Originally published in the July 6, 2016 print edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger
West Sacramento has a brand new park, and on Friday, June 24, it was made official at a ribbon-cutting ceremony where the family of the park’s namesake Joseph “Joey” Lopes shared stories about the famous boxer who called the area home during his life.
The park, which is the 35th park in the city, is located next to the Parkside Apartments along Sycamore Avenue off of West Capitol and features a newly-installed piece of artwork, which was created by Denver, Colorado artist Michael Clapper.
The $70,000 art structure— which Clapper says represents “fighting for community”—was approved by the City Council on Jan. 13 with Clapper’s piece being chosen over 75 other submissions after the City of West Sacramento’s Arts, Culture & Historic Preservation Commission, the Yolo Arts Council, city staff and others gave input.
The park cost $8.2 million to install and features a garden, benches, picnic tables, water fountains, two playgrounds, — one each for younger and older children — a basketball court and plenty of walking paths and green grass. The park has several trees as well, but it’ll be a while before they provide any shade. In the meantime, there are two shade shelters located at each end of the park.
Superintendent of West Sacramento Parks & Ground Sam Cooney explained that the project has been in the works for six years.
“It’s been a long time in the making,” said Cooney. “The state awarded the city $4.1 million and then we put in matching funds.”
Schmidt Design Group Principal J.T. Barr added that the park’s design incorporated a lot of feedback from the residents of West Sacramento.
“The design really started with the inspiration of the community,” said Barr. “All of the forms and structures, the walkways [were] really inspired by West Sacramento and the agricultural heritage that is here, so we really wanted to embrace the community and express that in the park, so the park really becomes a reflection of the community.”
The ceremony began at 10 a.m. with a few words from West Sacramento City Manager Martin Tuttle, who thanked the landscapers, city inspector and project manager among others who worked on the park.
“What we do in West Sacramento is we take local money and we go out and find other money to match with it,” said Tuttle. “That’s how we’re able to do great things for the city.”
Tuttle then introduced City Council Member Chris Ledesma, who spoke about the park and the collaborative effort it took to complete.
“As many of you know, this site, for a long time, was an eyesore,” said Ledesma as children played with bubbles and ran around in the grass area just behind where the audience of approximately 100 West Sacramento citizens, Lopes family members and city leaders was seated. “And now look at this 4 acres we’re sitting on today. Congratulations to everybody who had a hand in this.”
Ledesma went on to say that just as it took the entire community to design and implement the park, it’ll take the entire community to keep it clean, safe and welcoming in the years to come. He then announced a new park watch program, designed to cut down on vandalism and crime, which will be headed up by West Sacramento PD Officer Warren Estrada.
“It’s up to all of us to keep an eye on this park and it’s up to all of us to work with the police department to make sure we maintain this park and keep the spirit of Joey Lopes going,” said Ledesma.
Ledesma then introduced Silvestre Gilmete Jr., the nephew of Joey Lopes, who called up several other family members before beginning his speech about his uncle’s impact. A hometown hero who lived near Sycamore all of his life, Joey Lopes was a boxer in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.
Lopes always wore his name and the words “West Sacramento” on the robes he wore to the ring and made sure that everyone knew he was from West Sacramento, not Sacramento. He competed at the Memorial Auditorium and the world-famous Madison Square Garden among many other venues.
In 1948, Lopes was selected for the U.S. Olympic boxing team and he went on to fight in two championship matches, one with the Lightweight Championship up for grabs (1957) and the other for the Super Featherweight Championship (1961) . Following his retirement, Lopes was a community leader, working for the West Sacramento Sanitary District, the West Sacramento Optimist Club and the West Sacramento Babe Ruth Baseball League.
The park’s art features a silhouette of Lopes with his arm reaching out in a boxing punch and will light up at night as the sun sets behind it. On the flipside of the structure is a map of the West Sacramento area.
After Gilmete Jr. thanked the city and everyone involved on behalf of the family, shared some history of his uncle and introduced longtime friend Raul Deanda, who told some stories about his friend’s illustrious career and life’s journey, the ceremony ended with the cutting of the ribbon and loud cheers and applause from everyone in attendance.
As children filled the playgrounds, shot hoops at the basketball court and continued to run around the grassy areas, adults snapped photos of the artwork and the park while others enjoyed snacks and conversation.
Gilmete Jr. expressed the gratitude of his family for the city naming the park after his uncle.
“This is a tremendous honor,” said Gilmete Jr. who explained that the
family petitioned to have the park’s name changed from Sycamore Park to Joey Lopes Park after learning it was being installed, a motion that was met with a unanimous
decision from the city. “My uncle was about his community and it being so close to where he lived as a kid and as an adult and to see that this park incorporates a playground
for children to be able to enjoy, half-court basketball for any age to enjoy and the community garden with my grandparents [having had farmland nearby], it’s just incredible.”
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