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November 25, 2010


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I recall the reonovation of Encanto Park in the late 80s. It seemed to emerge from the Neo-Soviet aparatchiks of the Parks Department where water conservation, charmless utility, and parking were the overriding values. For all the crushed granite and defoliated grounds, the architecture itself prevailed in spite of this mugging. Still, it couldn't compare to the park I knew as a youth. Its lushness was incredible. The lagoon had swans through the mid-60s (vandals finally took them out). And the lighting was softer unlike today's maximum-security prison ambience.

I was a member of Encanto pool's swim team in the 50s and early 60s. Swimming competitions were a big deal back then and there were about a dozen different teams in the city back then. The meets were well-attended and figured prominently in the sports' pages. Just a note in passing: Charlie Hickox died five months ago, one of Arizona's greatest swimmers and three-time Olympic gold medalist. He went to Washington High, which didn't field a swim team so he trained at country-club facilities. But he was a legend in our circles.

I'm in a running group that jogs through the park and golf course every Wednesday evening. The rest rooms are no longer available due to budget cuts and the park itself feels underused and unloved. There's a new ornamental gate on Encanto Blvd, however, that is a grace note. I understand that as the city changed the park needed to adapt to those changes. Encanto Park remains, less enchanted but still a jewel in a city despairing of the love it once bestowed so freely.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a talk by Tucson's Brad Lancaster, do so. He talks about Tucson's rich riverside cottonwood forests that disappeared long ago. The antique pictures of that forest are a stunning vision.


Once again, Seattle's parks blow away anything within the Phoenix metro area. I love the desert, but the mountain parks within Phoenix now only exhibit how bad the city's air pollution has become. From the peak of Camelback, where one could once witness blue skies in some directions, one is now surrounded by the ubiquitous brown cloud. One must now travel out to the Peralta Trail to find a peaceful desert hike with blue horizons.

Just imagine how 8 million people would kick up desert dust to choke each other!

The few times I visited Encanto, I was less than charmed. For me, a park requires topology. Even the somewhat artificial Kiwanis Park is more attractive to my mind.

Having spent some time in London and Tokyo, I think it's fair to say that Phoenix is a wasteland with regards to urban public parks. During the suburban explosion, several orders of magnitude more has been invested in exclusive golf courses than urban parks in Phoenix. 'nuff said.

Thanks, Soleri, for reminding me of the swans. Such a loss.

"I recall a story saying 'nothing could be done' about the lost trees. That's madness." - Rogue

Madness, indeed. Were all the lost trees of the same age?

Fanning out to the East from Encanto, we're blessed with an assortment of historical districts that have gradually become more desirable in comparison to living in the 'burbs and driving forever. We spent Thanksgiving at a lovely backyard celebration in the Country Club district and were reminded of Phoenix at its best. The host had a cool 70 year old brick bungalow that would be termed a crackerbox by those who thought (until 2008) that 4,000 sq. ft. of faux Tuscan was living high. Today, by contrast, a $70,000 mortgage looks pretty good. Reminds me of the 3 Little Pigs.

I absolutely love Encanto Park and the new Entrada is a great little addition that was paid for by the Friends. Replanting of flowers and trees can be done by volunteers at any time. If you wish to do so, just give the office at Encanto a ring and they can give you details.

As for the swans, they have been replaced for some time now. I remember my niece being chased by one briefly when she got too close. They are beautiful but not as nice as the ducks! The central parks in Phoenix are really making a strong come back.

From large to small neighborhood islands, the center city is very green and canopies will provide shade to the newly planted areas in relatively short time in Civic Space Park, Portland Park (trees already reaching large size), to Steele Park. I'm somewhat shocked to read that Jon isn't fond of the changes taking place at Steele in the past few years (especially the restoration of the historic buildings of the Indian School). http://downtownvoices.org/2008/10/25/grand-opening-set-for-phoenix-steele-indian-school-park%E2%80%99s-restored-memorial-hall/

I look forward to the changes and investments that will be coming to Hance Park soon. What I would like to see happen at both Hance and Steele is a reduction of parking spaces. There is no need for the small lot west of 3rd Ave towards Kenilworth. In the last two years, use of the parks in the central city has skyrocketed and emptying only at night. It is great to be a part of a neighborhood and community that has returned to public spaces such as these in the urban areas.

A couple of data points about Eastlake Park: In 1899 Eastlake was the site of a series of football games between the Phoenix Indian School, Phoenix High School, the Tempe Normal School and visiting teams from Prescott and other AZ cities. Hundreds paid 25 cents to watch the scrum-like football of the day. A special train was run from Tempe to accommodate fans of the Normals.

In April, 1963 the Maricopa County NAACP and local churches organized an event at Eastlake honoring the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. This event, the sit in at the El Ray Cafe that summer, Lincoln Ragsdale's Sunday radio show on KCAC and Martin Luther King's June 1964 speech at ASU were all factors leading to passage of the first Arizona public accommodations bill in the fall of 1964.

Amazing what you find when you Google "Encanto Park". I, too, grew up a few blocks from the park. I came from 17th ave and Encanto. We fished the lagoon, rode our bikes to lover's island, paddled or canoed when we had a few dollars. I can't believe they let us shoot arrows toward Encanto Boulevard. Does anyone remember the fire pit with the log stools around it? I got ID numbers stamped into my bike frame at the fire house on 13?th ave. What a great place to grow up. I spent my days at Franklin elementary on McDowell and my nights at the Encanto 9 golf course. I miss my old stomping grounds, but I know they are not the same. I live way up in Quebec now where it is just as cold as Phoenix is hot. Enjoy the Phoenix winter.

As a kid in late 1940 and early 50’s living near 24th Street & Indian School I would ride my bike to Encanto Park to fish. The lagoon banks were earthen then, unlike concrete-lined as now. I was a fishing nut and caught a 18-inch largemouth bass on my first artificial lure (red & white Heddon River Runt). Never could I have imagined that one day I would be a 30-year resident of historic Del Norte Place on Vernon Avenue, a block west of the site of a significant memory of my youth.

My Grandfather, George H. Hillis was the first Superintendent of parks for Phoenix.
He served from 1934 until 1944. During that time Encanto Park was established along with several other parks. My grandmother said he helped design Encanto and put the first ducks in the lagoon.

I loved Encanto Park. Many days after school at Franklin we would head to the park. My grandmother lived on Veron and us in Palmcroft. Such treasured memories!

.Apparently I am 6 months older than the park, and we both have undergone significant changes. I too fished at Encanto including the Labor Day Weekend fishing derbies. I even won the sportmanship award one year for returning for more fishing after a quick trip to St Joe's to have a fishing hook(worm and all!) removed from my head. I have lots of photos of family picnics dating back to 1953 and I seem to remember that you lost your deposit if you were dripping wet when you returned your canoe to the boathouse! We didn't really know it at the time, but looking back we realize this was a great place to grow up for those of us early in the Baby Boom years.

Fred Cheshire taught math to 7th & 8th graders at Royal Palm from 1969 for fifteen years. Weekends and summers he ran an archery program at Encanto Park that touched perhaps 150 people a year.
One year half of the U.S. Olympic team got its start with Fred at Encanto and two archers continued on to play in the Olympics. Other high school and college teams practiced at Encanto winning state and national titles.
“Worries Won’t Happen – Fred’s Story”** includes many of the activities at Encanto in those early years. As one of his archers said, “Encanto Park had such a great feel about it. It was so comfortable. People hung out for a day there.” **available on Amazon and Kindle.

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