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New Park Names Honor Santa Monica World War II Veterans
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 2, 2016 -- Two Santa Monica men who fought in World War II -- one who died on the battlefield in France and another who lived until 2009 -- will soon be memorialized when Pico Neighborhood parks carry their names.

The City Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday to do this as a compromise to bring an end to a debate that goes back to 2014 over the naming of a 2.35-acre park on Exposition Boulevard next to the Expo Light Rail's maintenance yard.

The 2.35-acre spot, temporarily known as Buffer Park, will be named after George Ishishara, who was a Japanese-American veteran and resident of Santa Monica from 1958 to 2009.

Stewart Street Park will be renamed after Private Joe Gandara, who was another favorite for the Buffer park renaming. He was a Medal of Honor recipient who died in France at age 20 in 1944.

“It’s a wonderful compromise that honors both people,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

He requested the two parks to open with their new names on the same day so “it gives the Japanese and Latino communities a chance to celebrate together at something they both have gotten in that neighborhood."

City officials began seeking names for Buffer Park two years ago through an outreach program.

A request for Pico Neighborhood resident submissions led to some interesting proposals, including Cookies and Cupcakes, Hobo Junction East and the misspelled version of a council member’s name as well as more serious proposals (“Council Tasked with Naming Santa Monica Park; Offbeat Options on the Table,” February 9, 2015).

Gandara and Ishishara were the top contenders when the issue went to the council in January of this year, and McKeown raised the compromise proposal.

Most council members supported McKeown and sent the matter to the Recreation and Parks Commission for review.

Based on the minutes of the commission meeting that took place March 17, it appears to have been a controversial topic. Several proposals were made, with none receiving unanimous backing.

The commission’s final decisions were for Buffer Park to be named after Gandara (4-3 vote) with possible alternatives being Heroes and Citizens (5-2 vote), but no change be made to Stewart Street Park (4-3 vote).

McKeown said he was “disappointed” the commission reached this conclusion and hadn’t heard the reason why. Nobody from the commission addressed the council.

Art Casillas, a City government critic, told the council it was a “travesty of justice” for Gandara’s name to be used for a park. Instead, the 26th Street/Bergamot light rail station should be named for him, Casillas said.

Council members told Casillas the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority had naming rights for the station, although Mayor Tony Vazquez said he supported the station being named after Gandara.

“I have no problem doing whatever I can to lobby down the road and see if we can’t change [the name of the] Bergamot or 17th Street stop,” Vazquez said. “Seventeenth Street doesn’t mean anything to me. Gandara does.”

The council also heard from Pico Neighborhood resident Christel Andersen, who said the area near Buffer Park has the highest concentration of Japanese-Americans in Santa Monica.

In a campaign to get the park named after Ishishara, she collected signatures from residents for a petition and convinced several organizations, including the Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles, to write letters of support.

Andersen noted that Ishishara fought for this country in World War II while his family members were placed in internment camps in the United States because of their ethnicity.

“It took courage to fight for a country and people who looked down upon Japanese-Americans even when they’re honorable citizens,” Andersen said.

The honor for Gandara is a continuation of overdue recognition for the man, officials said.

He posthumously earned the Medal of Honor two years ago in a ceremony honoring 24 veterans who had been passed over for the award because they were Jewish, Latino or African-American. His niece Miriam Adams accepted the award from President Obama.

The citation for Gandara’s Medal of Honor, which appears on the Army’s website, says his unit came under “devastating” fire from Germans on June 9, 1944 in Amfreyville, France.

“Private Gandara voluntarily advanced alone toward the enemy position,” the citation states. “Firing his machine gun from his hip as he moved forward, he destroyed three hostile machine guns before he was fatally wounded.”

The citation continues, “Private Gandara’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”

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