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Baby Jane’s Fire Truck: A La Jolla Rec Center remembrance thrown into question

Katherine and Chris Pham with their son Carlton in July 2017, after Baby Jane’s fire truck was installed at La Jolla Rec Center.
Katherine and Chris Pham with their son Carlton in July 2017, after Baby Jane’s fire truck was installed at La Jolla Rec Center.
(Courtesy)

A modest memorial stands quietly on the La Jolla Rec Center playground as its sponsor wonders about its future, in light of proposed playground renovation plans.

“The fire truck has special significance for my family,” Katherine Pham told La Jolla Light. Katherine and her husband Chris have lived in La Jolla since their 2012 wedding, and have spent much time at the Rec Center playground with their sons, 5-year-old Carlton and 2-year-old Timothy.

“We’ve been going to that park for years, and the original fire truck was always a favorite with the little kids. We had played on it a lot. Carlton adored it,” Pham said.

In 2016, when Carlton was 2, the Pham family suffered a tragic loss: Katherine gave birth to daughter Jane, who was stillborn at 41 weeks. “After Jane passed away, we were in a haze,” Katherine recalled.

A friend set up a crowdfunding account for the Pham family to help them memorialize Jane. Friends and family members generously contributed, and the Phams began to think of ways to use the money.

They wanted something to remember Jane by, and the Rec Center came to mind “because it’s a special place for our family,” Katherine said. “We wanted something close that we could visit often. The Rec Center playground just seemed perfect.”

They mulled over several possibilities for a memorial there; searching for an idea that would fit within the Rec Center’s policies against dedicated benches and plaques. As the beloved fire truck was in disrepair and quite run down, the Phams offered to replace it with an updated version.

“It was past its prime; the paint was peeling off. We got the same one; this time adding Jane’s handprints to the dashboard steering wheel and her footprints to the driver’s side step of the truck.”

The Phams worked with the then-manager of San Diego Parks & Recreation, as well as playground equipment company reps, to make sure the new fire truck would be a useful, touching tribute.

The fire truck contains a loving memorial to the Pham family’s daughter Jane; her handprints are stationed on its dashboard.
The fire truck contains a loving memorial to the Pham family’s daughter Jane; her handprints are stationed on its dashboard.
(Courtesy)

The project took a bit of time and cost more than $14,000, Katherine noted. The new fire truck was installed in July 2017, just before what would have been Jane’s first birthday. Since then, the family has enjoyed many play sessions on “Baby Jane’s fire truck.”

Last month, the Phams read La Jolla Light’s article about the proposed Rec Center improvements, which include a complete redo of the playground areas. Read the story, “Rec Center Reborn? Committee unveils $6 million plan to revamp La Jolla Recreation Center” at lajollalight.com/news/story/2020-03-05/la-jolla-recreation-center

“We totally agree that the park is overdue for a remodel, and we thought the plans looked really exciting,” Katherine said.

“But Chris and I immediately wondered if the plans meant the removal of Jane’s fire truck was a foregone conclusion,” she said.

Katherine began sending e-mails to members of the Rec Center Advisory Group’s Visioning Committee to ask about the fate of the fire truck.

“Worst case scenario,” she said, “they’re going to get rid of it. But maybe they can let us come pick it up and try to find another place for it. My ideal situation for the fire truck is that it still has a place at the Rec Center because we visit the park regularly. A close second, would be to have it somewhere nearby in The Village.”

It appears, however, that the Phams won’t need a second choice. A few of the Visioning Committee members replied to Katherine’s e-mail, affirming they would love to see Jane’s fire truck remain at the Rec Center.

Architect and committee member Trace Wilson told the Light he wasn’t sure if the committee was aware of the fire truck’s significance before Pham’s e-mail to them, “but the minute we became aware, we knew we’d include it in our plans. It will likely move into a new position, and we should highlight it.”

At the news, Katherine responded with gratitude. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “That’s the best news we could hope for. Each time we visit the park, it warms our hearts to see so many children, including our own two boys, playing on Jane’s fire truck. It’s great to be part of this community.”