The Wonders in My Own Backyard

The Moreton Fig Tree, with its vast roots, in the Library Park. There is supposed to be something magical about the place. Photos by Henk Friezer

I’ve lived in South Pasadena for 23 years, but Hilary Graves makes me feel like a tourist when it comes to knowing about the city’s 92 acres of parks.

Hilary lives across the street from Garfield Park — known to her as the “central place” of South Pasadena. Some people call it the showcase park.

I know Garfield Park. I’ve been to concerts and plays there.

But Hilary. She’s got me beat by a mile. Her 4-year-old son took his first steps there and now explores around the park perimeter while Hilary and her 1-year-old play in the sand. They might come to the park once or twice a day.

“There’s something for everyone here,’’ she says. “It’s also an easy way to meet people. People come from Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Glendale. Everyone comes here.’’

Anna Sarafayan just wants to be left alone while she eats her lunch. She is a registered nurse at City of Hope Hospital. She discovered the park months ago and now eats her lunch there almost every day.

“It’s peaceful. I can be in the fresh air and meditate and unwind. I deal with cancer patients every day, so I come here to unwind and meditate,” she says.

Meanwhile, back to my parks guide Hilary. She walks to Eddie Park on the corner of Chelten Way and Edgewood Drive.  She calls it a nice place for toddlers, but there is not as much shade and not as much to explore for her older son.

The two times I went there, no one was using the swings or slide. People often bring their lunches and read. The Eddie House was given to the city by the Eddie family and is used for meetings, especially by the Boys and Girl Scouts.

I didn’t need anyone to tell me about Veteran’s Park. I pass it whenever I vote in the War Memorial Building, and there is always a solemnity about the plaques memorializing the war dead nestled in the grass among the trees. The plaques are a sharp contrast to the traffic and noise of Fair Oaks Avenue.

If a park has a logo, the Moreton Fig Tree stands as the standard bearer for the Library Park. The labyrinthine root system spreads as wide as the imagination of a child playing games while tripping under the sheltering branches.

There is supposed to be something magical about the place. If something magical happened to you there, let me know by writing a letter to the paper.

Eddie Park, with Eddie House in the background.

Right down the street is a place most park lovers don’t even know about. The small grassy area next to the South Pasadena Museum and the Gold Line Station is known officially as Heritage Park, and it is one of a few “passive” patches of park green around the city.

Another such “park’’ is at the Camden Parkway, between Oak and Huntington. There is another small green space at Via Del Rey and Monterey Road and another at Via Del Rey and Camino Verde.

The Orange Grove Park has soccer and softball fields and tennis courts. It also has a two-story recreation building. The Community Services Department has its offices there.

“It is pretty amazing how many parks there are and how many things there are to do for such a 

relatively small city. We’re very lucky that parks are such a priority here compared to other places,’’ says Sheila Pautsch, community services director.

“The parks are really well-maintained; they are considered safe; they don’t have much graffiti; and that’s some of the reasons they are so well-used.’’

The Community Services Department tries to keep up keep up with new requests and to add new venues. The pickleball lines on the tennis courts came as the result of suggestions from residents.

The city opened a new half-mile of trail in the nature park last fall. Pautsch says there are also two pocket parks in the planning stages.

Practicing badminton in Garfield Park.

Meanwhile, back to my guide Hilary, who steered me to Arroyo Park, where her son likes to watch the tadpoles turn into frogs at the casting pond. On a rainy day, a boy, his small shovel and a big imagination can have quite a time exploring parts of the 73 acres that form the park.

I didn’t need a small boy to have quite a time and to learn a lot that I didn’t know about the Arroyo Park.

I didn’t know there is a miniature golf course or that there are jazz, comedy, and wine-and-song nights adjacent to the Blue Guitar Restaurant at the golf course.

The Arroyo Woodland and Wildlife Nature Park includes three acres of trails among native

California Walnut trees. It begins at the park entrance and continues along the east side of the Arroyo Seco. The Wildlife Nature Park features native and drought-resistant plants and is managed by the Friends of the Nature Park.

I almost felt like signing up for riding lessons while watching people work their horses at the San Pasqual Stables.  There are 122 horses stabled there — most boarded.

“For an urban area, it is an intimate setting. It is surprising how many people don’t know about it for some reason. It is kind of the hidden gem of South Pasadena,’’ notes trainer Isabelle Ebner, who has been riding nearly all of her life.

Isabelle too can see the park through the eyes of her children. Her two sons play baseball on the Arroyo baseball fields, and her daughter rides horses. She has one child at every level of education — elementary, middle and going in to high school.

Our columnist “almost felt like signing up for riding lessons’’ at San Pasqual Stables.

The thing she worries about is the way traffic speeds through the park in the area of the stables and ballfields. “I wish there were some speed bumps to slow people down,’’ she says. “Children are chasing baseballs and a horse could get loose. It could turn out badly.’’

But this is a small brown spot in a blanket of green that invites residents to play and explore in the City of Trees.

I learned a lot about South Pasadena’s parks from exploring and talking to moms with kids; women with horses and other people who daily use the parks.

Most of all, I learned: I’ve got to get out more.