Paul E. Albert remembers well his early days of working and playing on his family’s land in northeast Columbia. Some years, he and his family would gather and sell walnuts to make ends meet.
“I have walked every inch of that land, raised cattle there, climbed the trees,” said Albert, now 53 and a resident of Japan. “There’s a very personal history built into it.”
That property, 20 acres of which was donated to the city in 1964 by Albert’s parents, is now a sizeable portion of Albert-Oakland Park.
Or is it Oakland Park?
The Albert family isn’t quite sure. Park signs are inconsistent; the Albert name alternately appears and disappears. Folks around town refer to it both ways. Newspapers and state maps label it Albert-Oakland Park, but the city’s Web site omits the Albert moniker.
On Monday night, Paul E. Albert — the son of harsh and persistent city government critic Paul A. Albert, now 95 — stood before the Columbia City Council and asked it to end the confusion by permanently attaching the Albert name to the park.
“I ask that the council and members of the city government overlook past animosities and some not-so-trivial annoyances and recognize this single event of donation as the good deed that it was,” he said, with his mother and six family members behind him. Following common practice, however, the council did not respond because the issue came up during the meeting’s public comment period.
Paul E. Albert and his sister, Cedar Albert, noted that their parents’ donation came despite the family’s financial hardships.
“We were not a rich family,” Cedar Albert said. “We’ve always believed in parks and land. We were always the type of family who would go out to a park and have a picnic and leave it better than we found it. We believe that you clean up more than you’ve messed up, give more than you take.”
That kind of donation was rare, Cedar Albert said, recalling that the city attorney at the time had said such as gift had never happened before.
City Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood noted that the Albert donation is only about a quarter of the park’s total acreage, though the city in 1972 bought 20 acres of land from Marjorie Simpson after she and Paul A. Albert had divorced. The city also bought another 30 adjacent acres and leased 5½ that year, and it has since struck deals with Columbia Public Schools to expand the park onto school district property.
A recent shift
The park, which features trails, two disc golf courses, ball fields and perhaps the city’s most popular swimming pool, was long known as Albert-Oakland Park. But in recent years, Paul E. Albert noted, that seemed to change.
“In about 2000, I went to Mike Hood and mentioned that I noticed inconsistencies with the park’s name,” he said. “About half the time it was called Albert-Oakland Park, and half the time it was referred to as Oakland Park.”
Cedar Albert also noticed. “There was no announcement, no newspaper article; they just slowly phased it out.”
“I am mostly irritated at how the change took place,” Paul E. Albert said.
He said after he contacted the city, Hood assured him the department would research the matter.
Hood said Monday that “research indicates that both names were used” but that there was no official action to name the park one-way or the other. The records show only that the 20 acres originally donated are to be known as C.M. Albert Memorial Park. A sign at the Parker Street entrance still reflects that name.
Hood, however, said “a decision was made in the mid- to late 1990s to name the park Oakland Park. It was administrative, an internal city decision.”
At the urging of Paul E. Albert, Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku in August finally asked for a report on the matter. While the report was produced in December, Paul E. Albert doesn’t think it was ever given to the council. He presented a copy to the Missourian on Monday. The report recommends that the full park be named Oakland Park and that the 20 acres donated by the Alberts remain C.M. Albert Memorial Park.
Paul E. Albert suspects his father’s criticism of city government is the reason the Albert name was dropped from the full park. Paul A. Albert for years made a habit of attending every regular council meeting — and many of its work sessions — to scold the city’s leaders about this decision or that. Often he complained about teenagers partying at the end of Parker Street, near the southern entrance to the park and just outside his home. He liked to pass around the council dais some of the more repugnant items he found littering the cul-de-sac.
“Ray Beck was frequently the object of my father’s complaints,” Paul E. Albert said. “As the city manager, he was in the appropriate position to receive complaints. I suspect that could be the reason behind the elimination of the name Albert from the park, because the report gives no pros or cons for the name change.”
The family lists several reasons the park should retain the Albert name.
“That park would not exist if the original donation had not been made,” Cedar Albert said. “It’s the only park on that side of town.”
Paul E. Albert noted that the land, which he estimated would be worth a minimum of $500,000 now, could have been sold to a developer.
“Some people leave land in their wills,” Paul E. Albert said. “But we donated this land when there were still small kids at home.”