HARBOR CITY - 01/05/2013 - (Staff Photo: Scott Varley/LANG) Residents in the unincorporated community of Del Aire turned out for the re-opening of Del Aire
HARBOR CITY - 01/05/2013 - (Staff Photo: Scott Varley/LANG) Residents in the unincorporated community of Del Aire turned out for the re-opening of Del Aire Park after a $4 million facelift. Money was used to renovate the gym, community center, ball fields, lighting, fencing and irrigation. A 27 fruit tree orchard was also planted for people to enjoy. As the ceremony continues nearby, Leyla Fawn Castellanos, 3, couldn't be bothered as her grandfather, Jose Castellanos, pushes her in a swing. (SCOTT VARLEY)

It was, as one speaker put it, a time to celebrate, but also a time to commemorate.

The celebration Saturday was to mark the opening of a new public fruit garden at Del Aire Park in unincorporated area near Hawthorne - the first of its kind in the state - as well as $4 million in park renovations. | PHOTOS

The commemoration was the unveiling of a plaque that will be placed at the updated park's flag pole. The simple marker dedicates the flag to Daniel Patrick Cagle, a local soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2007.

"Today has been the culmination of a lot of good work and a lot of hard work," said Mark Ridley Thomas, the county supervisor who oversees the unincorporated area.

The renovation project was the idea of the Del Aire Neighborhood Association. President John Koppleman - is known around town as the "Prince of Del Aire" - said the park had grown old and tired. The community center hadn't seen any changes since it opened in 1960. The ballfields were swampy. The playground was outdated.

"It was so run down, it really needed help," he said.

But after several years of gathering funds and planning, he could barely recognize the park he has come to love.

"It evolved into this," said Koppleman as he surveyed the area at 12601 Isis Ave.


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"It's a really nice park."

Several members of Cagle's family were on hand for the ceremony. Cagle was 22 when a bomb exploded while he was on patrol near Ramadi on May 23, 2007. His mother, Gail Johnson-Roth, said she was happy her son was finally being recognized, especially since other nearby towns have already done similar things.

"It's very bittersweet," she said Saturday. "This was his neighborhood park. He would be extremely humbled to know what the community did today.

HARBOR CITY - 01/05/2013 - (Staff Photo: Scott Varley/LANG) Residents in the unincorporated community of Del Aire turned out for the re-opening of Del Aire
HARBOR CITY - 01/05/2013 - (Staff Photo: Scott Varley/LANG) Residents in the unincorporated community of Del Aire turned out for the re-opening of Del Aire Park after a $4 million facelift. Money was used to renovate the gym, community center, ball fields, lighting, fencing and irrigation. A 27 fruit tree orchard was also planted for people to enjoy. Following the ceremony, children, including 1-year-old Zannah Luna, create art projects in the mulit-purpose room. (SCOTT VARLEY)
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When she was introduced to the crowd, she offered a three-word ode to her son.

"Rock on, Daniel!" she said before returning to her seat.

There's no fruit to pick yet, but as the plants mature and age, people will be able to freely gather grapes, peaches, plums, apricots and more. In addition to the 27 trees that were planted in the park, another 60 were scattered along nearby streets.

"People will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor," Koppleman said.

The burgeoning garden was the work of Fallen Fruit, a collective of artists and college professors that hopes to see the idea expand to other places.

"There's no sculpture, there's no water feature and no stamped concrete," said Fallen Fruit member Austin Young. "It's very simple. But at its core, it's about sharing."

The garden currently consists mostly of a few saplings, but Young said that will change soon.

"It doesn't look like much, but in a couple of years, there will be bushels of fruit to share."

While speeches were being made at a podium, children were already testing out the new play equipment behind them.

"It looks 10 times better that it was before, said Lawndale resident Nikki Irahim, while her young son and niece climbed over a jungle gym. "It's really neat. They did a really good job here."

josh.grossberg@dailybreeze.com

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