Susan Straight is a Riverside native (and still lives here), a professor at UCR, and an award-winning writer. She has published seven novels and one middle-grade reader. Her book Highwire Moon was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001 and A Million Nightingales was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2006. Her short stories and essays have appeared in highly acclaimed magazines and she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on her novel Highwire Moon, and a Lannan Prize was an immense help when working on Take One Candle Light a Room.
Among all of her accomplishments she also writes a column titled, “Notes of a Native Daughter” for KCET’s “SoCal Focus”, a daily blog about the people, places and issues in and around Southern California. In her July 13, 2012 article titled “Olmsted Planned Park in Inland California Lives On“, Straight writes a wonderful commentary on the City of Riverside’s historic Fairmount Park in which she reflects on her own memories and experiences in the park and illustrates the eternal beauty of the Olmstead legacy both past and present.
The following is an excerpt from her article:
On hot summer days, they gather at the edges of Lake Evans: fishermen, serious and casual, in their folding chairs, with their lines slanted into the water at their feet, waiting for carp or catfish; lovers holding hands on a bench, and a long-married couple sipping on iced coffees; a young couple having that early conversation that might lead to love; platoons of kids on bikes circling around the road under the ancient cypress trees that were chosen by the famous Olmsteds, New Yorkers who designed the park in 1911.
Fairmount Park, in Riverside, is one of the great parks of the nation. People might laugh at that, but we can claim Olmsted heritage, and the grand democratic principles that led Frederick Law Olmsted to design America’s most famous urban landscapes, including New York’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and the park jewels of Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Detroit, Montreal, and yes, Riverside.
This is not just a city lake and areas of grass beside it. The 275-acre grounds included elegant boathouses, a bandshell, an amusement park with a carousel, a lawn-bowling club, and arched bridges over the water. When I was a child, in the 1960s, all those elements made this exactly the everyman’s heaven Olmsted wrote about.
Fairmount Park located at 2601 Fairmount Boulevard, is bounded by the Santa Ana River to the west and Route 60 to the north and serves as a brilliant example of Riverside’s beautiful, dynamic and interconnected network of parks, trails and recreation facilities available for residents to enjoy year-round.
In 2011, the American Planning Association listed Fairmount Park as one of the Great Places in America: Public Spaces and City Parks Alliance wrote that revitalization efforts in Fairmount Park “exemplified the catalytic power of parks to transform urban areas”. The Park features a bandshell, two tennis courts, a Universally Accessible Playground, picnic facilities, fishing access, a golf course, lawn bowling green, barbecues and a restored boathouse with rental petal boats (handicapped accessible). A great place to come for visitors, family picnics, community concerts and celebrations. Another quality that makes Riverside a highly desirable place to live, work, and play.