District 7 Vacant Lot Transformed Into Community Garden
The parcel was unused for decades, though it had to be regularly mowed and watered. Now itâ€™s a beautiful botanical refuge enjoyed by a grateful community.
The sprawling house that once stood at Pasadena Avenue and Arlington Drive in Pasadena was purchased and razed by District 7 decades ago for the Long Beach Freeway (I-710) extension. But with the project on hold, the three-acre lot remained vacant since 1967.
Fast forward to 2002. Chief of Property Services Linda Wilford was looking for ways to work with cities to find innovative uses for Caltrans property with untapped potential, like the empty lot on Pasadena Avenue.
Kathleen Woods, administrator of the Parks and Natural Resources Division of the Pasadena Department of Public Works, suggested turning the lot into a community garden. It was precisely the kind of project Wilford had in mind.
In 2003, Caltrans leased the lot to the City of Pasadena for $100 per year for five years. This interim-use lease has since been extended for an additional 10 years â€• with the understanding that the garden is temporary. Caltrans retains the right to reclaim the land if and when it needs it. In the meantime, it’s a win-win arrangement: The community gets a beautiful garden, and Caltrans no longer has to mow and water the vacant lot.
“I’m happy, they’re happy, everyone’s happy,” said Wilford. “Transportation is our focus, but this was a good opportunity to beautify the property. The land wasn’t used before, and now it’s a garden.”
And oh what a garden! The formerly underutilized patch of land is now a water-wise Mediterranean botanical wonderland brimming with 1,500 plants and trees, including palm trees, an orange grove, olive allée, lavender garden, poppies, pepper trees, trellised roses, bougainvillea and lemon trees. The garden also features inviting chairs, tables, benches and umbrellas, all made possible by donations. A solar-powered tiered fountain has been installed, and the irrigation system will be converted to solar power this summer.
“One idea grew into the next. It has really exceeded all our expectations,” said Charles McKenney, a key player in the lot’s transformation who lives next door. “It’s a fantastic place for people to come and escape the hurly-burly.”
The garden is maintained and supported by the nonprofit group Arlington Garden with help from local residents, the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation, the Pasadena Public Works Department and Pasadena Water and Power.
“I think it’s wonderful that Caltrans said we could go ahead and do this. Creating this garden has been extremely gratifying and rewarding,” said McKenney.
Arlington Garden isn’t the only community garden growing on District 7 land. Caltrans has a similar arrangement with the City of Los Angeles at Lowell Avenue and Huntington Drive in El Sereno, and there could be more in the future.
“I’ve made offers to cities along the corridor, letting them know that we’re open to ideas, whether it’s a pocket garden or something else,” said Wilford. “I really believe that working together we can do great things.”