The WNA provides education on regional issues impacting the Willard neighborhood, zoning, public safety, disaster recovery, and the Willard Pool.
We advocate for the Willard Pool and its future reopening, and builds relationships within the neighborhood and with local organizations.
We offer activities and events for our members. Our goal is to provide something for everyone and create a sense of belonging for all.
We are committed to the wellbeing of our neighborhood's residents and have long been active on their behalf. We are dedicated to improving the neighborhood and are unofficial stewards of the park. We strive to bring together people of varied backgrounds to work on projects that affect us all.
The Willard Neighborhood Association is a volunteer group made up of Berkeley residents who live near Willard Park—from Dwight Way to Ashby Avenue and from Telegraph to College Avenue.
Many have picnicked in Willard Park, walked a dog, or watched kids play in the tot lot—but do you know its history of citizen activism?
Willard Park is a beloved community space that has been shaped by the activism of Willard neighbors for over sixty years.
The land that we know as Willard Park today was purchased by the City of Berkeley in 1957. The parcel of land they purchased, at the corner of Derby Street and Hillegass Avenue, held single family homes at the time but was envisioned as a future public park. The city continued to acquire land for the park for over a decade.
By 1969, the Willard Park Citizens Committee was formed to oversee development of the land. These committee members were the park's first advocates and saw that the land was reshaped into a public park. By the summer of 1970, the Committee approved the final drawings for Phase II of the park’s development as a user-developed park for joint use by the City and Willard Junior High School. The following year, in August of 1971, the park was officially dedicated for public recreation.
In the years of the Vietnam War, the park was renamed Ho Chi Minh Park by community activists who opposed the war. The renaming was a powerful reminder of the park's role as a space for community and its ability to organize and advocate for public opinion.
The community quickly embraced the lush, green space. In 1982, the park was named for Frances Willard, a strong supporter of Women's Suffrage and President of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (from 1879 to 1898).
In 1990, dozens of neighbors came together under the guidance of Bill Lipsky as Friends of Willard Park. Lipsky launched the Friends' efforts, organized meetings and work parties, made phone calls, cajoled contributors, found funds—and never gave up.
The Friends wanted to see much-needed revitalization of the park. Over six years, the Friends worked tirelessly on improvements: a new park entrance at Derby and Hillegass, cobble-lined pathways through the park, lighting, trees, restoration of the circular bench—and the young children’s playground, known as the tot lot.
In the final 88 days of the revitalization project, neighborhood volunteers contributed almost 5,000 hours of work.
Work done by Friends of Willard Park shaped the Willard Park we enjoy today. The many people involved included the tenacious Bill Lipsky, landscape architect Michael O’Leary, city staff, UC students, paid contractors, and local businesses. Community members and local businesses donated $53,000 to the effort and $253,000 came from state and county funds.
In the late 1980s, a new group of dedicated citizens came together to form the Willard Neighborhood Association. Their work picked up where Friends of Willard Park left off. The group was led by Gordon Cavana in the 1980s, who saw Willard Park as the beating heart of the neighborhood. He inspired a new group of dedicated citizens to come together who focused on disaster recovery and public safety, running regular disaster recovery drills to educate neighbors and help them prepare for earthquakes, fires, and storms.
A decade later, George Beier took on leading the WNA, and was joined by Vincent Casalaina. Together with dedicated committee members, supporters, and volunteers, the WNA continues to improve the park and neighborhood on behalf of their neighbors.
The WNA tracks initiatives, propositions, and upcoming building projects that could impact daily life in the Willard neighborhood. It has influence at the city-level, as evidenced by its successful efforts to convince the City of Berkeley to agree to a Rapid Bus Plus plan over AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit plan in 2010. This prevented a significant increase in local traffic congestion. The effort involved countless hours of research and public speaking by just a few members on behalf of the neighborhood.
The Willard Neighborhood Association is committed to protecting Willard Park as the “beating heart” of the neighborhood. The WNA ensures that the park is accessible to everyone and that it is a place where people can come together to play, learn, and grow.
Willard Park’s story is still being written, and it is a story that we can all be a part of.
Friends of Willard Park embodies the tradition of community park stewardship toward a fun, safe, clean, multi-use recreation space for our dense, dynamic neighborhood. Our work began in 1990 and has been a crucial part of Willard Park and the neighborhood ever since. In 2022, Friends of Willard Park became a committee under the umbrella of the Willard Neighborhood Association.
Together, Friends of Willard Park and WNA promote and organize volunteerism in the park. We also raise funds for improvements, as needed. We aim to grow a new generation of community leaders in Willard Park.