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The Once and Future Playground: Holderman Park

By Leslie McGuire, managing editor




When Holderman Park’s redesign was planned for Orange County, Calif., xeriscape plantings were originally specified to keep maintenance costs down as far as possible. However, the community—and the cyclists who used the park as a rest area—requested that they retain the turf. Xeriscaping went out the window and they sodded with a hybrid tall fescue, a drought tolerant turf.
Photos by Guy Nelson
Rain Bird
Playworld Came America

This small piece of land crossed by a creek—the front yard of the Holderman family ranch—has always been a playground. At any given time it was imagined as a camp site, a football field, a baseball diamond, a race track or a hunting ground for bugs and lizards, It has been and still is a perfect playground—since 1914.

Once known as the Vanderlip tract, by 1915 several 10 to 15 acre subdivisions were owned by farmers growing oranges, apricots, avocados and walnuts. Running along 17th Street in Tustin, California, what was at the time a dirt road became filled with cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends of the Holderman family. Over the years, the grandparents sold off parcels and newer housing subdivisions arrived, but one thing remained the same. The playground at the corner of 17th Street and Holt Avenue is still a perfect playground.






The fence along the creek (seen at the right) was replaced. A new chain link fence was installed by the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks Design Resources and Development Management Department with knuckle-down points along the creek edge. It was clearly unsafe to keep the original flood control channel fence as it was.


Retrofitting Up To Code

A previous park had been constructed on the site in the 1970s, however 30 years later the play structures no longer met accessibility and safety standards and needed replacing. The sidewalks were being lifted by the roots of the trees. There were also worries about the proximity of 17th street—now paved—because the traffic volume is so high. Clayton Whisenant, RLA and Scott Thomas, RLA of the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks Department Design Resources and Development Management Department met with the community in preparation for making their plans.






The sand originally specified for the rest of the playground was regular beach sand, but it was determined to be far too grainy. A sample of the existing sand in the playground was sent for matching. The community and the design team finally approved the use of finer grained sand, which is much softer to land on.


Public Feedback

Community meetings were held on site. Since North Tustin is not incorporated, the presentation was made to the North Tustin Advisory Council. Ultimately, public feedback drove the design. They were given very specific suggestions. One child wanted monkey bars…and those were put in. The community also wanted swings—both for the younger children and the older ones as well.

The challenge was going to be fitting all that equipment into the small space provided.






Community meetings were held on site. Since North Tustin is not incorporated, the presentation was made to the North Tustin Advisory Council. The design team went out of their way to make sure everyone’s needs were met. One child wanted monkey bars…and those were put in.


Dealing with Site Challenges and Budget

The design team tried to work with the existing materials. Budgetary aspects led them to keep some of the masonry walls that had been installed in the 1970s, but with adjustments to make sure the needs of the community were met. They kept a lot of the trees too and therefore had to do all the construction amid the existing planting material.

The worries regarding 17th Street traffic were discussed at length, and the solution was to extend the height of the fencing, closing off the park much more successfully. There was already a wall, but it was rather low. Children could easily jump over it. Whisenant decided the best solution was to lay column blocks on the Arco Block concrete masonry units to make the pilasters. The wall along the creek is also the same except they patched some cracks and sandblasted the stone to clean it up. They also installed a new chain link fence along the creek edge, which had knuckle-down points. It was clearly unsafe to keep the original flood control channel fence as it was with those sharp points.






Given the nautical theme, there are opportunities to “man the helm,” and a spyglass for “sailing the bounding main,” with stairs to climb up to the “poop deck” and portholes for “spying.”


Adjusting Planting Choices

It also turned out that a number of cyclists who ride along 17th Street used the park as a stop point to rest. The landscape architects had originally specified xeriscape plantings to keep maintenance costs down as far as possible. However, the community—and the cyclists who live there—requested that they retain the turf. Xeriscaping went out the window and they sodded with a hybrid tall fescue, a drought tolerant turf. Whereever possible they used diehard planting material because maintenance money is hard to come by. Blood red trumpet vine mixed in with the royal trumpet vines was planted along the fence by the creek.

One of the planting solutions—keeping the original trees—was aimed at keeping down costs, but created another challenge. Getting the playground constructed under the Aleppo pines that had been there for 30 years was difficult. Not only was it hard to get all the machines in that tiny area for the required excavation, they had to be careful of the tree roots. An arborist was brought in who gave them instructions. They ended up pruning a few roots, but there have been no problems as of yet and nor do they expect any.






Public feedback drove the design. They were given very specific suggestions. The community wanted swings—both for the younger children and the older ones as well. The challenge was fitting all that equipment into the small space provided.


Play Structures That Fit the Bill

Their choice of play structures was Kompan, considered by many to be among the better ones. Another requirement of the community was to have swings. However, because of the size of the park, they were afraid of placing the swings too close to the 17th street edge of the park. This was handled by raising the block wall.

The structures are not only usable by children with disabilities, but also very accessible for the toddler set as well. The slide is a perfect in-between size so it is fun for everyone. The ship design also lends itself to a great deal of imaginative play. There are opportunities to “man the helm,” and a spyglass for “sailing the bounding main,” with stairs to climb up to the “poop deck” and portholes for “spying.”






The community, once having seen the plans, had only one thing to say. “Hurry up and finish!” With the help of the contractor, Ryco Construction, they finished in record time.


Surfacing That Works

The design team chose 3 1/2-inch Safeguard surfacing. Initially the plans called for an aggregate base, but they ended up using a concrete slab, the preferred method. The slab creates a more even surface to lay down the surfacing and in the small confines of that little park, it looked as if there might be a problem getting the proper compaction because the surfacing is one of the last products to go in. Moving in all the equipment undermines the compaction.

