Park History

Originally created as Las Positas Park, and briefly known as Las Positas Friendship Park, the Elings Park that we know today has had some milestone events in its history.

In January of 1965, the old City of Santa Barbara landfill was deemed to be full and was subsequently closed. Founder Jerry Harwin (Recreation Commission Chairman) Michael Pahos (City Park Landscaper), Caesar Uyesaka (member of Recreation Commission) and Foster Pratt (member of both Recreation and Park Commissions) met at the site of the closed Las Positas dump to consider the possibility of converting the 97 acre parcel to recreational use. Over the next 15 years, this vision came to be known as “Jerry’s Dream”.

In the spring of 1965, the search for funds began and Oral Bond, Bill Bertka, Bob Kallman and others joined the pioneers as the first Development Committee to plan an “athletic park”. The landscape architectural firm of Royston, Hanamoto, Mayes and Beck was retained to create the original master plan for park development. George Girvin, a junior member of R,H,M&B, who eventually moved to Santa Barbara to start Girvin and Associates, has been involved with the planning of the park since 1965.

By October of 1972, Phase I was completed and the Tennis Court Complex was opened at a cost of $319,721.

In March of 1977, the city Parks and Recreation Commission approved the development of Las Positas Park into a “major sports and recreation complex”. The County Board of Supervisors concurred, “with reservations” expressed. The City Council voted to concur with the recommendation of Parks and Recreation.

In July of 1980, the Las Positas Park Foundation received non-profit status and Jerry Harwin was elected as the first President of the Board of Directors. Major contributions for Phase II development were received in 1980, including $1.85 million from the Max C. Fleischmann Foundation and a $3 million pledge from the Godric Foundation. In the early eighties, over $7 million dollars was donated to complete Godric Grove, the Wells Fargo Amphitheater and the upper parking lot (1983), the Sam Battistone lower parking lots (1984) and Singleton Day Camp – now Singleton Pavilion – (1985).

In June of 1983, the first wedding took place in Godric Grove. In December of 1984, the Exxon Cross Country Meet, with 140 participants and 100 spectators, was the first public sporting event to be held in Las Positas Park.

On November 17th, 1985, the Grand Opening of Las Positas Park took place with approximately 200 in attendance! In February, 1986, Mayor Sheila Lodge presented Jerry Harwin with the city’s Outstanding Service Award. He was the first recipient of this prestigious award. In 1989, the Park Foundation received the prestigious R.F. MacFarland award at the annual Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table banquet, in “recognition of outstanding contribution to sports in the greater Santa Barbara area”.

In July of 1987, ground breaking ceremonies were held for the Vietnam Veterans Living Memorial, with a “very large crowd” in attendance. The Veterans Memorial Walk and Terrace of Remembrance were completed and dedicated on November 11, 1997, with 1,600 in attendance. The Woods-Claeyssens Foundation was instrumental in its funding.

Later in 1987, the Pannanides Overlook, Pelissero Picnic area, Christ Truth Foundation Overlook, Mission Linen Playground and the Santa Barbara Bank & Trust Memorial Grove were all dedicated.

In September of 1988, the three lighted softball/baseball fields of the Castagnola Complex were opened, at a cost of approximately $1.1 million, with Jerry Harwin throwing out the first ball. Earlier in 1988, “Jerry Harwin Day” was held in the Park to dedicate the Jerry Harwin Parkway as the main roadway through the Park.

In September, 1991, the Park was renamed “Las Positas Friendship Park”, in recognition of a $100,000 donation by the Louise Lowry Davis Foundation. In 1991, the first Summer Camp program was administered by the Park staff.

In 1994 the Foundation agreed to purchase the 133 acres of land adjoining the Park to the south from the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) for $2.5 million, with the Jesuits donating $1 million back to the Foundation. This more than doubled the size of the Park. The First Capital Campaign for Las Positas Park, to raise the funds for this purchase, ended in 1998.

In 1997, the Park officially became an off-leash dog park and the Elings Park Dog Owners Group (EPDOG) was created in 2001.

In 1999, Dr. Virgil Elings, local entrepreneur and philanthropist, donated $1.5 million to complete the purchase of the Jesuit Property and enhance the Endowment Fund. To recognize the generosity of Dr. Elings and other Elings Family members (particularly Mrs. Betty Wells, with a donation of $800,000), the park was renamed Elings Park and the foundation became the Elings Park Foundation. The B.P. Moser Trust also donated $460,000 toward the purchase of the Jesuit property.

In 2001, donations from the Barry Cappello Family enabled the renovation of the Cappello Picnic area and the establishment of the children’s playground located there.

In 2003, Jeff Elings Drive was completed, establishing an entrance to Elings Park South off of Cliff Drive. Two gates and a parking lot were also built with the generous donation of Mrs. Betty Wells, mother of Jeff Elings.

In 2004, the Park separated itself from the city’s softball leagues and began play as the Elings Park Softball League, voluntarily administered by the Santa Barbara Softball Club and its board of directors. Youth baseball came to the Park with the formation of the Elings Park Youth Baseball League. Pine Grove Picnic Area was created near the soccer fields. George Bliss Drive was dedicated to honor the many years of service that George has given the Foundation. In collaboration with the Council on Drug and Alcohol Addiction, artist John Fisher created the Park’s first work of art – the fabulous sculpture “Summit for Danny”, which was placed in the Godric Circle. A “welcome station” was created at the entrance to the Park to greet visitors, give directions and solicit donations. The first Movie Nights with overnight camping were hosted.

In 2005, the Park received a donation of more that $1 million from the Fenton G. Davison Trust. The Fenton Davison Picnic area was created to recognize this very generous gift. Major renovations were completed on the fields of the Castagnola Complex at a cost of $100,000. Significant renovations to Godric Grove and the newly renamed Singleton Pavilion were also completed. The First Annual Santa Barbara Bike Festival was hosted in June, with approximately 1,500 in attendance. The “Summer Series” of 12 events were successfully hosted. The first Annual Report since 1988 was published and well received.