BUFFER PARK — The Recreation and Parks Commission wants the city’s newest park to be named after a hero.
Commissioners considered a list of names put forth by the public at their meeting Thursday night but opted to recommend two that had not come from that list.
“Gandara Park” and “Heroes Park” were recommended to City Council, which will make the final naming decision.
The proposed 2.35 acre park, which currently goes by the placeholder “Buffer Park,” is meant to shield residents from the incoming Expo Light Rail’s nearby maintenance facility.
Joe Gandara grew up in the Pico Neighborhood, just blocks from the location of the proposed park, and was killed protecting his comrades in Amferville, France during World War II.
He was passed over for the Medal of Honor, likely because he was a Mexican-American.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama righted that wrong, posthumously awarding Gandara the medal.
“He was a native Santa Monican who went to Santa Monica High School,” said Recreation and Parks Chair Phil Brock. “He went to John Adams (Middle School). Went to war. Fought for his country. And then was neglected for 60 years by the federal government.”
Outgoing Councilmember Bob Holbrook attended the meeting to suggest Gandara’s name but he questioned the need to name the park after anyone.
“First of all, why are you naming the park?” he said. “Because I don’t remember us telling you to do it. Let’s go name Marine Park. Let’s go name Stewart Street Park. Let’s go name Airport Park.”
Brock told the Daily Press that it would be hard to name it after one of Buffer Park’s adjacent streets: It sits on Exposition Boulevard at the corner of Stewart Street and Los Angeles already has a popular Exposition Park while Santa Monica already has a Stewart Street Park.
“If you’re going to name it after anyone,” Holbrook told the Daily Press, “the obvious one is Joe Gandara. He grew up about three blocks away. He was born in Santa Monica. Lived his life here. Died. Received his Medal of Honor. If you want to remember someone from the Pico Neighborhood: Hello? It’s a perfect fit.”
During the month of October, when City Hall was soliciting for names from the public, there were 12 submissions for “Toypurina Park,” after a Tongva/Gabrieli√±o medicine woman who led a failed uprising against Spanish colonizers.
There were six submissions from “George Ishihara Memorial Park” after a Pico Neighborhood resident who fought in the highly decorated Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Ishihara moved to Santa Monica in 1958.
Holbrook noted the park should be named for a soldier who received high honors, like Gandara.
Brock noted that Gandara was born in Santa Monica.
“Ultimately, I think, our commissioners felt that a native Santa Monican was a justification for naming a park after someone,” he said, “whereas someone who moved here later, after they fought, wasn’t as much of a justification.”
Both he and Holbrook pointed out that General Jimmy Doolittle, who earned a Medal of Honor for his leadership during World War II, lived in Santa Monica for several years after he served.
“People like that lived here,” Brock said. “But this was a person who grew up here and then the president of the United States realized that he’d been overlooked, and they righted a wrong. For that part of Santa Monica, we thought that Joe Gandara would be significant to the Hispanic community and the neighborhood. It would be an inspirational to the neighborhood for future generations of students: To hear that someone grew up in the neighborhood, went off to a great war and fought heroically.”
Other commissioners recommended “Heroes Park,” which could honor a series of Santa Monica’s best and brightest, including Gandara and Ishihara.
Buffer Park is proposed to be long and thin — a row of smaller segments or pocket parks. Each pocket could be named after a different hero, some suggested.
Council will make the final call, likely next year. Construction of the park is expected to begin this summer.