Across from the beautiful Berkeley Rose Garden is a treasure of a park with an inspiring history.
Codornices Park, (Quail in Spanish) is one of the oldest city parks in Berkeley. It is a tribute to a family’s love of gardening, the vision of a committed citizen, and the power of community.
There are lots of small open spaces in Berkeley, certainly more than where we live in Los Angeles. And that means that someone here has advocated for them, planned for them, and pursued their completion. You won’t be surprised to find out that one of those people responsible for this kind of care was inspired by his mother’s love of gardening!
Francis Violich, whose parents immigrated from Croatia, began his love of the environment in his own backyard, as he tagged along after his mom, watching her garden, and learning an appreciation for natural spaces. In his professional life, he became a landscape architect, and a well respected Professor of Landscape Architecture, and City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.
After his retirement from the Professoriate, he founded the Amigos de Los Codornices in 1980, a group dedicated to renovating Codornices Park by developing a park plan and engaging in a series of community work parties to restore paths, meadows, hillsides, bridges, and trails at the park.
And this is the second extraordinary thing about Francis Violich. He believed in the power of community. His “organizing” of advocates for Los Codornices Park, was actually a kind of community activism. He knew that relying solely on city government to accomplish his vision was not the most effective way to achieve his goal.
And so, by engaging the Boy Scouts (who cleared brush and detritus from Codornices Creek), neighborhood associations, and garden and environmental advocates, he would have the passionate, invested workforce necessary to make this happen.
And happen it did. It is truly one of the most special parks that I have visited. Forty years later it is still a gem. Everything looks completely natural, but clearly, everything has been intentionally planned to be useful, pleasing to the eye, and easy to access and enjoy.
When I visited Codornices Park today, I thought I had stumbled upon a hidden treasure. It does feel a little hidden, as it is not truly visible from the street. In fact, Codornices Park has been voted one of the top five parks in all of Berkeley.
And you can thank Francis Violich's mom for that.