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Stockton Beautiful: It All Began With Roses!

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By Jeff Gamboni
Photos courtesy of Stockton Beautiful

Stockton Beautiful, a local non-profit agency with a focus on beautification, was founded by Gerry Dunlap and Charles Lester, who were inspired by the sight of wildflowers blooming at the newly begun Brookside neighborhood. They invited two dear friends, Marilyn and Dr. Ross Bewley, to serve on the first board of directors, amongst the other 26 committed volunteers.

Gerry, the club’s first president, was impressed with the roses planted by CalTrans along the highways in Napa County. With her quick wit and winning charm, she quickly raised funds to acquire Meidiland® roses that were planted at our freeway on-ramps in collaboration with the City of Stockton and the Council of Governments.

Gerry Dunlap had other plans, too. By 2002, Gerry was promoting a grand project, the introduction of a civic Rose Garden, something common in other California cities, next to the Haggin Museum. In time, this project would become an overdue replacement for the former Rose Garden that stood where the Holt Wing of the Museum is located. During the ’60s the garden’s remaining roses and ornamental trelliswork were removed to allow for the addition’s construction and were never replaced.

Stockton Beautiful embarked on a multi-year project that included collaboration with the Stockton Rose Society, the City’s Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreation and the City Manager’s Office. The project would grow to include built elements such as the cast stone columns, steel archway, benches and monumental trellis. The project was completed at a cost of over $300,000, which was fully funded by the efforts of the board of directors.

The new Rose Garden, dedicated in 2007, is a showcase of more than 250 different roses, which the club continues to maintain through the efforts of not only board members but also volunteers at large, the Stockton Garden Club and Stockton Covenant Church. Rose enthusiasts meet annually in early January to prune the roses under the direction of Terry Reilly.

Board members were regularly asked to look for significant eyesores in the community that might be worthy of attention. SB cofounder Charles Lester identified two locations on Pacific Avenue that might serve as gateways to the University of the Pacific and Miracle Mile neighborhood, just south of the Calaveras River and just north of Harding Way. He marshalled his committee together and, after a request from Kevin Dougherty, prepared preliminary designs for the development of those two locations including monuments, decorative ironwork and plantings. Resulting from these efforts were sponsorships by the university and the city’s redevelopment agency to fund the projects’ construction documents. Upon the completion of the documents, the city found funding for the shovel-ready project. The resulting improvements have created safe and memorable gateways to this beloved central Stockton neighborhood.

In 2021, the board completed the renovation of the planter in front of the Haggin Museum, where Marilyn Bewley, who died in 2013, tended the annuals. The remaining plants were replaced with significant specimens including the center piece, a Mediterranean fan palm flanked by four Sago palms that introduce structure as well as grandeur. Two new Sago palms are situated in the ornamental urns that greet the visitor at the top of the stairs.

Currently the board is focused on a master plan to renovate the Gerry Dunlap Rose Garden with a view toward replacing roses where necessary, upgrading the irrigation system as necessary, pruning adjacent trees, improving signage and identification for the roses through the creation of an internet-based mapping system.

Who would have guessed that 30 years later Stockton Beautiful would still be working in concert with its allies, members and admirers to enhance our favorite city? Keep up the good work!