Instead of having a music area located off Winburn Way
at the sycamore grove, the original old-style circular two-tiered wooden band shell was located where the current band shell stands, off kilter from the sycamore grove but well loved and well used nonetheless. This is also the section where the gorgeous but cracked Florentine Butler-Perozzi marble fountain stands, with its winged cherub astride a duck, up a scenic flight of stone stairs. “Unfortunately vandalism is rampant here,” Todt says when I mention that the fountain, though it was completely restored in the late 1980s, looks like it has seen better days. “The Perozzi Fountain has suffered more than any other part of the park,” he says, adding that it’s probably mostly teenagers and folks who have had a bit too much to drink who destroy park property at night. From the vantage point of the fountain, Todt points out some of the trees, including a golden honey locust, a dawn redwood, and an oak tree that Chester Corry, a trained landscape architect who was named Lithia Park
’s superintendent in 1937, added to the park.
It’s this human history, and the way Lithia Park
’s very existence represents a triumph of conservation and foresight, that especially fascinates Marjorie O’Harra. When she was a student at Ashland Junior High School
, which used to stand where the Safeway is now, she would look out the window at the cemetery and think to herself, “there are stories behind the names on those tombstones.” Trained as a journalist and later becoming the regional editor of the Mail Tribune, O’Harra regularly gives talks about Lithia Park
’s history. She likes to tell the story of when Bert Greer came to town in 1911 and bought the semi-weekly Ashland Tidings. Greer had a vision to develop Ashland
and promote it as a tourist destination: he wanted the city to become a mineral water spa area, like Saratoga
. His idea was to develop the city-owned land in Ashland Creek Canyon
as a commercial resort. Money and business interests liked Greer’s vision and Southern Pacific Railroad Company backed the resort idea as a way to bring more tourism to the West.
O’Harra explains that Greer reported in the Tidings that capitalists from the East Coast were even becoming interested in the Ashland
project. He wrote that Ashland
“could become the playground of the world.” But there was a hitch: Greer had several vocal opponents, including George Taverner and H. G. Enders, members of the City Park Commission, who opposed the idea that private interests, including the self-appointed Mineral Springs Committee that Greer chaired, would control the land in the canyon. After a lot of fighting, name-calling, and political hullabaloo, the people voted to give the City Council authority over the Mineral Springs Committee, which was disbanded in 1917. “Greer left town an unhappy man,” says Tom Foster, the coordinator for parks walks for Ashland
. O’Harra likes to mention that the defeat in Ashland
did not stop Greer’s capitalistic career: he moved to Burbank
, became a majority owner in the Burbank Review, and has been credited with encouraging both the Warner brothers and a young entrepreneur named Walt Disney to locate their studios in the San Fernando Valley
Though most Ashlanders are not as interested in uncovering the intricacies of the park’s history as O’Harra, Todt, and Foster, the beauty, serenity, recreation, health, and joy the park brings locals and tourists alike is indisputable. “Without Lithia Park Ashland wouldn’t be Ashland
,” says Don Robertson, Director of Ashland Parks and Recreation. “It is literally the heart and soul of our town.” Robertson still remembers visiting Ashland
as a small boy and playing in the wading area by the children’s playgrounds. I wonder what my children’s memories will be so I ask my daughters what they like best about Lithia Park
: “I like to jump from rock to rock up and down the stream,” says my 9-year-old Hesperus. “It’s a great place to cool off on a hot day.” “I like to walk along the trails and climb trees and run after butterflies,” says 8-year-old Athena.