The Orange Grove, a rare remaining patch of the San Fernando Valley’s agricultural past, will be opened up to pedestrian traffic next year as CSUN proceeds with its campus expansion plans.
The planned construction of the Orange Grove Art Walk, included in the campus master plan “Envision 2035,” has been portrayed as a revitalization of the grove, which is located in the southeast corner of campus.
“The purpose of the project is to make the grove more accessible to the college community,” said John Chandler, director of public relations at CSUN, who served on the Envision 2035 planning committee.
The 8- to 10-foot wide Orange Grove Art Walk will connect the new Valley Performing Arts Center, scheduled to be finished in 2009 on the arts lawn west of the grove, with a new parking structure to be built on lot G3, which is northeast of the grove.
Apart from visitors to the University Club and the Orange Grove Restaurant, the grove is not attracting many visitors, in part because of the lack of walkways and its rough terrain.
“It has not been an integrated part of the university,” said Tom Brown, executive director of Physical Plant Management. “It’s just out there.”
Brown planned a meandering pathway going through the grove, which would encourage slower pace strolling typical of a park walk. But a curving path, which is not included in the Envision 2035 guidelines, has been put on hold. The favored plan is a straight walkway that runs parallel with the tree line, which is a more realistic goal considering the limitations of the undisclosed budget.
According to Brown, constructing the walkway will not necessarily displace any trees. The distance between the rows of trees is about 23 feet, making it possible to construct the walkway running between the rows.
Construction will begin in 2007, but the exact placement of the path has not been decided. If the construction follows guidelines included in the Envision 2035 master plan, the walkway will directly extend the existing Orange Grove Walk, which would require the removal of one row of about 20 trees and the relocation of two parabola antennas belonging to KCSN, the campus radio station.
Invasive measures seem unlikely since planning at the pre-construction stage will consider community response and seek consensus from the faculty senate and other parties to avoid opposition, according to Brown.
In the future, Brown said he hopes to make a convincing case for relocating the nearby botanical pond to the center of the grove. This, he believes, would further add to the grove’s appeal but also be an additional source of funding. According to college officials, the new walkway would lead to an overall revitalization of the grove since more resources will be assigned to its maintenance.
“I would give up a few trees if it would lead to more money for maintenance,” said Dr. Robert Gohlstand, a retired CSUN geography professor and founder of the Save the Orange Tree Committee.
Initially, plans had called for a 20-foot wide concrete walkway but were revised to the current proposed design of an 8 to 10 feet wide straight path lined with hedges or low walls and streetlights. The master plan also suggests that the walkway can be developed in accordance with its “art theme” using banners, sculptures, tiled mosaic or engraved panels as “tributes or recognitions of famous composers and artists, including Northridge alumni,” according to the Envision 2035 proposal.
“I had in mind a pleasant walk through the grove which include natural curves that are organic and in tune with the landscape,” said Gohlstand, who will be consulted in the pre-construction planning.
The grove, six acres of Valencia Orange trees planted in 1929, is what remains of the Halverson Ranch. The grove is historically significant since most of San Fernando was once covered with citrus and walnut tree groves, according to Gohlstand. However, the Orange Grove’s existence has not been guaranteed, and few efforts have been made to revitalize it and maintenance has been minimal.
In 1991, the college planned to build a parking structure in its place. In response to the plan, the Faculty Senate and the Associated Students passed resolutions calling for the preservation of the grove. Preserving the grove became official college policy in 1999.
Gohlstand was a key figure in preserving the grove in the early 1990s, when he and other faculty organized the “Feeling Grovey” festival in 1993, which raised $3,000 for a new sprinkler irrigation system. The college is now replacing that sprinkler irrigation system with a new subterranean soaker system that utilizes the original 1920s water canals. The new automatic irrigation system requires less maintenance and is more water efficient.
Maintenance of the grove includes tree trimming, cutting the grass and the removing of dead trees. There is no organized harvesting of the oranges, which are often hard to reach because of the height of the old trees, some dating back to the creation of the grove.
For liability reasons, the university asks people not to pick the fruit, since reaching for the oranges could result in injuries.
Problems in the care for the grove are mainly the result of insufficient funding. According to a September 2005 Sundial article, numerous gaping holes from removed trees that officials said would be replaced with new trees in time for the May 2006 commencement remain empty.
“The grove is not as well taken care of as it should be,” said Gohlstand, who argued that the oranges would taste sweeter if the trees were watered better.
“Until we tie the grove to campus operations, it will always be just a grove,” Brown said.