McEnery Park

San Fernando at Guadalupe River
San Jose, CA

Submitted by: Brooke Willard

A small, safe, downtown urban park that has many layers of activity and identity.

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Why It Works

McEnery Park is 1.2 acre park nestled between the Adobe Corporation headquarters and the Guadalupe River Park in Downtown San Jose. The park invites diverse users, provides convenient and picturesque transition to other destinations within the City, and easy accessibility by both public transit and pedestrian traffic. A welcoming event for children of all ages. What sets McEnery Park apart is the design focuses on archetypal water elements which celebrate it’s prominent adjacency to the Guadalupe River: from the mysterious ‘source mist’ in Mount Umuhunum, to meanders, sandbars, braided channels, fish ladders and irrigation diversion channels and finally to its disappearance into the City.

The design of the park provides an open space amenity to both families and the surrounding business community. Its features include sunny and shady areas with ample options for seating, mounded grassy areas providing climbing and tumbling opportunities, picnic tables floating along a meandering path on ‘rafts’ of colored concrete, bright colored concrete pavers that teach counting and measurement, colorful children’s play areas, three interactive water features for cooling off in the summer, braids of low growing plants, sedges, rushes, and other moisture loving species weave through the space and kinetic public art features throughout the site. A central meandering path links all park elements and provides the desired diagonal through-movement from the Downtown to the Guadalupe River Park.

The landscape architect designed three water features that celebrates and interprets water and the river: The ‘Mist Fountain’ celebrates the mysterious river source in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The multiple jets spray against large vertical boulders providing a refreshing experience on hot summer days and is illuminated at night. The ‘San Bar’ play area celebrates the low character of the river. Water well up from one concrete fish latter and drain into the sand. The ‘Diversion Channel’, lined with bright colored stone, will recall the use of river water for irrigation in the Santa Clara Valley. Its flow will be animated by ‘fish ladder’ weirs, which tell the story of the return of the salmon to the Guadalupe River.

The public artwork is composed of 12 sculptures that reflect the wildlife of the river. One of the main sculptures in the series, the dragonfly, referencing the element of water, as well as the health of the river and its ecological systems.

The sculptures are intended to reawaken the relationship to the wind, sun, and water, the fundamental source of life in this urban park. The sculptures are also to celebrate the Guadalupe River that gives life to the flora and fauna and people of San Jose.

What Makes McEnery Park a Great Place?

This place connects with it’s surrounding in a literal and conceptual way. The landscape design and artwork work together to celebrate the heath of the Guadalupe River that until recently was suffering extinction. The insect sculptures create a dynamic vertical element viewed from the park ground, the street, and the near-by buildings. The large boulders that punctuate the vertical water feature create a visual transition from the natural creek environment to the urban environment. The horizontal water feature, again inspired by the flowing water extends from one end of the park to the other. Along this “creek” are water elements that are highlights for young children to play and cool off after they have enjoyed the children’s playground.

The park can be entered from any direction. Three gateways signify formal entries from the street, the trails and the business district. Informal entries are apparent along the edge of the park. The park is set against the Guadalupe River along a relatively busy pedestrian thoroughfare. This links the park to the Children’s Discovery Museum, The San Jose Museum of Art, The HP Pavilion, Center for Performing Arts, the downtown shopping and business district, and the bay area trail system, cyclist have access via the trail from any part of the city. For pedestrians, it is on a direct route to the CalTrain and VTA Light Rail station, both a few blocks away. A bus stop is conveniently located on the west side of the park. The Prep school across the street has no campus for outdoor activities. This park has become an extension of their campus for various activities and celebrations year round throughout the day and evening.

The first impression is one of a welcoming, friendly, fun, and safe place to be where people of all ages and backgrounds appear to be enjoying active and passive activities. The park catches the eye of most passers-by because of the whimsical public art sculptures, the vibrant water features, and the colors used all over the park.

Adjacent to the park is Adobe Inc, headquarters, a large software company with several thousand employees. The employees use the park on a daily basis to enjoy lunch, take a break from work, and celebrate company activities. The workout room from their building looks directly over the park as well. During the day, visitors include people of all ages, gender and ethnicity. Often groups come to enjoy the park as well as individuals who want to relax and enjoy the sun.

Across the street is the Downtown College Preparatory High School, a school dedicated to preparing underachieving students who will be the first in their family to go to college. The people that use this park include employees from the surrounding businesses, students, the homeless, seniors, bay area commuters, and families with children of various ages.

Many people use McEnery Park as a meeting place during work, after school, or on the weekend. The park invites people to have fun and enjoy being outdoors. Downtown Prep uses the space for various activities throughout the day. Several of their exercise classes are carried out in the open grass. Recognition and celebratory events take place near the picnic tables. Often the employees from the business district will set up a game of soccer on the grassy area during lunch hour. Students use it for gatherings at the end of their school day, and families make it a favorite stop as a destination while commuters use it as a transitional resting spot towards making ones way to city transit. The high school students gather under the trees to hang out with friends. People are talking laughing and enjoying the park and each other’s company. The community, artwork, landscape design all come together in the special place to create a dynamic lively space that celebrates life.

History & Background

There were many talented people involved in making this park a reality that should be noted; San Jose Redevelopment Agency; The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs; The Office of Cheryl Barton, landscape architects; Nobuho Nagasawa, public artist; and senior landscape architect with the Redevelopment Agency, Martin Flores.

Contact Info:

Martin Flores
Mary Rubin

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