ALAMEDA -- The words "In Memory of My Dumb Friends" on the concrete bench at Jackson Park have given rise to at least one urban myth and caused plenty of passersby to wonder what prompted the inscription.

"A lot of people have no idea what it means," neighbor Denise Shelton said. "They ask, 'Why was it put there?' Who were the dumb friends?'"

The inevitable confusion is exactly why Shelton and others want to save the 16-foot-long bench, which until recently city officials were considering demolishing because of the damage it sustained when a palm tree fell on it during a wind storm.

"It's Alameda," resident Jack Mingo said. "This bench is not something you will see anywhere else. It's one of those 'only-in-Alameda' kind of things."

From left, Jim Manning, Denise Shelton, and Jack Mingo are part of a new citizens group working to save the Isabelle Clark Memorial Bench in Jackson Park
From left, Jim Manning, Denise Shelton, and Jack Mingo are part of a new citizens group working to save the Isabelle Clark Memorial Bench in Jackson Park in Alameda, Calif. on Monday, May 5, 2014. The Save the Bench group has begun circulating a petition to ensure the Isabelle Clark Memorial Bench is repaired and restored rather than demolished. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

The inscription was put there by Isabelle Clark, who lived across from the park and donated $500 in 1920 to build the bench as a memorial for her husband, George Clark.

"She was a lifelong animal lover," Shelton said. "Those were her 'dumb friends' because they couldn't speak."

Designed by Myrtle Wallace Maillot, the bench once featured a water trough that was likely for birds, dogs and cats.

The Alameda Recreation and Park Department has agreed to contribute $5,000 toward the $15,000 needed to restore the bench, while a citizen's group formed by Shelton, Mingo and others is collecting donations to raise the rest of the money.


Advertisement

Known as "Save the Bench," the group is off to a good start: Eric Gantos, owner of the Hot Rod Shop Inc., has given $1,000 and the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society is expected to contribute $500.

Kate Pryor of Tucker's Ice Cream on Park Street is working on a new ice cream flavor, with the proceeds going toward the restoration.

The work will include replacing the two pathways that lead to the bench, fixing cracks and restoring the inscription, which the tree partly crushed when it fell in November last year.

The costly bill to repair the damage was why city officials suggested getting rid of the bench and replacing it with a smaller, standard-sized bench with a memorial plaque to Clark.

What also put the bench's future in doubt was that police consider it a magnet for teenagers, who hang out and sometimes smoke and drink, write graffiti and cause other problems. The bench's 4-foot-high back and crescent design can conceal them from neighbors and passing patrol cars.

The city's Recreation and Park Commission initially mulled over what to do with the bench in March, but put off a decision after the park department's Executive Director Amy Wooldridge said she wanted time to research options.

The commission approved restoring the bench earlier this month after approximately 1,000 people signed a petition asking for it to be saved.

Some Alameda residents think Jim Morrison of the rock group The Doors donated the bench as tribute to his former classmates at Alameda High School, which he briefly attended in the 1950s.

"It's an urban legend," Shelton said. "The bench was here long before Jim Morrison arrived. It's one of those things that gets passed on and that people believe."

Shelton has contacted the Native Sons of the Golden West, which works to preserve California history, about possibly installing a plaque at the bench.

"People could then read about the inscription and what it means," she said. "They could learn a little bit of Alameda's history."

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.

To help
Anyone wishing to make a donation to help save the Jackson Park bench can visit www.savethebench.org.