A brief conversation capped two years of debate over naming two Pico Neighborhood parks this week.

Council chose to name the newly constructed park adjacent to the Expo maintenance facility after George Ishihara, a World War II veteran and resident of the area. Council also directed staff to rename Stewart Street Park after Joe Gandara, a Santa Monica native killed in WWII at the age of 20.

The naming debate began when a new park was proposed along a stretch of Exposition Boulevard. The area is designed to shield the neighborhood from the newly built Expo Maintenance Facility so the 2.35-acre park was referred to as “buffer park” during its planning until a permanent name was chosen.

Community outreach generated 135 name suggestions. Several referenced the area’s historic Japanese population, others referenced the area’s Native American tribes and others were reflective of the city itself.

A 2014 Recreation and Parks Commission meeting recommended Gandara Park or Heroes Park and debate quickly focused on either Gandara or Ishihara as both men were neighborhood residents with military backgrounds.

Private Joe Gandara grew up in Santa Monica near the proposed new park. He was fatally wounded by enemy fire in World War II at the age of 20. “Although hailed a war hero, he was passed over for awards and medals at the time of his death due to his Hispanic heritage,” said the staff report. “In March 2014, Private Joe Gandara was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in recognition of his heroism and valor. Private Gandara’s niece, Miriam Adams, has formally expressed her support for naming Buffer Park in honor of her uncle.”

George Ishihara moved to Santa Monica in 1958 and also lived near the proposed Buffer Park. He fought in the highly decorated Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WW II while his family was imprisoned in the California internment camps. A bid to honor Ishihara drew support from his decedents and the Japanese Consulate.

At Council’s first pass at the topic earlier this year, public comment was split between Gandara Park and George Ishihara Park. Councilman Kevin McKeown proposed a compromise that would name Buffer Park after Ishihara and rename Stewart Street Park after Gandara.

According to Staff, the 3.8-acre Stewart Street Park opened in 1975 and took its name from the street. The street was named in 1921 but no records exist explaining the name choice. Staff speculated it could have been named after William F. Stewart, a Nevada Senator and business partner of City founder Jon P. Jones. It is also possible, although less likely, the name originates from Edwin Stewart, a resident and businessman that moved to the area in 1919.

The debate was sent back to the Recreation and Parks Commission in March of this year. The Commission recommended Gandara Park as the choice for the buffer location and did not recommend changing the name of Stewart Street.

At the April 26 meeting, McKeown reiterated his original suggestion.

“I’ve thought a lot about this, I still think it’s a wonderful compromise that honors both people and if we then say we’ll open both parks on the same day, it gives the Japanese and Latino community a chance to celebrate together as something they both have gotten in that neighborhood which I think would be a very good thing,” he said.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis said both parks should contain an educational component to ensure visitors understand the significance of the chosen names and Council approved renaming both parks by a 6-0 vote with Councilman Terry O’Day absent.

editor@smdp.com

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