First, let’s clear up an age-old Tucson argument – is it Reid Park or Randolph Park? It’s Reid Park. Much like “A Mountain” is actually Sentinel Peak, which just happens to have a big “A” at the top of it, what many Tucsonans call Randolph Park is actually Reid Park, though it was originally named Randolph Park and parts of the park still retain the old name.
With that clarified, let’s go back to the beginning. In the early 1900’s, Epes Randolph was a railroad tycoon, banker, hotelier, miner and many other things. Among his local, and nearby accomplishments, he was a chancellor on the University of Arizona Board of Regents, he headed up efforts to restore the Colorado River after it had been diverted to California and created the eternal mess that is the Salton Sea, he was president of various major and minor railroads including the Southern Pacific and the Arizona Eastern railroads, he partnered with Tucson mayor Levi Manning to build the Santa Rita Hotel, and he was President of the Old Pueblo Club. He passed away in 1921 and – in the end – what did he have to show for it all? Well, four years after his death the city named a park after him (we also named a road after him, and built a small monument to him, but that’s another story)!
In 1925 the city entered into a purchase agreement, financed by Willis Barnum, for a 480-acre, L-shaped parcel of land on the outskirts of town for the purposes of building an outdoor recreation space. The park was named after the illustrious Mr. Randolph and retained that name until 1978 when it was renamed after another infamous Tucson personality, Gene C. Reid, who had served as the director of the Tucson Parks and Recreation Department, was largely responsible for the creation of the park’s zoo and golf courses and who passed away at the age of 86 in 1999. In it’s current form the park is only 131-acres in size as most of the original 480-acres are now occupied by two municipal golf courses. And while it has shrunk in actual acreage, over the years the park has grown to become the closest thing that Tucson has to a “Central Park” with many additions making it a destination for the whole city rather than just a recreation spot for nearby residents.
In 1928, the Randolph Municipal Baseball Park opened. It was the home field for the Tucson Waddies of the Arizona State League. Much of the ballpark at the time was constructed of adobe and freeloading locals would sit atop the adobe wall and watch the games for free. In 1937 the ballpark was replaced by a genuine stadium – Hi Corbett field, which has been used over the years as the home of the AAA Tucson Toros, as spring training for the Cleveland Indians and the Colorado Rockies, and currently as the home of the University of Arizona Wildcats baseball team. It has undergone a number of renovations, but the stadium is still considered an important historic stadium among baseball aficionados.
In 1960, 232 rose beds were planted in the park and the Reid Park Rose Test Garden was born. Now with over 800 plants (representing some 100 rose species), the garden also features a central gazebo and makes for a very nice stroll in the spring and fall when the roses are blooming.
In 1964, then city parks director Reid was responsible for overseeing the construction of a bandshell in the park. It originally featured corrugated steel construction and utilized borrowed dirt from University of Arizona campus construction projects to create the amphitheater. It was built primarily for the use of the Tucson Pops Orchestra, led at the time by it’s founder Georges Demeester, which still utilizes the space to this day for it’s Music Under The Stars concert series. In 1974 the original bandshell was replaced with a proper stage and in 1986 a cast concrete sculpture panel was added to the theater which was soon thereafter given the name “DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center.” In addition to the Tucson Pops Orchestra, the space is utilized by a number of local groups for music festivals, political rallies, arts fairs and other purposes throughout the year.
In 1965, the interesting story of the Reid Park Zoo begins. First of all, it should be noted, that there wasn’t supposed to be a zoo and city leaders did not approve or budget for one. What actually happened is that parks director Reid took in a donation of two peacocks and placed them at Randolph Park. Seeing that this was popular among the park visitors, Reid took in additional donated animals – ducks, deer, javelina, prairie dogs, etc.. In 1966 Reid financed the purchase of a baby elephant, Sabu, by pleading for donations on local radio programs and the elephant soon became a big local attraction. The “zoo” even added kangaroos, rumored to have been shipped in from Australia by the United States Air Force in exchange for palm trees utilized in the landscaping at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. Finally in 1967 the city took note and made the zoo official with an initial budget of $49,000 approved by the Tucson City Council. Reid Park Zoo now occupies 24-acres of the park and houses over 500 animals divided into four zones – the Adaptation Zone, the South American Zone, the Asian Zone and the African Zone.
Additional park features include two man made lakes, a 4.5 mile paved cycling and jogging path, the Edith Ball Adaptive Recreation Center, a dog park, horseshoe pits, and the Jim Reffkin Tennis Center. There are numerous gazebos, playgrounds, picnic areas and other amenities as well – in all Reid Park is an excellent local resource, especially for folks in mid-town!