Government / Politics

COMMENTARY: Vista Park Hill. What’s in a name?

Vista Park Hill signage gets the name wrong as the downtown park continues to be a low priority

Who made the current name change? Google Maps or our city leaders? Misspelling or intentional? Who can say? The city's new signage, for uniformity at our parks, states Vista Hill Park. A small error for sure, with many bigger issues on the hill, how can we not help feel the loss of one more piece of the past? 

The very reason Col. W.W.Hollister and the San Justo Landowners Association chose to place the City of Hollister where it stands, is because of Park Hill. Back then, it was called Hollister's Hill. The small rise of the hill brings a fair amount of protection from the afternoon winds and provides a good vantage point. To Col. Hollister, having crossed the country twice in a three-year period, this site must have seemed perfect to him, providing shelter, water, and all the grassland his sheep could eat. Before the "hay days" began, let's go back even further.

The San Andreas fault built Park Hill. The Santa Clara Valley out to the San Joaquin Valley, was once a freshwater lake. Before the Golden Gate was opened by the Earth's shifting mantle, most of the water from the Sierras passed through this area, leaving behind our fertile soil. In 1923, a mammoth tusk was discovered on Park Hill, and shipped off to the archeology department at the University of California. Would it be nice on display at our local historical park? Thankfully, mining of our hill was halted, although the scars remain today. The bowl at Locust Street is still evident today.

Perhaps the Mutsun Ohlone Indians used Park Hill as well for ceremonies, burials, surely as a lookout for spotting game and danger. Their spirits may still be felt by those who recall over 100,000 of our native California Indians lost their lives by the end of the gold rush. Some 4,500 were murdered. We know their sad story of loss. Colonel Hollister and his partners, Flint, Bixby and Company, purchased the Spanish land grant from Franisco Perez Pacheco. By 1868, Col. Hollister sold 21,000 acres to the San Justo Landowners Association. This purchase included downtown Hollister proper, North Street to South Street, East Street to West Street with San Benito and Monterey streets in the center and the numbered streets in between. Our alleys are named for members of this association.

The downtown district began at North Street encompassing Park Hill as well. As map writers on the East Coast were not familiar with our topography, we were officially part of Monterey County until 1874. The City of Hollister flourished as our grassland fed the livestock of fast-growing San Francisco. Our city prospered with prominent citizens, a vibrant society, and the classical architecture still visible today. To families fleeing the dust bowl, Park Hill was a drive-in campground. In the 1930s, unemployed men were housed in the barrack-like structures building the Pinnacles Monument, as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. Their unique stonework is still prominent both at the national park and here on Park Hill.

The 1940s found us fearful of the Japanese invasion, and again, Park Hill played a roll in history as a lookout post for the U.S. Navy. Many of California's growing biker society found their way to Hollister's Park Hill to enjoy the view of the valley and downtown, as they continue to do today.

The 1950s found Park Hill as a state fire lookout and station. It was handed down to local government. in the 1980'. With little funding in its recent history, the park and surrounding structures appear much as they did 50 years ago. When I sat in on the committee for the Vista Park Hill Master Plan in 2009, the economy was tanking. The Parks and Recreation Fund had less than $100,000 in it. As most of what was in the fund was used to make a "whale park." The new residents in the KB homes had just found out they weren't getting the park the developers had promised. Enterprising new homeowners collected over 400 signatures and presented them to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which responded, spending nearly all the fund on the water park for the new bedroom community. I had been "beating the drum" for Park Hill for some years at this point, once asking "why is Park Hill always last?" referring to the City's Parks and Rec Master Plan, to be told the parks are listed in alphabetical order, much to my embarrassment!

No doubt, my persistence in attending encouraged the city to use the last of the fund to have a $60,000 plan for Park Hill drawn up. A BIG dream, not mine, but all were encouraged to think big. And big it is: $8-plus million! As I sat in these meetings, I kept my wish to one thing, a return of the stairs to the top. A return to the exercise of getting to the top and access…if you build it, they will come. Keep in mind this does not include the buildings on Park Hill, only the city park. The plans are beautiful: The barbecue kitchen area is moved away from the afternoon winds, which make it unusable; A road access from North Street/Buena Vista Road to reduce traffic on narrow Hill Street; A small tot play area as well as larger equipment; a dog park; paths all over the hill and stairs from the community center and courthouse to the top. Truly nice, yet it leaves the old buildings as-is.

I asked to have a plan for the whole hill, but was informed the city park and public facility are two different sites. The master plan only covers the city park. With our suffering economy, I stopped attending PRC with any regularity. I felt I had accomplished something getting a master plan in place; a step in the right direction. When conditions improved, a plan was in place, even if it was a little too grand. Having the plan allows the city to move forward. I was told we could pick and choose the elements as long as they are in the plan.

Pick and choose they have: a sign with the wrong name. I started attending regularly last summer, though the October and November meetings were canceled. It was my joy to read "new play equipment going in to Park Hill" in the paper. I hadn't considered the fact the Parks and Rec Commission had not met to discuss this good news. Come the January meeting, as staff went over all the new play equipment going in around town, they explained how it was all rushed through because a "grant opportunity"was about to expire. The grant which was really a 50 percent-off sale from a play equipment manufacturer, and the pieces purchased without consulting their own Parks Commission. The purchases were hurriedly pushed. It looks as though they tried to make up for all the years of neglect by purchasing the "Taj Mahal" of structures for Park Hill. It's designed for handicapped children as well, perhaps Tatum's Park in Salinas inspired them. It is full of tubes and tunnels and hidy holes. McDonald's would be envious.

For those of you who haven't been to Park Hill lately, we have constant urban campers on the north side. They are going to love this structure. As the park gets locked up to vehicles each night, they can move right in, which I personally would not have a problem with, but for what they leave behind: trash, drug paraphernalia, excrement. I sat stunned. Is the top of a hill the best place for Tatum's Park-type playground? In truth, I had hoped for a more organic type of play area, not another big plastic McD's.

If you care about the name or a safe playground where parents would not be required to inspect it first, for people sleeping in the tubes, contact your council member and ask. Calaveras School, with the recent burning down of its play structure, would be a better fit for the four-spired play equipment that sits in our city yard. The last P/R meeting I attended, a report for the revitalization for the whale park was presented. How would Park Hill look today, if every decade, it got a makeover?