THE CHOICEST PIECE of prime property in Ventura is getting a remake.
Long a spot for weddings, picnics and tourist photos, Serra Cross Park in Ventura's Grant Park is scheduled for a major beautification effort.
That is, if we can raise the money.
In 2003, a group of us, led by now-Mayor Christy Weir and former Historic Preservation Committee Chair Tracy Long, launched an effort to buy the property from the city after it was put up for sale. The city was forced to divest itself of the cross and one acre of land surrounding it because of a pending lawsuit charging that the principle of separation of church and state was being violated by city ownership and maintenance of a cross.
We raised $104,000 and had the winning bid for the property. Our group, the Serra Cross Conservancy, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization, has been managing the property ever since.
Taking care of a popular public park hasn't always been easy. As it is with any public area, there is a certain element who visits and likes to be destructive. Even the Cross itself has been subject to vandalism - and subsequent repairs - over the years. Site maintenance is financed through donations for use of the property for weddings and events.
IT HAS LONG BEEN OUR DREAM, however, to do something more for the people who love visiting this scenic spot. So we enlisted the aid of a wonderful local design firm, Ted Temple and Associates, to design something really special. We are excited by the firm's plans. For an idea of what it will look like, see the watercolor painting above by local artist Norman Kirk.
The upper circular parking area will be turned into a scenic walking and strolling area with a fountain, benches, native plants, sycamores and two levels of trails. The parking lot will be relocated to an adjacent area. The cross platform and cross itself will remain intact, but will be spiffed up. We've already put in new plantings and hope to put in boulders around the base and a new walkway.
"Ventura's Grant Park is one of the most spectacular locations in the county," Weir said. "The goal of the Serra Cross Conservancy is to maintain the historic cross and surrounding one-acre park and enhance the landscaping to make this gem even more beautiful and usable. We depend on donations, so this will be possible only through the generosity of our community."
Weir is doing her part to generate those donations. She was recently asked to participate in the "Salsa with our Local Stars Dance Contest & Charity Fundraiser" at the Oxnard Salsa Festival on Sunday, July 27. So she's working on her dance steps and will donate the proceeds from the fundraiser to the Cross beautification efforts.
With the city's Grant Park Master Plan on hold, this privately funded effort may be the only chance we have for many years of doing something better for this underutilized but beautiful public space.