Group celebrates summer solstice at Pleasanton's Centennial Park

Hearty walkers start longest day of year at 5:42 a.m. sunrise

A hearty group of early morning risers joined together at 5:42 Saturday for the summer solstice traditionally held at Centennial Park on Sunol Boulevard in Pleasanton.

The park, designed to honor the passage of time, has elements in place that align with the sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices.

The gathering was planned by the World Walk to Wellness group, inveterate walkers who meet each Saturday morning to explore a different area in Pleasanton. The outings are led by W. Ron Sutton, who is on a lifelong mission to get people walking for their health.

Sutton said the sunrise event was "simply just to have the fun of verifying that the park is laid out correctly and showing people the difference between the winter and summer solstice and where the sun rises and sets."

"We have verified that the winter sunrise is accurately angled but noticed that the winter sunset appeared to be off angle a little," he said.

Landscape architect Stan Heacox ( designed the park, which is adjacent to the Pleasanton Senior Center that opened in 1993. Heacox faced 5.7 acres of dirt as he mulled over the best layout for that location. Since it was to be a senior center park, he wanted it to reflect the passage of time.

"The design aspect had to do with seniors upon the later half of life," Heacox said. "It had to do with time and passages, and the circular design had to do with life and the universe going in circles."

"The park's plan is based on solar alignment," he noted. "The astrological alignments are integral to the park design."

Heacox created a sundial for the center of the park. For its placement, he drew a perpendicular line from the senior center building heading straight south, and he designed paths leading out from the sundial, some passing under arbors. A few years later the sculpture "Albus" (reflectivity of light), now the park's focal point, was placed atop the sundial.

"The paths ended up aligned with four spokes that come off the sundial that orient to the rising and setting sun of the winter and summer solstice," Heacox said. "If you go out there and look at where the four spokes are going, they tie in directly to overall park circulation and the passages and nodes."

"If you count the brick bands, including the edging, there are nine circles that go out from the sundial, joints or bands that radiate out from the edge of the sundial, representing the (then) nine planets," he added.

To the north of "Albus" is a reflecting pond with stones crossing the bottom and three fountains shaped like sailboats that have soft water running down the sides, although the water is currently turned off due to the drought.

The summer and winter solstice lines are flanked by appropriate accent trees to celebrate the solar events.

"The summer rising and setting sun tree is southern magnolias, one of the few flowering summer trees on June 21," Heacox explained. "The winter rising and setting sun are flanked by liquidambar, American sweet gum, which still have vibrant fall leaf color on Dec. 21. Most fall leaf color trees have dropped their leaves before Dec. 21."

Heacox is confident that the summer morning alignment is perfect, after it was carefully arrived at with the help of the Pleasanton Planning Division. The height of the ridge to the west made it difficult to be conclusive for the sunset.

"We had to guestimate a little bit," Heacox said. "The summer setting might be off one degree or so."

Sutton noted that gathering times have to be flexible because the views of the sun rising and setting are blocked by hills and buildings, unlike in Kansas where he grew up with unimpeded views.

"It looks like for the sunrise we don't need to show up any earlier than the actual sunrise," Sutton said.

Karl Aitken, who has earned the designation "Walk Star" because he's devised new walking routes for the World Walk to Wellness group, baked scones for the first dozen people who showed up.

This evening, folks will gather by 8:15 p.m. to be sure they see the sun disappear, Sutton said.

Those who can't make it to the solstice events may want to visit the park, at 5353 Sunol Blvd., and sit awhile to appreciate its unique design.

"The park master plan organized circulation and spaces around natural solar circulation events rather than using predictable Euclidean geometry," Heacox explained. "This results in a more natural, less forced design approach."

And a good place to pass the time.

For more information about the weekly walks, email

Dolores Fox Ciardelli contributed to this story.


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Posted by W Ron Sutton
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Stan Heacox will be at the setting sun tonight at 8:15pm at Senior Center's Centennial Park. Bring your questions and let's talk and watch the sun set.

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on Apr 25, 2017 at 6:41 pm

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Posted by Name hidden
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