About a dozen Indio residents and Mayor Waymond Fermon gathered Wednesday night at Indio City Hall for the third community meeting organized to collect design and feature ideas for the new John Nobles Memorial Park. All agreed that park specifics were important, but honoring the legacy of Nobles and the families who lived on land being used for the park should take precedent.
The park, located south of Highway 111 and east of Monroe Street, will be a part of the Indio Grand Marketplace. That marketplace will be housed in the defunct Indio Fashion Mall.
John Nobles, the park’s namesake, is a major figure in the history of Indio. In the late 1930s, African Americans could not be sold land in the Coachella Valley. Instead, one of the city’s first doctors, Dr. Reynaldo Carreón, gave Nobles and his wife Miranda a ranch. Nobles was working as a sharecropper at the time.
That ranch evolved into a thriving neighborhood after the Nobles encouraged other members of the Black community to farm, start businesses, and open schools and churches.
By the 1980s, Fermon explained, Nobles Ranch had its struggles, “However, it was a tight-knit community. Everyone knew everybody. Everybody took care of everybody.”
But when the mall’s owner, David Miller, decided to expand the mall in the late 1980s, the city used eminent domain to remove everyone from the neighborhood and demolish their homes. “We had maybe about 100 families displaced and spread throughout the valley,” said Fermon.
Fermon was eight when the forcible removal happened, “But my memory of it is still very vivid,” he said. He can still point out on a county assessor map from the time the exact parcels where families from his childhood lived.
After the families were forced out, financing for the mall expansion fell through, leaving the former Nobles Ranch an empty lot for decades.
“It’s been 30 years, and there’s still dirt,” Fermon said, “It’s disrespectful to the folks who lived there, and it’s unacceptable.”
In 1993, some former residents of Nobles Ranch reached a settlement with the city, which agreed to buy new homes for former homeowners and provide financial assistance for their moves.
“There were settlements, but there is not a dollar amount or a development that could change what happened there,” said Fermon. Instead, the city and residents can preserve the histories of the Nobles Ranch residents and honor the legacy of John Nobles.
Now, Fermon and other city leaders, with the help of the Haagen company which owns the Empire Polo Club, want to finally breathe new life into the area by fixing up the mall, bringing in new businesses, and building housing and a new hotel. But it all starts with the John Nobles Memorial Park.
The city is hoping to finalize the layout of the park within the next three to four months. That’s why they’re holding community meetings to gather input on what’s important to residents, especially former residents of Nobles ranch and their descendants.
City officials said there is about $2.1 million budgeted for the park. They envision plaques, murals, and displays with QR codes so visitors can hear former residents tell their own story.
“As people walk through the park, I want them to walk through the history of Nobles Ranch,” said Fermon.
Residents wanted features like a community garden and a place for concerts, but the biggest priority for everyone in the room was to honor the legacy of Nobles, not just through plaques and banners, but by investing in the community the way he did.
Fermon will only be mayor for about another week. He says once he rotates back to being a council member, he will have more time to gather support from businesses and entrepreneurs.
“I’m going to get on the road,” he told the audience. “I’m going up to Silicon Valley and LA. I want to bring something back that no other city in this valley has. We’ve got to be innovative and think outside the box.”
Fermon confirmed that the Haagen Company wants to support people of color in the city interested in starting a business at the new marketplace. For a community that has been disenfranchised and left behind, Fermon thinks it’s about time for a project like this.
“You see these names – Dr. Carreon and Nobles – on street signs,” said Fermon, “Now we can put a face to the name.”