Under the branches of a citrus tree on a mossy rock in Aldrich Park is a bronze plaque marking the birthplace of Irvine.
Thousands pass by every day, but few know that this very place was chosen as the center of UC Irvine six decades ago – and the city that is planned around it. If there is a heart from Irvine it is here.
“Entering this park is like going through a gate,” says lawyer Robert Morrow, who graduated from UCI in 1990. “You leave civilization and suddenly find yourself in the middle of this pure nature.”
The park forms a 19 hectare circle of green hillsides, gardens and trees. And it forms the model for the design of Irvine: a park connected to a school, connected to a village, connected to an open space that extends to the sea.
As it turns out, Aldrich Park is the story of Irvine.
And it starts with the park’s namesake: Daniel Aldrich Jr.
Irvine’s first park
Daniel Aldrich Jr. was the Dean of Agriculture at UC in 1961 when he was asked to create Chancellor of a new UC campus in a pasture at Irvine Ranch.
The idea was to build a campus as the centerpiece of a new “City of the Intellect” – the future city of Irvine.
Aldrich said yes and started working with famous architect William Pereira, who created a master plan for the campus and the city. Together, they explored the 1,000 acres the Irvine Company made available to UCI for $ 1 and noticed a ledge in a pasture. That is our central point, said Aldrich.
Pereira designed a circular park around this rock, from which emerged a campus of concentric rings – a metaphor for knowledge spreading around the world.
Aldrich then began to transform this barren landscape into an urban forest. He germinated seeds in greenhouses and fog rooms at UCLA and started a UCI nursery to grow native and exotic seedlings.
Today, Aldrich Park features 51 species of trees, some over 30 meters tall, and is Irvine’s first park.
“From the outset, our founders envisioned a new paradigm of public-private partnership, so the Campus Master Plan and the City of Irvine Master Plan were designed as a unit,” said UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman. “That was the beginning of everything.”
City of the intellect
Universities are known for their central locations. Think Harvard or Dartmouth. But none of them have what UCI offers: a huge circular park as the core, which is surrounded by all of the university’s major disciplines.
“Aldrich Park makes us feel different from almost any other university,” says Timothy Bradley, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who has taught at the UCI for 39 years. “Whenever you go from one building to another, you are in this natural environment.”
Some call it a natural breathing space. Some call it a melting pot of ideas and cultures. Others call it a magical world of exotic trees, sculptures, and rock gardens.
Early plans included a 300 foot high bell tower, which was essentially called “The Centrum”. But that made way for the preservation of the original rocky outcrop known as Aldrich Rock Garden.
There you will find a plaque dedicated to Aldrich in the shade of a citrus tree. It is reading:
“May these rocks be viewed in such a way that the right man came here at the right time and made such a permanent place out of this bare ground.”