It is a small park that has its advantages for looking out on the adjacent Ballona Wetlands, but some local environmentalists say they would like to see Titmouse Park in Playa del Rey be upgraded to highlight its connection to the wetlands, starting with a new name.

The pocket park, located on Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey, is in a spot that allows visitors to gaze upon the nearby wetlands but the park’s name is out of place in the local environment, some community members and environmentalists say. The park is named after a species of wildlife — the titmouse, a small songbird, not a mouse — but the bird is native to mountainous regions and not the habitat of the Ballona Wetlands, environmentalists note.

“We think that it’s a real window to the wetlands and we want the park’s name to reflect that connection to the wetlands,” said Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute.

Not only is the park named after a bird that is not found in the area, but the name “Titmouse” and stories about how the park came to be called that have been considered offensive to some, according to the Ballona Institute.

Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, a biologist with the Ballona Institute, recalled hearing a story that some men who worked at stores adjacent to the park put up a “Titmouse Park” sign as a way to “play a joke” on some women’s groups that were working to restore the area as a park at the time. Van de Hoek said he was “irritated” at hearing the story.

“I was appalled when I heard the story,” said Thea Geller, president of the Playa del Rey Neighbors Association.

But Bud Harris, who owned a sign shop next to the park for 27 years and took part in erecting the Titmouse Park sign, denied the claim that the name was meant to make fun of the women’s group effort.

Harris, who now lives in Venice, said he got the idea for the sign from a sticker that was in a local Playa del Rey restaurant in the 1970s that said “Save the Titmouse.” He remembered seeing mice coming from the park area and assumed it was a mouse’s name but only later learned that it was in fact that of a bird.

“I think if there’s someone who gets that upset about a name and wants to go through all the effort, then God bless them,” Harris said of the effort to change the name.

However Titmouse Park got its name, Ballona Institute environmentalists and other community members say that it’s time the park be called something else. The Ballona Institute plans to work with the offices of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, as well as the city Department of Recreation and Parks, in the effort to get a new official park name.

Rosendahl said he applauds “everyone’s interest in that piece of land” and the plan to make it a more vibrant park. Sophia Pina-Cortez, Department of Recreation and Parks West Region superintendent, had not returned phone calls seeking comment at Argonaut press time.

While Ballona Institute staff have not yet settled on the new name, they say they would like one that is accurate or in some way relates to the wetlands, and is not offensive. Ruth Lansford, president of the group Friends of Ballona Wetlands, suggested a new title that incorporates Ballona, such as the “Ballona Gateway Park.”

“It’s right next to the wetlands and it’s a pretty addition to Culver Boulevard,” Lansford said of the pocket park.

Van de Hoek said it’s important that the park’s name be accurate because people inquiring about the titmouse will learn that it is not native to Ballona.

“I think words have meaning and make people ask a question,” van de Hoek said.

If people are adamant about having the park be named after a wildlife species, then van de Hoek suggests names of species that can be found in the area, such as “Great Blue Heron” or “Pacific Pocket Mouse” park.

Ballona Institute staff say that the renaming is an important part of the overall makeover of the park to make it more “inviting.” The park has not been heavily used over the years and has been somewhat neglected, according to the organization.

Ballona Institute kicked off the makeover effort by helping to remove the invasive plant Arundo donax from the park during the city’s Day of Service March 15th.

Among other plans to upgrade the park are fence repair for protection of the wetlands, a mural depicting the connection to nature, and the planting of native plants. The group also plans to install an observation deck with a telescope to look out on the wetlands.

“I think it’ll be a beautiful opportunity for the public and it will be a win-win for nature and wildlife,” van de Hoek said of the makeover.

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