By Katalin Szabolcsi | June 21, 2012

Four decades in the making, it is finally happening: An Interpretive Center is being built at Vasquez Rocks County Park. It is expected to be open later this year.

“The establishment of the Vasquez Rocks Interpretive Center is a major milestone for those of us who appreciate and study the natural history and the history of the upper Santa Clara Valley area,” said Albert Knight, a renowned Southern California archaeologist. “Local residents, students of all ages and visitors will all have the opportunity to look, learn and be inspired, in a comfortable setting, by the bountiful resources of the region.”

Vasquez Rocks is the most archaeologically rich park in the Los Angeles County park system. Its boundaries contain several prehistoric human occupation sites, and of course the legend of its namesake, Tiburcio Vasquez. It is also home to a large range of archetypal Southern California flora and fauna.

In the early 1970s another Southland archaeologist, Chester King, performed extensive work at Vasquez Rocks and suggested a museum or interpretive center be erected to protect and promote the area’s historical wealth.

Twenty years passed before county officials started the ball rolling. In the mid-1990s the first funding was earmarked for the project, much to the joy of Art Brewer, a member of the Vasquez Rocks Nature Center Associates who had also advocated the construction of a museum dedicated to the park’s native American history.

Brewer, of Agua Dulce, had a large collection of artifacts found on private properties in the area and hoped his collection would one day be displayed at Vasquez Rocks.

He didn’t live to see the construction of the building he fought for, but his daughter, Sarah, carried on the family tradition.

“Although I wish more than anything my dad could have seen this center,” Sarah Brewer said, “I feel that now is the right time for it to finally be built. The original designs for the building were made with love, but they would not have been nearly as efficient as this building.”

The facility will be Los Angeles County’s most environmentally “secure-proof” project, according to Kaye Michelson, a special assistant with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

“This building is the first LEED Platinum (building) to be constructed by Los Angeles County,” Michelson said. “It will be sustainable and environmentally sensitive.”

Platinum is the highest level of “green” construction as defined by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Brewer is clearly a fan of the building’s design.

“This building has the perfect amount of style and modernity while maintaining a cohesiveness with the surroundings,” she said. “I think that once it is complete, it is really going to shine.”

Michelson said the project is funded with $1.27 million from a 1996 state parks bond fund, $109,000 in leftover funds from a 1986 state bond, $3.5 million from county utility users taxes, $1.03 million from vehicle license fees and $3.795 million budgeted by the county last year for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich’s Fifth District.

Construction started a year ago.

“The stumbling blocks for the Interpretive Center have been many and are very emotional,” said Brewer. “This is a very passionate community, and although it is rather complicated, all I can say is that everyone has a different opinion on the center, which has made it a long road to where it stands now.”

Designs were completed by Brooks+Scarpa Architects, and Brewer said the architects and construction contractors worked closely with the Agua Dulce community. Two years ago the Agua Dulce Town Council appointed a committee to serve as a liaison between the council and the designers and builders. Brewer said the two companies have been “tremendously responsive” to the community’s suggestions.

“I was lucky to be a part of this committee,” Brewer said, “and we have some really great people on this team. The builders and designers have walked us through, step by step, the design process of this building, and I have a great deal of respect for them because this is a very close-knit community that is very particular about how things are done. That is part of what has kept Agua Dulce the rural gem that it is.”

The Interpretive Center will be located near the entrance of the park, just west of the old ranger station, which has been restored and will serve as the park staff office, Michelson said.

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