Residents Unite to Swerve Teen Center Location
by Krista Huey
photography by Christine Diaz
You can’t fight city hall and win, or can you? The Evelyn Hollinger Redwood Grove planted in 1976 in honor of La Verne’s early settlers will be saved after all. The magnificent yet somewhat hidden grove, located directly north of the Las Flores swimming pool in Las Flores Park, was in danger of being cut down to make room for a new grant-funded Teen Center. The grove is directly east of the Bonita High School baseball field, albeit there is the bridged Thompson Creek flood channel separating it from the school fields. The effort to save the trees united Sherry Best, president of the La Verne Historical Society, and a grass roots collection of area residents, headed by Lisa and Peter Schafer who prompted reluctant La Verne City Council members at their meetings to reconsider their decision and save the Las Flores Park Redwood trees from chainsaws and bulldozers.
The redwood grove in Las Flores Park has a significant connection to La Verne’s history, says Best. The planting of the redwoods was a bicentennial project initially started by La Verne historian Evelyn Hollinger in 1976. The La Verne City Beautiful Committee and State Bicentennial Committee partnered with each other to plant “a living memorial to those families who came to La Verne in its earlier pioneers,” according to a 1975 pamphlet. Residents had the opportunity to pay $20 to plant a “good-sized” redwood tree in the grove and include a “resume of their family’s history.” After a collection of requests and participants were received, the grove became a Los Flores Park reality and slowly grew to maturity. It quietly became embedded in La Verne’s history and was formally rededicated in 2002 in memory of Evelyn Hollinger’s passing. Hollinger worked through La Verne’s Chamber of Commerce, wrote for the La Verne Leader publication and was frequently seen riding around La Verne on her bicycle interviewing people, says Bill Lemon, vice president of the Historical Society of La Verne and new author of his own book, “Images of America: La Verne.”
The fight against city hall began when city officials announced they planned to build a grant-funded Teen Center on the site of the redwood grove. While not all the redwood trees were slated to be removed, many would be, and the quiet ambiance of the grove would be distorted. Residents, led by the Schroders and Best, were in opposition to the building’s location because it would destroy Hollinger’s memorial. She was an influential woman in La Verne, and removing the trees would erase the memory and history of her contributions.
“It is wrong to remove the proposed green space from Las Flores Park. The Coastal redwoods are a place of tranquility hard to find these days, that La Verne residents have depended on for years. We disagree with harshly reducing a sanctuary of trees that were planted nearly 50 years ago by the families of La Verne’ s founders. Cities need more space like this, not less. Many residents from all over La Verne come daily to enjoy the space as it is — even residents from other cities come to this section of the park to enjoy the beauty,” says Lisa Schafer, leader of Friends of Las Flores Park, in a letter to the La Verne City Council.
Supporters of the petition joined that line of reasoning saying they were upset about the building of a teen center because it would ruin the peace and tranquility of the Park. Emails to the La Verne City Council said that chopping down a memorial redwood grove owned by the city would be an unnecessary way to build the Teen Center. Some emails said that locals embark to the redwood forest to escape their busy lives and to embrace the outdoors. People can be seen walking their dogs, meditating, going on walks and having picnics. Carissa Weber, La Verne resident, says she walks to this beautiful grove every day, because it is a peaceful, tranquil oasis. She says the redwood grove is a place to decompress and get away from it all. She has come to rely on her visits to this little slice of nature during these unprecedented times of stress.
Similar to how the Park is a stress-reliever, the proposed Teen Center was introduced by the City Council as a safe place for teens to gather for structured and unstructured activities and games. The need for the Teen Center was heightened with the pandemic because of the outdoor restrictions. La Verne Recreation Coordinator Chad Peterson, quoted in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, says, “We are excited to provide La Verne’s youth with a similar dedicated space to socialize with each other, for years to come, especially as we look for ways to help our youth reengage following the pandemic.” Fitness and recreational activities would be offered at the Center to encourage interactivity between the youth and to provide them with activities.
Despite the opposition for the Teen Center’s location, some people speaking at the Dec. 21, 2020, La Verne City Council meeting supported the need for the Center. Yvonne Gallegos, a new resident in La Verne said in a letter to City Hall that she supports the Teen Center because there are many wonderful programs the Center can provide to the vulnerable age group. Gallegos also stated that surrounding cities such as Duarte have youth centers, yet La Verne does not have one.
People who opposed the Teen Center location first registered their protest with City Hall officials in December 2020. Sherry Best wrote an impassioned email letter in December to members of the La Verne Historical Society asking for support at the City Council meetings. People have voiced their opinions at meetings, with letters and with calls to the city. Petitions were created by the Schafers, who garnered more than 500 signatures in support of the preservation of the redwood grove. Lisa Schafer also created a “Friends of Las Flores Park” Facebook page to provide a digital platform for people to share their experiences at Las Flores Park.
The efforts of the people who oppose the Center have successfully been heard, with the city announcing March 17, 2021, that the Teen Center is being “modified.” According to city officials, it will now be located further east in order to preserve Evelyn Hollinger’s Redwood Grove. Evelyn’s Redwood Grove will continue to be maintained by the city of La Verne.
The city will rely on state-funded grants to develop the Teen Center and will start the construction in approximately six months. With the state-grant money funding the construction, the Center is slated to be opened by September 2022 when the grant is approved by the state.