Palo Alto History. Org

Bol Park Donkeys: Neighborhood Pets

Barron Park, the southwest section of Palo Alto, has always had a rustic, pastoral feel. It was notincorporated into the city of Palo Alto until 1975 (despite the kicking and screaming of some residents) and much of the area still lacks sidewalks and gutters.  Located west of bustling El Camino Real, a trip to Barron
Park can seem like a step back in time.  The back roads of the neighborhood pass by tall redwoods, babbling creeks and overgrown bushes.  Although Silicon Valley has boomed around it, Barron Park has been able to keep much of its old-time character.

But certainly no image of the neighborhood could attest to Barron Park’s countrified flavor like the sight of a man jogging through Bol Park with a donkey on leash.  That would be Pericles (Perry to close friends), one of two donkeys who live at Bol Park and serve as would-be neighborhood mascots.

Donkeys have lived in the 13 acre Bol Park since its farmland days in the Great Depression.  Originally full of apricot orchards and strawberry fields, the land also served as a donkey pasture.  It was then the property of one Cornelius Bol, a long-time Stanford professor and inventor of the mercury vapor light who moved to Palo Alto from his native Holland to escape the Nazis.

Bol often allowed neighborhood kids to play with --- and even ride --- the seven donkeys that grazed the pasture in those early days.  And if a group of donkeys would wander away and begin marching around the neighborhood in single file --- as they were apt to do --- local kids would round them up and lead them back to pasture.  It seems the donkeys have always been seen as community pets.

In fact, in the 1960s, the most beloved of the donkeys --- a distinctive black donkey named Negrita --- had the pleasure of serving as the Gunn High School mascot at football games.  Later it was Mickey who became a Barron Park favorite even though he was known as the "braying-est donkey this side of the Holy Land," according to Barron Park historian Doug Graham.

The destiny of the pasture and the donkeys became closely tied.  After
Cornelius Bol died in 1965, the neighborhood mobilized to fulfill Bol’s wish that the land become a neighborhood park.  After residents taxed themselves, lobbied successfully for federal matching grants, and constructed a pedestrian path, play
structure and other amenities, Bol Park officially opened in April of 1974.

The donkeys remained a part of the new park, residing in their own corral near the site of the old Bol farmhouse barn.  When Mrs. Bol passed in 1996, some worried about Mickey’s fate.  But in the spirit of the Barron Park community, he was adopted by neighborhood volunteers. Later he was joined by Perry, a miniature equine and Miner 49er, a former Mojave Desert resident with a keen ability to open gate latches. Although Mickey died in 1998, his friends live on today in Bol Park, aided by half a dozen volunteers who feed, walk and care for the donkeys.  All donkey expenses --- more than a $1,000 a year --- are paid through voluntary donations.

Sunday mornings, the donkeys are the center of attention during their famed park strolls.  The donkeys make friends easily, both with local dogs and children.  And the Sunday promenades give the equines a chance to nibble on Bol Park’s lush green grass while the kids get to pet and stroke the donkeys.  Volunteers teach
donkey safety and handling.

But perhaps you feel like you’ve seen Perry before?  You probably have.  In the early '90s, the then Palo Alto-based Pacific Data Images (which later merged with Dreamworks) stopped by Bol Park and took more than 100 images of Perry to serve as the model for Shrek’s famed sidekick, “Donkey.”  Although, the
company donated $75 for Perry's participation, he received no mention in the credits --- a fact that still rankles some of his handlers.  But supposedly, Perry’s somewhat edgy personality did make it to the big screen.  Hang out with Perry, the handlers say, and you’ll see Donkey’s disposition first-hand.  It is unknown whether Eddie Murphy and Perry ever met to confer on the role. []

 Our Reader's Memories:

"After reading your article I went to this wonderful place and I fell in love with the two donkeys here.   I think Dreamworks could donate some more to the donkeys or have a nice stable constructed for the star of the movie.  He certaintly made the movie a hit. The owner is only looking out for the well-being of these wonderful creatures and fulfilling the deceased owner of the park's last wishes... Why couldn't Dreamworks put Perry's name at the end of the credits?  How hard would it been to give credit to this little animal that helped make their movie a hit? Maybe they will find it in their hearts to come back and visit little Perry and do something nice for him as a thank you."

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Paul Wolff and Richard Placone with Negrita, the Gunn mascot.

Mickey, the braying carrot-eater. (PAHA)

Perry and the animated donkey.

Lobbying for Bol Park's creation. (PAHA)

Cornelius Bol with his mercury vapor lamp. (PAHA)