood Clinic, which opened in October 2006 provides health services. According to the City’s website, Cal State Fullerton currently operates programs and services at the Richman Neighborhood Center. The bathrooms did not seem to be well-maintained, but there were people using the picnic benches, and children from the summer school program were playing on the park’s soccer field.

Richman Park playground.

From Highland Avenue, I turned onto Orangethorpe and found the five-acres of Woodcrest Park, which was improved in December 2019 through a renovation project, according to the Parks and Recreation Department website. The renovation was made possible by members of the Woodcrest Community Group, who never gave up advocating for needed improvements at the neighborhood park. Since 1959, this has been a busy space for the neighborhood and the nearby elementary school.

Skate park at Woodcrest Park.

On the street, I saw that a long stretch of concrete had been blocked off for a mini-skateboard park. There were a number of individuals sleeping on park benches near a drought-resistant garden close to the parking lot. Next to the skateboard area was a set of yellow-and green painted exercise equipment that had been donated by St. Jude Medical Center. The rules for using the exercise tools were posted on a nearby sign, and people must be at least 14 years old in order to exercise on the equipment. Down a short sidewalk was a small playground with a slide sitting atop elevated equipment with spinnable TicTac Toe wheels built into one wall. The playground and adjacent swings were surrounded by a woodchip covered floor. Parking was available on South Richman Avenue.

Although I haven’t talked about all the parks in south Fullerton, it seems as though the most well-maintained ones can be found next to schools. To view an interactive map of all 52 parks in Fullerton, visit the “Find a Park” page on the City’s Parks and Recreation Department website.

To see a video about Fullerton parks visit my YouTube channel.

3 replies »

  1. 13 parks in South Fullerton? That is sad. The majority of those parks are in rough shape. There are also located in parts of the city where most minorities live… very interesting.

  2. The park at orangethorpe elementary has been closed for years. As kids we used to play basketball at the school, football on the green grass, and baseball on the baseball diamond. Roughly 10 years ago the whole school fenced up along with the playground at the corner of roberta and brookhurst which also has another basketball court. Local kids in that neighborhood have no park to go to.

    • When I first moved here to Fullerton in 1995, everything along Roberta near the park was wide open. My guess is they fenced up everything years later to deal wit the amount of transients loitering around. I really wish the City would do something about homeless’s leftover trash in Orangethorpe Park Center and wannabe thugs tagging up trees and trash cans in the picnic area near the baseball field.