Once upon a time in 1974, there was a property for sale on Orange Avenue (main street Coronado). In the old days, Orange Avenue was lined with orange trees (hence the name) in the median strip all the way from the Bay to the Beach. They didn’t fare too well though, so they were replaced with pine trees. Great choice. Still really cool all lit up at Christmas time! The property for sale was on “bay side” between 1st & 2nd Streets. This particular block is noted mostly for its rowdy bar scene, but the available parcel happened to have an ancient beauty salon on it. The chances of getting hold of a piece of Orange Avenue in the 70s was very slim.
Enter local philanthropist and quirky do-gooder Fran Harpst! Fran was and is very well known in Coronado for her involvement with various local charities, boards, and committees. She was one of those “larger than life” types. Fran’s intensity frightened some people, but actually the rules were simple: Do not cross her. Period. Yet Fran also had a softer side. She loved to garden. Not just trimming rose bushes, but really digging deep into the soil, planting, and growing the most marvelous organic veggies long before it was cool to do so. Fran kept her fingernails cropped short so she wouldn’t have dirt under them at her various meetings. She hated gardening gloves. She said they were for sissies. They also hampered the feel of the earth on her hands. To her, getting dirty was half the fun!
Fran and daughter Lynne lived in a modest ranch style home by the Golf Course. Gardening space was very limited there though because their yard was pretty small. Perfect for growing her lovely award-winning flowers and a few veggies, but not much else. Upon hearing of the Orange Avenue property for sale, Fran jumped at the chance to purchase. Fran had a plan! This is how the “Orange Avenue Garden Club” came to be.
The very afternoon escrow closed, Fran gathered a merry band of helpers onto the property. Included were: 16-year-old daughter Lynne, her pal Jeannie Ackerman, Alan Graham, Anne Graham (Jim Morrison’s sister), and Don Edge. Tentative plans for the new garden were discussed at length. Nobody had ever put a large working garden right smack on Orange Avenue before until Fran came along. Some folks thought she was crazy, but that only added fuel to her magically eccentric fire.
The old beauty shop had to go. First at bat were Lynne and Jeannie. They were outfitted with coveralls, safety helmets, goggles, and large mallets. Their job was to bust out all the old windows. They did the job with much gusto and enthusiasm! Next up were the Big Boys (Alan, Don, and some other local guys) They finished off the beauty salon, leveled the land, turned the soil, installed irrigation, and got everything ready for planting.
The “Orange Avenue Garden Club” lot was very long and narrow. Preparations took some time, and the Guys worked tirelessly taking pride in their job(s). Finally, it was time to plant! Fran had it all mapped out. No surprise that she really did her homework. She also brought in her dear old friend, Gurson Kantor, a professional horticulturist. Everyone helped with planting. It was very much a fun, party-like atmosphere. Fran would spring for sandwiches and beverages. “People work better when they’re fed properly,” she would say.
Alan Graham, (extraordinarily talented wood craftsman) constructed a lovely sign that said “The Garden”. He presented the sign to Fran and she displayed it proudly there at “The Garden” for all to see. From that day on it was just simply “The Garden”. People would walk by and stare in amazement at “The Garden” amongst the bars. It was all so lusciously Bohemian!
Fran and her merry band of helpers grew squash, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, and just about every sort of veggie that will grow in Coronado! Her pride and joy were the pumpkins though. Oh, how she loved growing pumpkins. Fran’s favorite time of year was Halloween. Her favorite color was orange. Fran loved to wear her orange “flight suit” as others might wear overalls. It was just her thing. “The Garden” served many people well over several years. All its offspring were shared generously with the community. Those were Camelot times!
Nothing lasts forever though. It had come to Fran’s attention that the City of Coronado was badly in need of a new Veterinary Hospital. Fran’s love for animals ranked even above and beyond her love for gardening, so the solution was really a no brainer. Fran not only donated “The Garden” property for the new Vet, but she also went one better and funded the entire building as well! Everyone involved with “The Garden” was sad to see it go, but they were also very happy about Fran’s decision to build the Vet there. Little did they know, Fran had already purchased a new property, “The Garden II” near her home on Bay Circle.
“The Garden II” was smaller than the original, but still quite adequate for Fran’s purposes. She enlisted a smaller band of helpers for that garden. Fran proudly tended “The Garden II” for many years. She’d be seen faithfully working and weeding on her hands and knees every Tuesday and Saturday up until several weeks before her death on April 7, 2010.
Even after her death, “The Garden II” continues to live on. It is still lovingly preserved by the “The Garden II” crew, minus one. Though she’s no longer physically tending her beloved “Garden”, Fran’s spirit is alive and well in everything that grows there. She’s keeping close watch from her new “vantage point” in the sky.
Lovingly submitted by Lynne Harpst Koen
Bottom Row: Alan Graham, Some Local Guy, Anne Morrison Graham, Fran Harpst, Gurson Kantor; Top Row: Don Edge, Jeannie Ackerman, Lynne Harpst