By James W. Cameron photos by Scott Duncan
Fremont Park is a square block oasis of greenery in the midst of a mixed use Midtown residential neighborhood bordered by old style Sacramento homes, new apartment and condo complexes, and a trendy restaurant and mochi shop. Long a haven for drug deals and drinking bouts and littered in places with broken glass and drug bags, it was avoided by neighborhood residents who wanted no part of it, a dirty public park without a public. Today, it’s a vibrant community gathering place where people relax with a book, bring their children to play, or take part in the myriad group activities that have grown up in the midst of its towering trees and elegant fountain. A Midtown Park has rejoined the neighborhood.
It’s not altogether clear when or how the change began but a pivotal meeting was held in June of 2008 where interested residents came together to discuss the issues surrounding a park renaissance. A monthly meeting in the park and regular trash cleanups were initiated. A group dubbing themselves Friends of Fremont Park and spearheaded by Costa Apostolos, Lynne Freeman, Lizz Barringer, Nico Forte and Tom Dyer, undertook the unofficial leadership role. Since then, the bathrooms which were alleged to have been used for drug dealing and prostitution, have been closed and the character of the park as a positive neighborhood influence has emerged.
The assistance of park rangers, CADA (Capitol Area Development Authority) and Gifts to Share (a non-profit organization that supports the city’s park, recreation, cultural, education and neighborhood improvement programs and facilities) provided a powerful adjunct to the effort. Todd Leon of CADA explains: “Costa (Apostolos) was the moving party in bringing this to our attention. There were undesirable elements in the park and regular visits by the city police and Park Rangers discouraged them from hanging out there. The city and CADA provided funds and we helped with organization and planning but it was the neighborhood people themselves who made it work.” “The park is like our backyard and we decided to take it back,” adds Barringer . “I live right across the street and it’s nice to walk out my front door and see the children’s playground busy, people walking their dogs, mothers with babies, all the familiar and welcome things that one wants to see. There’s a great mix of people in the park, both state workers and residents using it regularly.” Apostolos, modest to a fault, says “I didn’t do much, just got the ball rolling. The park cleanup gave families a safe place to meet and enjoy the outdoors.”
Indeed, the change has spawned any number of activities, some of them one time events and some continuing, all bringing with them a different energy and collegiality than the park has known only on Labor Day weekend when the annual Chalk It Up sidewalk art festival is held. Are there detractors? Yes, a few neighbors have complained about the noise. Brooks Truitt, Q Street’s resident iconoclast, thinks that the bathrooms should be open to the public and that closing them was a bad idea. “Whatever was supposed to be resolved was only worsened by closing”, he insists. Other area residents feel differently, maintaining that the bathrooms’ real purpose was being violated.
Over the past year and a half, informal tai chi and yoga groups have grown up In the park, the Sacramento Poetry Society has held readings there, a crafts day called Indie Sacramento has become a regular feature, and even knitting and chess groups have appeared. April saw the emergence of a Bike Swap and on May 14-16 the Bicycle Film Festival coincided with the start of the Tour of California. Other films will follow, prominent among them CADA’s offering of Up in August and an Italian Film Festival promoted by The Hot Italian Pizza &
Panini Bar in October. A Tuesday Farmers Market has grown considerably in the last two years. All events must meet the city’s licensing requirements, a responsibility that Friends of Fremont Park has assumed.
Forte, a transplanted New Jersey native, studied in Italy as a young adult. “I saw how integral public spaces were to residents,” he says. “People living in close proximity could meet, converse, and share stories. Fremont Park is an ideally situated Midtown Park that lends itself to this kind of community interaction. We’re working to make it a conduit between residents, local businesses, and organizations to help foster this type of community.”
On a recent sunny afternoon in early May Jeannine Indica, a dedicated plein air artist stood at the corner of the park across from Fremont Mews painting an image of the homes next to the rental complex. “I’m here every Thursday,” she explained. “The light is wonderful and it’s so peaceful here. I love what they’ve
done to the park.”