Places to Visit: Rio Vista Park in El Monte

September 23, 2008 § 6 Comments

(This is the first in a “Places to Visit” series. I hope we’ll blog about various parks/streams/places and other noteworthy spots so that you, my faithful readers, can go and visit and enjoy these places!)

Rio Vista Park 2

I first visited Rio Vista Park as part of last week’s conference on the San Gabriel River. Rio Vista Park is located on the Rio Hondo in the city of El Monte. It’s slightly difficult to find as it’s tucked away in a residential neighborhood, but well worth it. The address is 4275 Ranger Avenue, El Monte CA 91731. It’s on the west bank of the Rio Hondo directly across from the El Monte Airport, and a short walk or bike ride upstream from the El Monte Transit Center. (Note that the park is on the opposite side as the Upper Rio Hondo Bike Trail – to get there from the bike path, go west on Valley, right on Arden, right on Bisby and right on Shasta)

The current Rio Vista Park, which opened June 2008, is a rehabilitation and expansion project of an existing small park – and the site has a good hybrid/palimpsest feel of an older site that has been enriched by recent additions. The project was spearheaded by Amigos de los Rios partnering with the County of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and the city of El Monte. It’s part of what Amigos de los Rios call the Emerald Necklace – a large string of parks on the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River.

Rio Vista Park 1

The park celebrates multiple histories of the site, from the Tongva Native Americans to Hick’s Camp. Shade structures (visible in the picture on the left) are designed to resemble Tongva kich (pronunced “keesh”) housing made of thatched willow cuttings. Informational signage details the Tongva names and uses for native plants growing on-site.

Hick’s Camp was a colonia – a longstanding village that housed working class families, mostly immigrant agricultural workers. Hicks Camp occupied the park site and most of the surrounding neighborhood beginning from 1900 until it was demolished in the early 1970’s. Former residents of Hick’s Camp still gather for reunions. The park commemorates this history with a listing of the the names of Hick’s Camp families and a large camp map both etched in the sidewalk at the park entrance at Ranger Avenue. Interpretive signage explains the history of the site with time lines and historic photos. These tell important stories including the 1933 Berry Strike and the 1940’s successes in desegregating El Monte schools. Historic photos show the youth of the camp swimming and playing in the adjacent, still-natural Rio Hondo.

The park features an ample grassy area, picnic tables, a tot lot (with playful child-activated running water features) and an exercise course. The site features bioswales that detain and infiltrate stormwater. The plentiful new vegetation along the Rio Hondo is all native, with plenty of oak trees. Surrounding the park are more great gates by artist Brett Goldstone.

When folks from the conference visited the park last Tuesday night, there were plenty of local families using the park for walking, sitting and exercising. Mothers walked with strollers; kids cruised on the bmx bicycles. The winged residents were at home there, too: A small raptor (which we think was a juvenile Coopers Hawk) flew in and rested a while on a eucalyptus branch. We walked and toured the park, and looked east out over the Rio Hondo running wet in a concrete canyon and imagined what this place was and what it will be again.

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§ 6 Responses to Places to Visit: Rio Vista Park in El Monte

  • Steven Yuhas says:

    Just happened upon this…I grew up at 4612 Ranger Avenue and went to Rio Vista Elem. in the early 70’s…I remember Hick’s Camp vividly,alot of the kids who lived there went to school with me,and I also remember when it was demolished,a huge gas fire burned at one time…also remember when a park was built,perhaps Rio Vista Park?

  • Toni Llanes says:

    Thank you for writing such an informative piece. I grew up in El Monte. Born in 1968, I went to Parkview Elementary then Kranz and Mountain View. Even though I moved away 20 years ago I am back with my father who settled here with my mother 50+ years ago.

    Its difficult to find history on El Monte which is a shame since it seems things have changed here overnight. I still see certain buildings and wonder what the history is behind them. While industrial buildings surround these older homes it seems a shame to let them go without ever knowing who lived in them? who was here before us?

    There is a building on the corner of Klingerman and Durfee in El monte that I have always wondered what the story was behind it. Theres no one around anymore I can ask.

    I think it would be the coolest thing for El Monte to have an event where the oldest citizens of the community came back and gave their experiences of living here or invited back to share their stories. Everyone has a story. Don’t they?

  • Alfredo Berumen says:

    Hiya there, I was raised for the first 10 years of life in Hicks Camp & attended Rio Vista Elem. in the late 60’s into the early 70’s. I have so many fond memories of El Monte & recently visited the new park. I noticed there was a a very old avocado tree still in place at the new park, the very same tree that my mother would take me to sit under on summer days with homemade food YUMMM. Anywho we moved from the Camp in may of 1973 just months before the demolition. My mother selected the City of Rosemead as our new residence & I went on to attend San Gabriel High School gradutating in 1982.
    AKA Freddy Berumen

  • Eddie Aguirre says:

    My first memories are of Hicks, The catholic church , and the Murders committed by the Sheriffs Department of Los Angeles during the 50s. Anyone who lived there before they demolished halve of Hicks champ to make room for the new school knows this History. We had no voice and no political power ,thus, just living targets . Don’t forget those who died on those dirt streets and the families that died with them. I loved my home-Hicks champ- and my PEOPLE. WITH LOVE TO ALL OF US WHO SURVIVED.
    CONCHA AND FRED’S SON; EDDIE

  • delight vera jimenez says:

    I was born in Hicks Camp because my mom had 3 other children and did not want to leave them. This was in 1944. I went to the park and almost cried because where the map in concrete is my grandfather back yard. My grandfather name was Juan Vera. My name is Delight Vera Jimenez. I was not born in a hospital but at home. So was my mother. Carmen Gonzales VERA. She married my father Pedro Vera. I am now67 yrs old.
    The Barrio was my security. Little kids from the Good Areas would shout at us Mexican Go Home. We were home. We were citizens too. This was Mexico. Where were we to go. Prejudice. Anyway. Life truly goes on. My children have not had as many obstacles as we had. El Monte was truly separated. When we got kicked many promises were made and few kept. I sufferred culture liveing amongst anglos. Then again when at 24 I went to Cal STate in the middle of East LA.with not a brown face to be seen. I got weird looks man! I think the student thought I came to clean the room. Anyway. Things are changeing but not fast enough. Whoever sees the map will see the Vera’s name.There were many. Dad has 7 brothers and 5 sister. I was glad and sad. In actually Wiggins came first. The Gonzales and the Vera’s and another family wetn to Wiiggins Camp and then Hicks back in the 1880,s Thanks for reading about and old lady and old evernts

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