Fairmount Park: Riverside, California


In the 100 years since the Olmsted Brothers wrote their 1911 plan for "worthless land" on the edge of a quarry, Riverside's flagship Fairmount Park has gone from premier community park to a center of crime and neglect to a recognized example of excellence in urban park planning and plan implementation.

Designated Area

Located at 2601 Fairmount Boulevard, the park is bounded by the Santa Ana River to the west and Route 60 to the north.

Fairmount Park offers a $2.6 million accessible playground designed to "delight and challenge children." Photo courtesy of the Parks, Recreation & Community Services Staff.

Planning Excellence

By the time the Fairmount Park Citizens Committee organized in 1979 the park was plagued by crime, deferred maintenance, and declining use. The committee came together to respond to these issues as well as proposals that would destroy the park's natural look and features.

In 2011, the City Parks Alliance was able to write that revitalization efforts in Fairmount Park "exemplified the catalytic power of parks to transform urban areas." Once again, park visitors stroll along shady paths, fish and boat on 40 acres of lakes, play with their children, and gather as a community for concerts and celebrations.

Small changes came at first, including volunteer-led clean-ups and stepped-up presence of police and park rangers to deter crime and improve safety. Later, major improvements were undertaken through the ambitious, $1.8 billion citywide program "2006 Riverside Renaissance."

Among the later efforts was a $1.5 million rehabilitation of Fairmount Lake and Lake Evans in 2008, which brought fishing back to these two lakes along with pedal boats and sailing. A $2.6 million universally accessible playground was built in 2010. Considered the "gold standard for inclusion," the playground is designed to delight and challenge all children.

Today Fairmount Park has reclaimed its Olmsted and community legacies, inspiring one resident to brag, "You won't find another park that is as family oriented."

An inventory from 1985 concluded that many of the trees from Olmsted's 1911 plan were still alive. Photo courtesy of the Parks, Recreation & Community Services Staff.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Olmsted Legacy

  • The firm Olmsted & Olmsted hired to write a park plan for Riverside in 1911; entire plan too costly, but many elements implemented including a boathouse (1912), improved entrance (1912), Lake Evans (1924)
  • 1911 plan included passive landscape in the park's historical core to take advantage of surrounding vistas and preserve natural features
  • 1985 tree inventory showed that many trees from 1911 Planting Plan were still alive; Olmsted Planting Plan used to reforest park
  • Park as a whole, and band shell specifically, designated local historic landmarks; planning guided by city's Cultural Resources Ordinance and Historic Preservation Element in Riverside's general plan

Community Legacy

  • Used as a picnic and swim area as early as 1870; dedicated as a 35-acre park in 1898; would eventually be expanded to 245 acres
  • Band shell constructed in 1920 designed by Arthur Benton, prominent Mission Revival Style architect; rebuilt twice after fires in 1986, 1992
  • Union Pacific Engine #6051 memorial installed in 1954 commemorates 50th anniversary of railroad coming to city; Water Buffalo memorial installed in 1946 celebrates Riverside's role in manufacturing World War II vehicle
  • 1912 boathouse reconstructed and dedicated in 1994 as Stewarts Boathouse, in honor of Bob and Pat Stewart, residents who led revitalization efforts
  • Site of 1983 City of Riverside Centennial Celebration
  • Riverside Lawn Bowling Club formed at park in 1926; club still meets and offers free instruction and bowls for beginners
  • Golf course built in 1930, one of earliest public courses in Southern California; still operates
  • Recently revived Friends of Fairmount Park chaired by Pat Stewart


  • Decades of flooding, limited maintenance funding, and crime left park undesirable and poorly visited; major revitalization started in 2001
  • Operation Safe Park, started in 2001, brought together police, Park and Recreation employees, park rangers, and residents to improve conditions; volunteers spruced up park through tree planting and trash clean-up
  • "Smart" irrigation controllers use 40 percent less water
  • Named a "Frontline Park" in April 2011 by the City Parks Alliance for urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship

Volunteers and rehabilitation program funding brought back fishing and sailing on the lake in Fairmount Park. Photo courtesy of the Parks, Recreation & Community Services Staff.


  • In addition to the universally accessible playground, the boathouse is wheelchair accessible
  • Public buses stop at the entrance to the park; sidewalks extend to the park from surrounding neighborhoods
  • Regional Santa Ana River Trail — a multi-use biking, walking, and jogging trail along northern end of park — connects to trails leading to the Pacific Ocean and, in the future, the San Bernardino Mountains