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Urban Sprawl Finds New Public Space

By Ian Miller, BMLA Director of Marketing

Fontana Park provides a regional and local recreational resource in the rapidly developing Inland Empire of Southern California.

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Fontana Park in the Inland Empire of Southern California showcases a Spanish fountain at the center of a 500-foot long promenade. The fountain is quarried cantera, a stone found throughout the inland regions of central and southern Mexico, the result of lava flows mixed with rock, ash and other volcanic material. It is strong, durable and lightweight. The fountain area hardscape is tumbled interlocking concrete pavers (Ackerstone) of limestone coloring in a random pattern. The promenade links the Aquatic Center to the future sculpture plaza at the southeast corner of the site. The promenade combines formal plantings of Japanese boxwoods and roses, bounded by decorative iron fencing and vine-covered trellised alcoves. The trellises are tubular steel with a powder-coated finish. The columns are constructed of glass fiber reinforced concrete custom made by Quick Crete. The columns have a cultured stone veneer of El Dorado and Cambria stone.

The sweeping contours and curving rows of date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) has a compelling geometry and presents a serene area for picnicking away from the play area.

The needs of all ages are met through multiple activity areas: young children's play area, Aquatic Center, skate park, dog park, roller rink, walking paths, and community promenade. Serving as a new foundation for community events and activities, the park exemplifies the importance of introducing public space into suburban areas.

The city of Fontana is located at the base of the Cajon Pass and subject to high winds, presenting the opportunity for wind sculptures. The sculptures, installed atop ceramic mosaic paving, were designed to withstand 100 mph plus winds.

The last decade has seen active and sprawling infrastructure and residential growth in Southern California. The city of Fontana, located 46 miles east of Los Angeles, experienced major residential expansion. As a result, its communities began to disperse from their historic centers. This created a need to develop some centralizing and unifying elements that were not commercially-driven space, but public space in the truest sense of the word. With 43 acres of varied play area, Fontana Park is that central location for locals from the surrounding residential areas to recreate and to find community.

A chess/checkers game table and the geometry of brightly colored concrete blocks add additional interest to the play area.

Originally conceived as a municipal sports facility, the city of Fontana began by locating an appropriate site in their northern region. Early in the process of programming and conceptualizing the park community leaders and citizens brought to the planning table the idea of bringing to life the philosophy of a local champion for community activity, Jesse Turner. Jesse Turner had long been a beacon for and advocate of sports and athletic activity in the community. As an African-American visionary she cultivated culture of community health through activity that she believed should be experienced by everyone, regardless of social or economic status. With her impact on the culture of the city, the design team set to the challenge of crafting a public space that not only would have activities that would draw interest from the greater region, but also give back to the adjacent communities a sense of cohesion and ownership.

A place marker designed by Hunt Design Group displays the leaf logo and typeface specific to Fontana Park. The signage throughout the park is water-jet cut steel panels with a leaf motif. The ensemble is painted and mounted to steel frames on concrete foundations. The structure in front of the signage is Turkish travertine stone clad onto steel framing. The sign is internally lit by florescent tube fixtures and uplite with in-grade 35-watt halogens (Hadco).

Ultimately what developed was the Jesse Turner Health and Wellness Center at Fontana Park. The campus of public buildings includes the Community Center, which houses indoor basketball, gymnastics, aerobics facilities, computer and learning lab, community gathering rooms and public classrooms. The surrounding park areas are an extension of the Jesse Turner Community Center and include the Aquatic Center, skate park, roller hockey rink, dog park, children's creative play space, and a community promenade.

To the west of the promenade lies the children's play area, designed for imaginative play and access for all ages. The garden theme of this space is accentuated with flower and butterfly fabric structures (Shade Structures) and custom designed and constructed creatures by Quick Crete Products. A giant caterpillar and other oversized creatures are climbed on in the "bug garden." Children speak to each other through talk tubes under the shade of a giant butterfly. The boat-shaped planter wall is constructed of concrete block with a cultured stone veneer and a custom precast concrete cap. The trees on the slope are California sycamores. The shade tree (right) is a coast live oak brought to the site (120-in. box) by Valley Crest Tree Co.

Rethinking How Children Play

The project team envisioned Fontana Park and the Jesse Turner Health and Wellness Center to function as a regional play and activity destination, and also as a community center that gives context to the surrounding residential areas. Part of the evolution of the site design was to reconsider what it means to design a playground and aquatic center, and to try to promote more exploration and discovery than could be found at other regional parks.

Fontana Park includes a half-mile and one-mile walking paths identified by embossed decorative concrete pavement. The iconic leaf design was envisioned by the wayfinding team at Hunt Design as a unifying graphic element tying into the planting of some 838 trees on the site. The larger tree in the foreground left is a London plane. The trees on either side of the walk (foreground) are Ginko Biloba 'Autumn Gold' maidenhairs; the evergreens are Canary Island pines. Site amenities include benches/waste receptacles (Wabash Valley) and concrete trash receptacles (Quick Crete). The San Gabriel Mountains are the backdrop to the north.

