Fairmount Park making a comeback

2008 - Fairmount Park
2008 – Fairmount Park

Arguably Riverside’s most interesting park, Fairmount Park is staging a comeback. After several years of neglect, the city recently completed various park improvements, including new gazebos, picnic tables and playgrounds as well as refurbishing of the boathouse, itself a 1995 replica of the original 1911 boathouse.

One of the most expensive improvements was the dredging of both Lake Evans and Fairmount Lake, which were last dredged in 1983. The city spent $2 million to clean and remove 50,000 tons of silt that accumulated at the bottom of the lakes. Both lakes were then restocked with two tons of catfish.

2008 - Fairmount Lake
2008 – Fairmount Lake

Fairmount Park originated in smaller form as early as 1898 on land near the Santa Ana River on the northwest edge of downtown. But it wasn’t until land donated in 1903 by longtime Riverside businessman S.C. Evans Sr. in which the park of today began to take shape. Evans’ donation allowed for the creation of the park’s first lake — Fairmount Lake.

A major expansion in mid-1911 saw elements from an Olmsted Brothers plan added, including a new roadways, a boathouse, children’s playground, swimming and wading pools, tennis courts, as well as a specific planting plan for the park.

Incorporated into the Olmsted Brothers plan was the exotic water garden that was funded by local businessman, George N. Reynolds, in 1910. Located on the eastern end of Fairmount Lake, the section included a few small islands surrounded by numerous exotic water lilies and lotus plants. The islands were reached via four wooden arch bridges (later replaced). Although at least two bridges remain, damaging floods over the years have wiped out the section. It’s too bad the city found neither the money — nor the will — to replace it.

2008 - Lake Evans
2008 – Lake Evans

A 1924 expansion added another 60 acres, this time donated from S.C. Evans Jr. The additional acreage allowed for the creation of the park’s second lake — the much larger Lake Evans. Future expansions would eventually give the 180-acre park its current landscape that now includes a very small, third lake (Brown Lake).

Hailing from a different era, Fairmount is chock full of old-school park features, including tree canopies, a bandshell, rose garden, lawn bowling club, boathouse, and of course, the lakes. At various times, the park also sported a small petting zoo and amusement area — with a carousel (1947) and later a tiny roller coaster — but these have long-since been removed.

2008 - Plenty of shade
2008 – Plenty of shade

Today, the park is seeing a rebirth thanks in part to the recent improvements funded from the city’s $1.8 billion, 5-year Riverside Renaissance plan.

We’re glad to see the city’s flagship park regaining back some of its former glory.


Correction: The presence of the 1910 exotic water garden has been attributed to local businessman, George N. Reynolds (as opposed to the Olmsted Brothers).

Sources: City of Riverside, Riverside Press-Enterprise, “Colony for California” (Tom Patterson)

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