Neal Petties today
Former SDSU and NFL football star Neal Petties today.

A potluck gathering Saturday afternoon at Mountain View Park will commemorate Black History Month, but it’s also a celebration of the 11-acre park’s historic importance to the Black community in San Diego. 

The park’s history begins in 1894 when the land was purchased by the city of San Diego and later dedicated as a park in 1914. 

Mountain View sits in the southeastern section of San Diego, bordered by Mount Hope Cemetery. The neighborhood became known as Mountain View because of its views of San Miguel Mountain to the east.  

San Diegan Jeffrey Hayes, who might well be the park’s biggest fan and ambassador, describes the park as “a unifying place, a community park for Black families.”

Hayes said many Black families moved into this neighborhood early in the 20th century. He recalled his grandmother was one of the founders of the church at Oceanview Boulevard and 32nd Street. And his grandfather worked in the shipyards. Both were from Mississippi; other family members migrated from Arkansas.  

Over the years the park became a special place for his family as it did for many other community residents. The park and its community center were focal points for the neighborhood because of special events that involved community members. 

It became well known in the 1960s for car shows, and its popular tennis courts, which might include someone like the Police Chief Bill Kollender hitting ground strokes.

But what made the park special was a former NFL player who became a hero to Hayes and many other young men in the community. Neal Petties was a Baltimore Colts player in the 1960s and before that a record-setting wide receiver at San Diego State University.

Petties was out of football and working as a supervisor in the city’s parks and recreation department when he took the park under his wing, making it a welcoming place for kids to go, recalled Hayes. Petties is still alive. but suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

“He was like a life coach for all the kids around here,” said Hayes. “Mr. Petties was respected by everyone and would stand in for working mothers in the neighborhood, helping kids who had no fathers in the house.”

“He showed us kids how to be kids and have fun because at that time it was a  real struggle around here for the Black community,” said Hayes.

Petties would bring in bands to play at the park to provide the entire community with a place to go and meet up with others.

Jeffrey Hayes
Jeffrey Hayes cleans the base of the “Black Family” statue.

“Mr. Neal Petties is a big legend in this community and should be honored” somewhere in the park, said Hayes. But for now, Hayes is focused on another project in the community.

Martha Zapata, a representative for San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, said the city is working with Hayes to fund the replacement of a statue that once stood at 40th Street and Oceanview Boulevard.  

Dedicated in 1974 and named “Black Family,” the artwork featured four figures standing six feet tall at the highest, representing a husband, wife and two children. It was created by artist Rossie Wade in the style of a traditional African wood carving. 

The brick and mortar base remains but the entire wooden statue is gone. Zapata said her office is helping Hayes by looking for funding and notes that “he is really motivated, trying hard. I wish we could help him more.”

But Hayes’ wish list for the park doesn’t end with replacing “Black Family.” He’s trying to have Mountain View Park designated as a “regional park” to receive the additional funding he believes it deserves as a centerpiece for the community.

“I’m a native, from right here,” he said. “And I’ve seen things in the park which have inspired me.” The park must continue in its important role, he said, because “the only way we can make it better is by having unity and strength.”

JW August is a San Diego-based broadcast and digital journalist.