The design of the creative play space turns a corner in its approach to children and the activities that they should expect from a public space. In designing the play space, the design team approached the task in a two manners. First, give the children something unique and particular to their local park; second, present children with the opportunity for creative play. This was accomplished through a combination of custom play structures, integrated surfacing and concept variety. Mounded play surfaces allow for tumbling around the "shipwreck" area. The ocean theme entices childhood imagination with whale, dolphin and ship climbing structures. A giant caterpillar and other oversized painted concrete creatures are climbed on in the "bug garden," while children speak to each other through talk tubes under the shade of a giant butterfly.

Bringing All Ages Together

The second aspect of the design was to create an environment not only fun for kids but an aesthetic and enjoyable experience for their parents and older park goers. To this end, a surrealist chessboard seating and game area was designed to key in with the kids play area. The large entry promenade offers resting alcoves and built in trellis elements surrounding a large town square style fountain. The promenade also presents a setting for community fairs and other city events.

Cemrock fabricated the play features in the nautical themed Play Experience. The play elements are sculpted from high-density foam. Beneath the safety surfacing and artistically applied colors and textures is a layer of glass fiber reinforced concrete.

While families congregate around these play areas, the older kids find a place to grind rails at the skate park, join their roller hockey league in the roller rink or meet friends to ride the slide at the Aquatic Center. The Aquatic Center is designed for high school competition, but also gives local residents an opportunity for outdoor gathering and water play activities. The water slides, kids' pool and splash pad areas can be observed from the covered gathering terrace where groups or families can picnic or meet in an informal setting.

These elements are connected by trails and pathways, providing visitors options of long strolls through the varied features, or two jogging and exercise routes, one a mile long, the other a half-mile circuit.

Visitors entering the park from the southwest corner walk between fountains running recycled water through scuppers draining into a river rock catch basin. Coast live oaks stand on either side of the entryway.

Phoenix dactylifera are readily available in the southern California region. The site's porous soil makes them a suitable choice as an accent planting at the Aquatic Center. Marathon tall fescue was planted within the complex to offset the large amounts of concrete decking. It's also a great place for parents to lay out a beach towel while watching their children.

The Natural Site

The location of Fontana Park offered the design team the opportunity to respond to the sites natural elements in unique ways. Steps were taken to ensure that the sites environmental and atmospheric qualities would become its strongest visual attributes. This extremely windy part of the city is characterized by angled trees, shaped by winds forced through the Cajon Pass of the San Gabriel Mountains. The opportunity was taken to harness these winds to create an aesthetic theme. Kinetic sculptors designed wind-driven art for the sculpture garden adjacent to the children's creative play space, adding to the whimsical and playful atmosphere of the site. Proximity to the mountains provided soil high in rock and gravel fragments that were crushed for use on site. This eliminated the need for soil import or export. Bisecting the site is a utilities easement that provided additional opportunities for open areas. Limited by structure restrictions below the power lines, a large open field affords space for unprogrammed play. Exercise paths link the skate park to the community center and pool through this area, and provide an expansive view of the San Gabriel Mountains to the north.

The Fontana Park Aquatic Center features a high-school level competition pool with diving and water polo capabilities. The center also offers twin-spiral water slides, a splash pad and a shallow training pool for water aerobics.

All of the play surfacing is recycled rubber by SpectraTurf. The rubberized play surfacing also covers the concrete mounds, inspired by the designer’s childhood experience playing on snow piles. Bisecting the site is a utilities easement that provided additional opportunities for open areas.

A Community and a Destination

The landscape architect functioned as the primary consultant on the project and was intimately involved at every phase from concept to construction. This oversight allowed for continued attention to detail and production on the park and assured cohesion between architecture and landscape architecture. Fontana Park and the Jesse Turner Health and Wellness Center were completed in 2008 and were a collaboration of the city, the community, designers and consultants. The result was a park that provides access to community programs, a setting for community events, and a place for all ages to come together and play. With its ranging palate of uses and activities, the site has become a suburban town center that is integral to the fabric of a burgeoning residential community that continues to grow.

The vertical bowl is "Awesome, Dude." The designer was Site Design Group. The skate park also accommodates BMX bikes. Spectator viewing areas were provided outside the fence. The park is operated and staffed by contract with an outside vendor.

About the firm

BMLA Landscape Architecture, the lead consultant on Fontana Park, was established in 1987 and has been designing parks and public spaces since 1994. Baxter Miller is the president and founder of BMLA. The firm, located in Corona, Calif., prides itself on a diverse portfolio of projects that includes park master planning, regional park design, streetscapes, urban design and residential design.

Fontana Park Team:

Landscape Architect &
Project Team Leader:

BMLA Landscape Architecture
Baxter Miller

Governing Agency:
City of Fontana

Civil Engineer:
Madole & Associates

John Bates Associates

Irrigation Engineer:
Scaliter Irrigation Engineering, Inc.

Lighting Engineer:
Reedcorp Engineering

Hunt and Associates

Aquatic Designer:
Aquatic Design Group

Skate Park Designer:
Site Design Group

Kinetic Sculture:
Cornermark Fine Art

General Contractor:
Douglas E Barnhart Inc.

Construction Management:

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November 18, 2019, 11:26 am PDT

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