Media Life: Name that Auburn landmark

Back stories provide a sense of past and presence
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at

or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.  


Admit it. “Recreation Park”  is one bland moniker.

Kind of like naming it “Park Park.”

Come to think of it “Park Park” might be an improvement.

Most people get the idea that if you’re at a park, there’s going to be recreation. Why not accentuate that positive thought?

In an alternative universe where Media LIfe is king, the park on Racetrack Street would be called Racetrack Park to give the green, treed expanse some semblance of its past, when horse races would take place there.

It’s not to say that Auburn doesn’t have plenty of parks, buildings and sports facilities with names and stories behind them. And sometimes it’s good to pause and remember those names.

Auburn sports fields have plenty of back stories.

Vernon “Mac” McCann — a long-term Journal general manager who was known as Mr. Auburn — has the Gold Country Fairgrounds stadium named after him.

Ralph LeFebvre (pronounced Le-fever) was a longtime Placer High track coach and the football stadium the Hillmen play in is named for him.

But just to make things confusing. The track is Stacy Dragila Track — named for Auburn’s gold medal-winning Olympic pole vaulter and Placer High grad. And just to be sure Dragila got her due, E.V. Cain’s gym is also named after their most famous alum.

E.V. Cain? The school is named after a former Auburn Union School District administrator and principal who played a key role in construction of the school in the mid-20th century and died at a young age.

Baseball fields are also covered. James Field is named after Auburn dentist Vernon James. He’s the brother of 1914 World Series hero Bill James of the Boston Braves but was apparently no slouch himself at the plate.

Speaking of baseball, LIttle League World Series Manager Lloyd Beggs’ name is on the Recreation Park’s Little League field.

The Earl Crabbe Gymnasium honors a basketball coach whose Placer Union High School teams from Auburn were dominant in the 1920s.

Another park with a bland name — Auburn Ravine Trail Park between Auburn Ravine Road and Highway 49 — could be renamed to honor the man who created giant statues around Auburn — two of which stand semi-nakedly across the ravine from the recently cleaned up walkway. The Fox Trail Park has a certain ring to it.

If you talk to many people, they’re going to call Regional Park by another name — Chana Park. The name is more of a handy nickname that nowadays has little meaning. Between the early 1970s and two years ago, Chana High School was across Richardson Drive from Regional Park and the name was good shorthand. It’s still used today by law enforcement during scanner chatter. The school was named for Claude Chana, the man who discovered gold in Auburn Ravine. Maybe the park could be renamed to reflect one that many people already use.

Ashford Park on Auburn Ravine Road is named after Terry Ashford, the Auburn Recreation district administrator who served the community from 1959 into the 1990s.

Down in the American River canyon, Protect American River Canyons has attempted without success to have a trail skirting the river named for environmental activist Frank Olrich, an Auburn resident who was struck by a train while cross-country skiing in the Sierra in 1999.

As the canyon becomes more established as a recreation destination, the Frank Olrich parkway is indeed still a possibility.

Then there’s the clock tower in Downtown Auburn. The late, great Ralph Swann — a downtown Auburn businessman with a get-er-done attitude second to none — is worthy of dedication in his name. His hard work resulted in the clock tower’s presence on the downtown streetscape.

At the Gold Country Fairgrounds, the Maureen Dobbas Placer Building pays homage to the first woman on the fair board. She also served as Placer County’s elected clerk-recorder.

These and many more names give Auburn a sense of its past and its history.

Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.