The sand used in the rest of the playground is not regular beach sand which was determined to be too grainy. “Using small particle sizes was important,” says Whisenant. “I thought of my daughter’s little feet and after seeing the first sample, I wasn’t pleased. I sent back a sample of the existing sand in the playground, which everyone liked because it was finer.” The community and the design team finally approved the use of finer grained sand which is much softer to land on.






Cast-in-place concrete edging was used around the perimeter of the play equipment area to keep the sand from spreading. In keeping with the nautical theme—and also as a way of avoiding damage to existing tree roots—a curvilinear design was used to mimic a watery boundary.


Cast-in-place concrete edging was used around the perimeter of the play equipment area to keep the sand from spreading. In keeping with the nautical theme—and also as a way of avoiding damage to existing tree roots—a curvilinear design was used to mimic a watery boundary.

When placing the swings, the team decided to have them straddle both the sand area and the surfaced area. “It’s easier for parents to stand on the soft surfacing behind the toddler swings and push,” said Whisenant. “Older kids can get on the swings placed in the sand area and push themselves.”






The Kompan play structures are not only usable by children with disabilities, but also very accessible for the toddler set as well. The slide is a perfect in-between size so it is fun for everyone. The ship design also lends itself to a great deal of imaginative play.


A Happy Conclusion

The last challenge they faced was that the community, once having seen the plans, had only one thing to say. “Hurry up and finish!” With the help of the contractor, Ryco Construction, they finished in record time.






Whenever possible they used diehard planting material because maintenance money is hard to come by. Blood red trumpet vine mixed in with the royal trumpet vines was planted along the fence by the creek.







When placing the swings, the team decided to have them straddle both the sand area and the surfaced area. “It’s easier for parents to stand on the soft surfacing behind the toddler swings and push,” said Whisenant. “Older kids can get on the swings placed in the sand area and push themselves.”


Now the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks Design Resources and Development Management Department are working on the Tustin Branch trail, which was an old Southern Pacific Railroad right of way. It hooks up with the Esplanade trail, which comes down from Fairhaven Avenue to 17th Street and will be 1.36 miles of uninterrupted trail right through Tustin. Building it will be a challenge because they have a 50-foot right-of-way of which 40-feet has two easements for a oil line. The oil line links up to the local marine and military bases and that carries their jet fuel. Now that’s a challenge, but again, everyone can hardly wait for it to open.






Once a Playground, Always a Playground.






This same piece of land was essentially the front yard of a Ranch in Orange County, Calif. Originally settled in 1915. it was owned by Upton Grant Holderman. The family grew oranges, walnuts and apricots. Their children played here, year after year, and made use of every avenue for their imaginations by creating toys and play structures with whatever they could find. There were walnut and orange trees to climb, camp-outs in the windbreaks, a creek to explore and no end to the flights of fancy that only children can achieve. The Holderman family donated the land for the park, and the original playground was built in the 1970s. Though not involved in the design of the new park, the family wanted this plaque to be displayed prominently on the site. It was, and it speaks for itself!






Eugene Holderman, son of Upton Grant, in the field across from the ranch house where Holderman Park and playground is now. In 1918, this was his playground as a boy, and 17th Street is in the background with a bridge over the same creek seen above.
Photos courtesy of the Holderman Family







The Holderman house, c. 1917 or 1918. Drinking water was piped to the house by the Red Hill Water Company, and irrigation water was piped in from the Santa Ana River.







Still dirt roads, 17th street and Holt Avenue looking east in 1917. Electricity had arrived as you can see from the pole, but it was a 240-volt line, too large to use in the house at the time.







First Street lined with Lombardy Poplars, was laid out by Columbus Tustin between 1868 and 1872, and was still unpaved until cars became much more prevalent.







Lloyd Grant Holderman, Eugene’s brother, in their homemade locomotive, “The Tustin Flyer” in the wagon yard at the ranch, c. early 1920s. The boiler was made from a nail keg, and the cab from an orange field box. The orange orchard and the windbreak their father had grown to protect the trees is in the background.







Upton Grant Holderman, in the orange grove, c.1915 with his mule team.







Eugene on his uncle Dana Lamb’s ranch, posing in front of a giant paper mache orange for a “public relations” photo to promote Dana Lamb’s Orange Marmalade—a business venture that never came to fruition (no pun intended).







Eugene standing in the entrance drive with his “goat cart.” The ditch running alongside 17th street had two 16-inch concrete pipes covered with dirt to capture runoff.







The grandparent’s house in Tustin showing Eugene’s father as a little boy, c. 1893.







Eugene’s brother Lloyd holding kittens in front of their 20- by 4-foot walnut drying trays, c. 1926. The walnuts were left out for about a week, and had to be raked every day. At night, the canvas drapes were pulled over the trays to keep them dry.







Prospect Avenue in Tustin—still a dirt road—lined with eucalyptus trees. Columbus Tustin, a carriage maker from Northern California, founded the city in the 1870s on 1,300 acres of land from the former Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.







Eugene Holderman across from the house with his scooter on the edge of where the Holderman Park’s entrance is now located, c. 1925. By this time, 120-volt lines were brought in to the house, but prior to that, they had a kerosene stove and lamps, with a wood fire space heater.







Eugene’s mother, Mina, wearing her Red Cross uniform for winding bandages at the church during World War I. In the window behind her are the four stars representing the four family members who were fighting, among them her brother-in-law Nelson Miles Holderman, captain of The Lost Battalion.







Eugene in front of the Holderman’s big barn with an unhitched, mule drawn wagon holding empty field boxes. The long narrow wagon could fit between tree rows without knocking any oranges off. The large parasol clamped at the top kept pickers in the shade as they moved down the rows.

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December 6, 2019, 12:47 pm PDT

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