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South County's Friendship Park Celebrates 50 Years

A man passes at Friendship Park, near where the border separating Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego meets the Pacific Ocean, Jan. 19, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico.
AP Photo / Gregory Bull
A man passes at Friendship Park, near where the border separating Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego meets the Pacific Ocean, Jan. 19, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico.

Fifty years ago Wednesday, then-first lady Pat Nixon visited the westernmost end of the U.S.-Mexico border where San Diego meets Tijuana.

Nixon then inaugurated the surrounding area as Border Field State Park.

South County’s Friendship Park Celebrates 50 Years
Listen to this story by Alexandra Rangel.

The County Board of Supervisors recognized the day by declaring Aug. 18, 2021, International Friendship Day.

RELATED: Port Of Entry Podcast: Fifty Years Of Friendship Park

John Fanestil, executive director of Via International, says the park has long served as a meeting place where people can hug their loved ones through the border fence, but in recent years border patrol restrictions have increased.

“It’s not an inviting place on the U.S. side at all, that needs to change,” Fanestil said.

People aren't able to gather like they used to. Local advocates are hoping to restore Friendship Park back to its true purpose.

They also have a vision to eventually create an open binational park.

Jim Brown with Public Architecture says a similar park already exists on the Canadian border.

“We have envisioned an 80-acre binational park; 40 acres on each side of the border,” Brown said.

“We believe it’s time to send a message to our citizens and to our governments. This would be a wonderful thing to have instead of the militarized situation that is on the border currently,” he said.

Friends of Friendship Park has a list of events happening this week to celebrate the park's anniversary. For more information visit Friendshippark50.org

South County's Friendship Park Celebrates 50 Years
On August 18, 1971, First Lady Pat Nixon stood at the place at the southwestern most point of the U.S.-Mexico border and celebrated what was envisioned as "International Friendship Park.” That day, Nixon said, “I hope there won't be a fence too long here.” Flash forward 50 years, and the small barbed-wire fence that once demarcated the border has been replaced with two large fences, dozens of cameras, a watch tower and other security measures. In this special bonus episode produced as part of the park's 50th anniversary celebration, we talk to some of the people in Tijuana and San Diego who are working hard to keep Nixon’s vision of a fence-free binational park alive. Plus, we connect with someone who has a very personal connection with the place.From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells cross-border stories that connect us. For a full schedule of Friendship Park anniversary events, visit www.friendshippark50.orgEpisode photo by Pedro RiosHistoric clip of Pat Nixon at Friendship Park from the film "Too Long Here" by director Emily PackerPort of Entry is hosted by Alan Lilienthal. This episode was written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the co-producer and director of sound design. Alisa Barba is our editor. Lisa Morissette is operations manager and John Decker is the interim associate general manager of content. This program is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.