Last Sunday, Oct. 18, I found myself at Max Berg Plaza Park remembering and celebrating the life of the man whose name, the first planned park in San Clemente today, is known by. Surrounded by a literal who’s who of our beloved Spanish Village, the Berg family shared their revered patriarch generously and so genuinely with us all. As has been the case for most of Max’s life of service, first in the military, then as a civil servant in San Clemente and later in life helping protect our national forests, the Berg family exemplified through their kind spirit and words the importance of legacy. This was particularly a timely reminder for me as I stood there recalling how I had first met Max a few years ago when he, accompanied by his son Barry, had appeared at a city organized public meeting/workshop across the street at Las Palmas Elementary School.
The reason for the meeting was to discuss the then-city-planned improvements to the park. Max was there, determined to add his seasoned voice to the discussion to ensure that no historical significance was endangered or lost as a byproduct of the “improvements.” Specifically, he was adamant that the then-buried original sidewalks that once ringed this place, the ones that Ole Hanson himself put in, should be restored to allow future generations to literally walk in the footsteps of the past.
All too often, each generation gets caught up in its own moment; and the then-City Council and Beaches, Parks & Recreation Department were no exception. I have noticed over my time on the Historical Society board, this seems to lead to temporary “blindness,” to a kind of historical amnesia that then leads us to think only of our immediate, transient needs and wants. Forgetting, abandoning quickly, and in some case even purposefully demolishing and discarding as if it is trash our local history and heritage. Yet local history provides a wealth of material that helps the young to understand how they are part of something much larger than themselves. Local history isn’t all sentimentalism and nostalgia, by any means. History as a whole is the benchmark by which we measure our progress as a people and make a course correction if necessary. It’s a crystal ball in which we can see the future by studying the past; it shows us the values and concerns that shaped our social and political environment. The historic tiled sidewalks which grace Max Berg Plaza Park are some of the oldest parts of town. They create an integral mirror, a historic reflection of what our founder, Ole Hanson, had envisioned for his Spanish Village by the Sea.
They lend a uniqueness to these neighborhoods, be they at the park or elsewhere and are part of the brand that we should be protecting and embracing. That is why past City Councils recognized the need to have them preserved when possible, or replaced with the like when needed, and were gladly willing to share the costs to make that possible and more practical. The irony in the timing of all of us being there last Sunday and reflecting on all this and the importance of history and legacy is that currently there is an argument taking place on the City Council attempting to do away with our historical paths, our sidewalks.
“It’s simply more expensive” than regular old concrete sidewalks is certainly no justification for allowing this precedent to be changed. Rarely are the cheapest things those that offer the greatest distinction. Obviously, if everything in our city was predicated on keeping costs down, we would quickly lose any vestige of excellence or significance. Not long ago, a representative of the Historical Society wrote an article for The San Clemente Journal about the aesthetic appeal and charm of our tiled sidewalks. A neighbor on one of those streets, who had just remodeled and was required to replace the sidewalk in front of their home, offered the writer a quote to accompany the article. They wrote: “The Ole Hanson tile pavers look beautiful, increase our property values and add so much character to the neighborhood,” according to Dr. Barry and Candice Ryan of Avenida Esplanade.
Originally, we had six glorious miles of these distinctive tiled sidewalks, but many were lost as homes were re-built, or tiles were damaged and removed over the years. However, once the city wisely lent its support to their preservation and replacement, the number of areas in our community that display these valuable Ole Hanson tracers has grown, and they have become a beacon of pride for those neighborhoods. Please, City Council, don’t erase our memories. Stand tall, like Max Berg did, for the history of the town we all love and help enhance and protect our living historical legacy so that future generations too can journey with a sure footing along the path of our shared past towards our common bright future.
Raad Ghantous was elected as president of the San Clemente Historical Society in September 2014 for a two-year term. He is an interior designer whose work includes the refurbishment of Casa Romantica. He is also the manager of the Facebook group “What Do You Think San Clemente?” which serves as a forum to discuss city events.