Webmaster's note: The following account of the origins of the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates was written by founding member Diane Klein and sent to editor Evelyne Vandersande for publication in The Rattler, the PCNCA newsletter. The "fire" referenced at the end was a wildfire in July 2004 that scorched much of the park property and threatened the Nature Center. "Financially difficult times" refers to the effects of the state budget crisis on the county.
The Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates is a 501c3 nonprofit volunteer group that assists the County of Los Angeles in the operation of Placerita Canyon Natural Area by hosting programs and events, providing docents, supporting the collection of native flora and fauna, teaching school groups about ecology and local history, organizing hikes and promoting and protecting the park for future generations.
In the summer of 1955 I was in charge of a class of 12-year-olds at the Peninsula School in Menlo Park. One of our field trips was to a local junior museum, a positive experience that I deposited in my memory bank. After my husband, Richard, and I moved back to the Los Angeles area and settled in the San Fernando Valley, I joined the American Association of University Women. The question I personally confronted was: Why did we not have a similar facility for children in the valley?
In the early 1960s I presented my concern to the organization and found other AAUW members who were interested and willing to explore the concept. They were Patricia Goodrich, Margaret Myers, Betty Senf and Gloria Van Gieson. At some point we came into contact with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, and there evolved an even better and more exciting concept: a nature study center at the state park at Placerita Canyon.
The mutual goal was to work together to establish a nature study center with ecology exhibits, trails, and a volunteer and docent support organization. The county would build and staff the nature study center. Our PCNCA would participate in the planning and raise funds for the ecology exhibits, as well as develop the volunteer program.
Because of our working relationship with the county, we had the opportunity to participate in the search for an architect for the building. I contacted Richard Dorman, A.I.A., who had been featured on the cover of a Los Angeles Times Home Magazine. He was interested, and we recommended him to the county. Mr. Dorman was selected for the job. Bruce Burdick, an accomplished exhibit designer, was hired to design the ecology exhibits.
Our campaign to raise funds commenced. I knew I was not born to be a fundraiser, but I intended to give the task the "ol' college try." I think that was how we all felt. Somehow we managed to raise $35,000, including about $2,000 from the sale of serigraphs designed by Corita Kent (formerly Sister Mary Corita). One Parks and Recreation staff member, with whom we were working very closely, offered to try to obtain funding from the state license plate fund. He succeeded, and the exhibits became a reality.
I think I have covered most of the essentials of the first 10 years. However, let me conclude with a few bits and pieces that I consider important. Ruth McCorquodale, who worked tirelessly on the project, developed the docent program at the center and also worked on the creation of the countywide Nature Center Associates.
Nick Anderson was the first Placerita Canyon Nature Center director. He was a very pleasant and easy person with whom to work, and led memorable programs for the Associates in addition to developing school field trips, particularly with the Los Angeles City schools.
Corita Kent became interested in photography and created a mural for the nature center for which Frank Hovore wrote a beautiful poem.
Finally, two naturalists who were key to our programs prior to the completion and staffing of the center were Dr. Elizabeth Hone, educator and naturalist, California State University, Northridge; and Barbara Hopper, biologist, Pierce College.
I am grateful to Frank and all of you who have devoted volunteer time to the Placerita Canyon Nature Center and who have persevered during financially difficult times and the danger and trauma of the fire. I am sure that I am joined in this feeling of appreciation by Betty Senf, Gloria Van Gieson, Diane Kreyenhagen, and others who were associated with the Nature Center project in the early years.