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Fair Board considers veterans garden

Historians would like to replace the tribute to military of decades ago.

April 24, 2014|By Bradley Zint
  • A local group is calling on the Orange County Fair Board to rebuild a veterans memorial garden at the fairgrounds. The Orange County Memorial Garden Center, shown here in the 1950s, was a 1.4-acre facility at the fairgrounds that was torn out in the early 1980s to make room for the Pacific Amphitheatre.
A local group is calling on the Orange County Fair Board… (Courtesy COSTA…)

Local historians urged the Orange County Fair Board on Thursday to approve a veterans garden for the fairgrounds to replace the one lost during the construction of the Pacific Amphitheatre more than 30 years ago.

In a short presentation, Costa Mesa Historical Society President Bob Palazzola reminded the board and fairgrounds staff about the Orange County Memorial Garden Center, a 1.4-acre nonprofit facility erected in 1954 that commemorated the lives and sacrifices of military personnel. In its heyday, he said, the garden contained 70 trees and 250 shrubs, enough to have the Costa Mesa City Council declare it a bird sanctuary in 1963.

Once the Pacific Amphitheatre went up in the early 1980s, however, the gardens went out. The former Army barracks next to them, which became known as the Memorial Gardens Building, stayed put until last fall, when it was saved from the bulldozer and temporarily relocated. In its place a new entrance for the amphitheater is being constructed.

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Palazzola, an Air Force veteran, and others told the board that with plans now brewing to repurpose the Memorial Gardens Building into some kind of veterans museum, there should be a veterans garden again, just like the one lost decades ago. The group first raised the idea before the board last month.

To make his point, Palazzola distributed packets to the board that contained the historical society's extensive documentation about the gardens, including a color postcard of it from the 1950s.

"I think the memorial gardens as you see there, on the postcard, was and could have been the jewel of the fairgrounds," he said.

Fairgrounds Chief Executive Doug Lofstrom clarified to the board that what staff in recent memory called the "memorial gardens" were not the torn-out gardens of yore. The reference was actually to a small outdoor hospitality and reception area next to the Memorial Gardens Building, he said.

Board Chairman Stan Tkaczyk thanked Palazzola for the information, adding that when he first visited the Memorial Gardens Building's reception area, "I walked in there 20 years ago thinking it was the garden, and that it looked good."

Costa Mesa resident Beth Refakes asked the board to consider adding a veterans garden to the acres freed up by the excavation of the Pacific Amphitheatre's dirt berm.

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