A triangle of grass along Park Avenue is being transformed from a park with no name into a garden where visitors can reflect on the toll of gun violence.
The idea began growing for Ana Thallas as she prepared for her daughter’s funeral. Isabella Thallas, known as Bella, was murdered and her boyfriend, Darian Simon, injured by a man firing an AR-15 while the couple walked their dog in the Ballpark section of Five Points on June 10.
Days before the June 17 funeral, artist Thomas Evans, a longtime friend of Simon, began painting a mural memorial to Bella on a wall outside Leon gallery at 1112 East 17th Ave. in the City Park West neighborhood.
“This park has so much potential,” Ana recalled thinking at the time. “And this is going to be my daughter’s home.”
The family reached out to Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca about what could be done to improve the park, which sits in her district. Lisa Calderón, CdeBaca’s chief of staff, said she was struck by the strength of a family that, while grieving, was saying, ‘We still want to give back to our community.”
Calderón helped connect the family with Scott Gilmore, the city’s deputy parks and recreation manager. Gilmore had lost a nephew to gun violence in 2015. Last year, he arranged for a memorial bench and new lighting in a Green Valley Ranch park where a 17-year-old was found shot to death.
Gilmore noted that Bella had just turned 21 when she was killed.
“I’ve got a 21-year-old daughter. I don’t know what I would do if something like that happened to my daughter,” he said.
He worked with the Thallas family on a plan for park improvements costing about $10,000 that included making a basketball court out of a concrete pad on which a long-vanished picnic table had sat. Evans, known as Detour, is planning to paint a mural on the basketball court. Ana said she can imagine younger family members playing basketball while their parents sit on a bench with a plaque bearing Bella’s name.
Ana plans to visit often to remember Bella. She envisions others who have lost loved ones, whether to gun violence or other reasons, spending time in the park.
“For me, nature is nurture. It brings life,” Ana said. “I’m just one grieving mother that tries to take it day to day.” She called the park project “my way of grieving.”
The Thallas family has invited city officials and others to an Aug. 21 ceremony at the park during which Bella will be remembered.
CdeBaca will present a council proclamation in Bella’s honor on Monday, Calderón said, adding that she will pursue formally naming the park for Bella. Under city regulations, three years must pass after a person’s death before his or her name can be considered for a park’s name. Calderón is looking into whether the process can be accelerated for Bella. Gilmore said the park is one of about 20 grassy spots along the avenue that are simply known as the Park Avenue Parks.
Gilmore’s crews have been trimming trees, planting flowers and repairing the irrigation system ahead of the Aug. 21 ceremony. Gilmore got the city Department of Transportation & Infrastructure to put up a sign “in memory of Isabella Joy Thallas.”
“We’re creating a space families can go to hopefully heal and feel a little better,” Gilmore said.
He said he has told her family to “start calling it Bella’s Garden.”