COLUMBIA — Ambiguity has surrounded the name of the 81.5-acre park near Blue Ridge and Oakland Gravel roads for more than 30 years. The Parks and Recreation Department has it listed simply as Oakland Park, but a sign on Oakland Gravel Road identifies it as Albert-Oakland Park. Another sign on Parker Street reads C.M. Albert Memorial Park.
The City Council took action Monday night to clarify the inconsistency. Council members approved a motion to officially name 61.5 acres of purchased land Oakland Park and to name 20 acres donated by the late Paul A. Albert as C.M. Albert Memorial Park, a provision outlined in the original donation agreement.
Although the donation made up about a quarter of the total acreage, locals often called the entire area Albert-Oakland Park.
“I’ve been in the area for about 30 years, and I’ve always referred to the park as Albert-Oakland Park,” Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said Monday night.
Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku moved to identify the donated and purchased properties with separate names. The council approved the motion unanimously. Janku said that plan “is consistent with policy and the most appropriate way to deal with it.”
Kurt Albert, a son of Paul A. Albert, disagreed.
“It’s kind of what I expected, but it’s kind of a sad deal,” he said. “If it weren’t for my family, the park would not be there.”
Paul A. Albert donated the 20 acres to the city in 1964 in honor of his mother, Claire M. Albert. In 1972 Marjorie Simpson, his former wife, sold an adjacent 20 acres to the city. The city later bought 30 more acres and made an agreement with Columbia Public Schools to expand the park onto its property, bringing the entire park’s area to 81.5 acres. The purchased area was never officially named.
A report outlining each land acquisition and references made throughout the years to the park was presented to the council at its request in December 2003. The report noted in a city ordinance a reference to the park as Oakland Park in 1971 and one a year later calling it Albert-Oakland Park.
The following January, then City Manager Ray Beck wrote in an interoffice memo to the council that he had reservations about naming the entire area Albert-Oakland Park based on “historical aspects of his actions taken against public officials, including Mayors, Councils, etc.”
In his later years, Paul Albert dedicated much of his time to criticizing city government. He was harsh and persistent and often tested the council’s patience with lengthy — and sometimes distasteful — diatribes at meetings.
“He made keeping an eye on the city his retirement project,” Kurt Albert said of his late father. “He wasn’t particularly eloquent.”
Beck reiterated Wednesday that his reservations were based on historic issues with Paul Albert, not issues at the time he wrote the memo in 2004.
“I worked with Paul during the time of the donation, and I appreciated it,” he said. “There were no issues between Paul and myself.”
Members of the Albert family appeared before the council in April 2004 to ask that the city officially name the park Albert-Oakland Park. During scheduled public comment, Paul E. Albert, another son of Paul A. Albert, asked the council to “overlook past animosities and some not-so-trivial annoyances and recognize this single event of donation as the good deed that it was.”
After reviewing a report, Beck’s memo and the family’s request in 2004, the council took no action. It requested another report on the matter in December 2007, prompting Monday’s discussion and decision.