SANTA MONICA — A grand opening celebration of Ishihara Park, formerly Buffer Park, located at 2909 Exposition Blvd. (at Stewart Street) in Santa Monica, will be held on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 10 a.m.
The renaming honors George Ishihara, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who took part in the liberation of Dachau. He lived in Santa Monica from 1958 until his passing in 2009.
Stewart Street Park was renamed a Mexican American war hero, Pvt. Joe Gandara, a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in action in France at age 20 in 1944.
The City Council unanimously approved the name changes in May 2016.
In a statement to the City Council in January 2016, Monica Saito, daughter of George Ishihara, described her family’s ties to Santa Monica: “My family moved to 1832 34th St., just one-half block from Exposition, in 1955. At that time there were only agricultural fields at the end of our block. We have definitely seen many changes on Exposition Boulevard.
“My father worked at Douglas Aircraft until it was sold to make way for residential housing and businesses. My two brothers and I attended Edison, John Adams and Samohi, graduating in 1966, 1968 and 1976, and also attended SMCC (Santa Monica City College). After my mom passed away, my dad remarried and lived around the block at 3053 Delaware, just a block from Exposition.
“My two sons and I moved into the 34th Street house in 1988 and they attended Grant, John Adams, Samohi, graduating in 1998 and 2002, and also attended SMCC. My sons would like to have their future children attend the same Santa Monica schools that they attended and plan to keep the 34th Street house in the family.
“My beginnings started in Santa Monica at St. John’s, where I was born and my parents named me Monica. My son was also born at St. John’s. So our family potentially has a possibility of being three generations of Santa Monica residents.
“My dad was born and raised in Washington state except for two years that he spent at University High School in west Los Angeles for his sophomore and junior years. When his family was sent to the concentration camp in Minidoka, Idaho, he joined the U.S. Army to show his loyalty to the United States.
“He was part of the 552nd Field Artillery, part of the 442nd (Regimental Combat Team). His unit opened the gates at Dachau concentration camp to free the Jewish prisoners tha didn’t know the war was over.
“My father was a volunteer at the Go For Broke Monument, adjacent to the Japanese American National Museum He went there weekly to provide information to visitors regarding his experiences regarding the concentration camps and the war.
“My dad was hard-working, honest, and friendly guy. He was a good neighbor to many. Our family would be proud and grateful to have our dad’s name on Buffer Park. Thank you for considering him as a candidate for this honor.”
The renaming was supported by Pico Neighborhood resident Christel Andersen, who said the area near the park has the city’s highest concentration of Japanese Americans. She collected signatures from local residents and obtained letters of support from the Japanese Consulate, Go For Broke National Education Center, Japan America Society of Southern California, Japanese American Veterans Association, and Venice Japanese Community Center.
For more information, visit www.santamonicaparks.org/buffer-park-details.