Not Your Average Day in the Park

More than 150 Whittier residents celebrated the official opening of a park Saturday that they hope will mark the center of a reborn neighborhood.

Tiny John Greenleaf Whittier Park sits in the middle of a neighborhood once slated to be torn down as part of a redevelopment project. After vehement protests from homeowners, city officials decided to give the four-block, 10-acre area another chance. Instead of paving over the dilapidated homes and lots, the city arranged to create a revolving loan fund with the help of the nonprofit La Habra Neighborhood Housing Services. The loan fund will be used to assist residents in fixing up their homes.

For its part, the city gave the park a $280,000 face lift. Until recently, the park was little more than a patch of grass, weeds and dirt with a few pieces of rusting playground equipment. Neighbors said it was more of a hangout for drug dealers than families. The remade park includes a ball field, sidewalk, picnic area and playground equipment.

Resident Bob Hancock is delighted. Dozens of children use the park every day, he said. Saturday's grand opening celebration featured a pancake breakfast, games and a group photo, below left, taken just north of the park in front of the administration building for the Whittier City School District.

Many in the photo, including City Council members, wore the official white neighborhood T-shirt with its John Greenleaf Whittier Neighborhood logo, below right.

Two-year-old Dominic Gutierrez, above, wasted no time trying out the park's new equipment, but he needed a little help from his grandfather Salvatore La Fornara, 72.

Celebrations aside, residents concede that their neighborhood still has a ways to go. A March neighborhood cleanup drew about 90 participants and collected nearly five tons of trash. Next Saturday, residents and volunteers plan to repaint two neighborhood homes.

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