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

Mountain View Park has come a ways since its biggest advocate, Jeffrey Hayes, took on the daunting challenge of one day making it as well-known and honored as its neighbor to the east, Chicano Park.

Interest in the park and its history has grown since last February when the Times of San Diego first reported his fledgling effort.

Hayes has become the ambassador for building on ongoing efforts to clean up the 11-acre park in Southeastern San Diego.

Hayes is close to accomplishing a key goal — renaming Mountain View in honor of a hometown hero — Neal Petties.

A star receiver at San Diego State University and later a player for the Baltimore Colts in the 1960s, Petties is credited by Hayes and others with making Mountain View more than just a park. He provided inspiration and guidance for many of the community’s Black children and teens.

The park was a sanctuary for young people, some with no fathers at home and mothers working one or two jobs. 

The park was established in 1914 but was not a priority like other parks in the region, said Hayes. Part of the problem was a reputation that was magnified during a period of “the violence and the drug dealing around there,” he said.

Petties proved to be a stabilizing influence, working for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department after retiring from professional football. He was a good fit for Mountain View and the neighborhood around the park, which became a source of arts and culture under his large wings.

He is fondly remembered for creating youth sports programs, bringing in bands to play and booking car shows for the families.

A number of young men who became professional athletes played in the park, like Kevin Mitchell of the Padres who made a catch with his bare hand that fans still talk about, and Ray McDavid, drafted by the Padres in 1989.

It’s the hope of the community that Petties’ efforts in the 1970s and 80s will soon be formally recognized. The idea of renaming Mountain View park as the Neal Petties Community Park has been approved by the community recreation group, and the proposal will be presented at the April 20 meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Among those advocating for the new name is Marlissa (Mars) Herring, co-chair of the Mountain View Park Coalition. She joined the effort after meeting Hayes in April 2022 when he told her “about his efforts to bring a beloved statue back to the park.

“Mr. Hayes also told me about the park being a gathering place for Black families for decades,” Herring expalined. Other community members have joined Herring in efforts to rename the park.

Hayes has big goals for the park, among them replacing a sculpture that honored Black families. The 1970s-era statue that once stood at 40th Street and Oceanview Boulevard was named “Black Family” and featured four figures representing a husband, wife and two children. It was created by artist Rossie Wade in the style of a traditional African wood carving. 

Mountain View park structures
Photos show the dilapidated condition of a bench and the missing statue at Mountain View Park. Photos by JW August

Many people came to the neighborhood in the 1960s from a federal housing project in the Sports Arena area called the Frontier. The residents were never accepted by the Point Loma community, and the project was eventually called a “slum” and the city closed it to build the arena.

The residents still there in the early 1960s were evicted. As Hayes recalls “there were not a lot of places where a Black family might move to.” Southeastern San Diego was one of those places.   

It would be a time when the park and the city, like elsewhere across the country, were experiencing serious turmoil. The 60s were a time of “drastic social, economic and political pressures,” recounts a report from the Citizens Interracial Committee released less than a month after a riot in the park on July 13, 1969. 

The San Diego Police Department had been watching park activities closely according to the report. The chief of police had said it had been a “trouble spot” and claimed the community wanted more “order” in the park.

Hayes recalled there was “heavy patrolling and a white cop wouldn’t walk into the park, it was very tense.” A social worker from the neighborhood said a community meeting was called by the police to build support for their activities and “the police carefully selected those persons who just might go along” with the department’s plans

Here is howUnited Press International reported what happened next: “An outbreak of violence in the predominantly Negro Logan Heights district left two persons dead and at least three injured today. The violence was touched off when police attempted to arrest a man for throwing rocks in a city park.’

According to other published accounts, Hayes’ recollections and the Citizens Committee’s findings, a fight broke out in the park involving two teens, and San Diego police quickly arrived in full force. When an officer tried to make an arrest, the crowd that gathered erupted. 

A full riot ensued with different groups, including the Black Panthers, in the mix. The Citizens Committee report noted media coverage listed 10 causes for the disturbances. The report, however, was most specific about the blame — “policemen were responsible for its turning into what became a confrontation that sparked a serious disorder.”

The riot no doubt stained the park’s reputation and is most remembered about 1969 and Mountain View Park. But something else happened with as much, if not more meaningful impact for the people in the neighborhood. 

That was the year Neal Petties began working for the Parks and Recreation Department.