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Pacific Crossroad

Stunning ocean views enhance peaceful site of mission symbol.


For a panoramic view of the Poinsettia City, check out Grant Park in the hills above downtown Ventura. Site of local landmark the Father Serra Cross, the park covers the hills above downtown Ventura directly behind City Hall. From the park, one can see the Avenue area, downtown, the green hills of Taylor Ranch and the traffic on the Ventura Freeway and California 33, not to mention the Ventura River, the pier and the Channel Islands beyond.

It's worth it for the view, and the sunsets are so spectacular that some new adjectives may be needed. It's also a great place to get a first-person surf report, despite the fact that the surf is always great 10 minutes before you arrive at the beach.

Better than all that, a jaunt to Grant Park is an affordable family outing. Unlike a Laker game, which necessitates a second job, a trip to the park is free.

Grant Park is a mostly undeveloped 107-acre park of uneven and partly mountainous terrain, and therein lies its charm. It has no gift shops, pay parking or amenities apart from a restroom, barbecue, picnic areas and a shooting range connected by a two-lane road system. It's often windy, so wear a jacket.

The park has plenty of trees, mostly eucalyptus, California peppers and olive. In a month or two, the colorful results from all the recent rain will be readily apparent when the roadsides through the park turn into dazzling shades of yellow as the annual splash of those California native spring annuals, tidy tips (Layia platyglossa), begin to bloom.

The park is normally accessible from three roads: Summit Drive from the east, Brakey Road from the south and Ferro Drive from the west, although construction has closed Summit, and Brakey is temporarily closed because of a mudslide.

A passion pit for generations of Venturans too cheap for the drive-in, Grant Park is mainly known for the Father Serra Cross. Originally erected on March 31, 1782, to mark the San Buenaventura Mission below and as a guide to those traveling by sea, the cross stood for decades before collapsing of old age. A replacement cross lasted until 1875 when it, too, collapsed during a heavy storm.

The latest of several crosses was restored in 1941 by the Alice M. Bartlett Club for $80. In 1966, the cross was placed on its current dais and illuminated with fluorescent lighting, since upgraded. The surrounding lawn area has a couple of picnic tables and too much litter left by visitors.


Development pressure, so ubiquitous today, was responsible for the site's current status as a park. In the 1880s, some residents wanted to develop a park in the hills above Ventura. To that end, local businessman Kenneth P. Grant, who gave the future park its name, purchased 90 acres of land to be used for a park and observatory, but nothing ever came of the idea. Perhaps telescopes don't work in the fog.

In any case, the park grew sporadically over the years, but its development began in earnest in 1922 when Grant and other local businessmen were responsible for planting trees on the hills.

In 1936, the Ventura City Council, upon recommendation from the Planning Commission, authorized a bronze plaque with the words "Kenneth P. Grant and Wife Memorial Park" to be placed on the archway built on Brakey Road earlier that year. More land was acquired in the '40s and '50s, more trees were planted over the years and the city has been tinkering with the site ever since.

Don't expect any redevelopment action in Grant Park. The site is governed by the General Development Plan of 1971. Since the park has very little level ground, any large-scale grading effort would destroy the integrity of the site. In fact, by law, any development or private-sector takeover attempts would result in the property's reverting to the heirs of the original donors.

"It's going to remain a passive park," said Ventura Parks Manager Mike Montoya. "We are seeking to upgrade the General Plan for the park during this year's budget hearings, but it's going to remain rural."


The park is home to the Ventura Public Pistol Range, in operation since 1957 and open daily, except Monday, at 9 a.m. The range is used by just about every imaginable law enforcement agency and is also open to the public. It offers a variety of classes, an unparalleled view and several different targets in an outdoor setting. The range is also a very convenient place for black-powder shooters (and inexpensive, at $7 a trip).

The noise at the range is self-contained and rarely disturbs visitors to the cross.

Ventura College student Amber Halas knows why she goes to Grant Park.

"It's nice and quiet, even though there's not much to it," Halas said. "The view is great and you can see the whole city and the ocean. You can't even see the ocean when you're driving through town. And it's a good brake check going down."


Grant Park in Ventura, open daily 24 hours. COST: Free. Ventura Public Pistol Range info: 648-4968.

*Bill Locey can be reached by e-mail at

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