Ishihara Park Dedicated in Santa Monica

George Ishihara’s family members behind a wall that summarizes his life story. From right: Derek Ishihara, son of Jon Ishihara; Rob Ishihara, son of Randy Ishihara; Monica Ishihara Saito, daughter of George Ishihara; City Councilmember Tony Vazquez; Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis; Mayor Ted Winterer; City Councilmember Kevin McKeown; Evan and Shinobu Saito, Monica Ishihara Saito’s son and daughter-in-law; Kyle Saito, Monica Ishihara Saito’s son, and Daissy Valadez, his fiancee.

Rafu Staff Report

SANTA MONICA — The grand opening of Ishihara Park was held on Feb. 25 in Santa Monica as part of the city’s Parks Day.

Formerly known as Buffer Park and located at 2909 Exposition Blvd., the park was renamed in honor of George Haruyoshi Ishihara (1921-2009), a World War II veteran who took part in the liberation of Dachau as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. Raised in Washington state and Northern California, he moved to Santa Monica in 1958 and lived there for 51 years.

John C. Smith, chair of the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission, noted that four parks were being celebrated that day, two of them dedicated to “Santa Monica heroes, George Ishihara and Joseph Gandara. Both men came from different walks of life, but they had a couple of things in common. They both served their country in World War II. They both served in the Army. Joe was a Medal of Honor winner. George served while his family was being interned.”

In addition to Ishihara and Gandara parks, Reed Park and Los Amigos Park were reopened. Officials taking part in the celebration included Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis, Councilmembers Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez and Terry O’Day, Consul Shigeru Kikuma, and Recreation and Park Commissioners Lori Brown and Maryanne LaGuardia.

Jon Ishihara, son of George Ishihara, with his daughter Brianna and wife Elaine at Ishihara Park. They did not attend the dedication ceremony but visited from Seattle the following week.

“Ishihara Park was made possible through community advocacy,” Mayor Ted Winterer said. “Two community meetings were held in 2011 to determine the use of the site. A park was not a predetermined use, but it was the land use chosen by residents. Three well-attended community outreach meetings were hosted between December 2012 and May 2013 to inform the park’s design.

“The community process for naming the park garnered 135 different name suggestions. With support from the Pico Neighborhood Association and the Japanese community, including the Consulate General of Japan, the Japanese American Veterans Association, and the Venice Japanese Community Center, and through advocacy by neighborhood resident Christel Andersen, the park was named in honor of George Ishihara.”

The mayor added that two grants made the park possible — $2.2 million from the State of California Housing-Related Parks Program, “an award directly correlated with the number of affordable housing units built in Santa Monica from January 2010 to June 2013,” and $40,000 from Miracle-Gro, which he accepted at the U.S. Conference of Mayors to support Santa Monica’s first park-based learning center.

Monica Ishihara Saito of Santa Monica and Randy Ishihara of Spokane, Wash. receive a plaque in honor of their father, George Ishihara, from Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Mayor Ted Winterer.

Mia Lehrer, whose landscape company designed the park, said, “It’s been an amazing experience creating this park with you and for you … The DNA of this park is your park with a series of rooms that you could choose every day to use differently. People of all ages, young children, older families … can always be experiencing this park in many different ways.

“It’s particularly poignant for me today to be celebrating such a wonderful American for his contribution to our country and celebrating multiculturalism. This park stands as a rejection of discrimination and hate, and it celebrates beauty and unity, which are the essence of this community and should be the essence of all of our communities in Los Angeles.”

Assemblymember Richard Bloom, a former mayor of Santa Monica, recalled that the city has been “parks-poor” like its neighbors. “But find me another community that has been able to add to its park space in the way that Santa Monica has in the past few decades … refurbishment of virtually every park … It’s something that we should be very proud of.”