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William Penn Mott Jr.

1909 - 1992

Inducted October 1997

 "The real job of an administrator is not to give orders but to inspire creative thinking in his staff… everyone is encouraged to think creatively and of fer suggestions for improvement."
~William Penn Mott Jr.

William Penn Mott Jr., affectionately know as Bill Mott, was born in 1909 in New York City. In 1925 he moved to Jonesville, MI, and developed an early interest for nature and the environment. Mott attended Michigan State University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture in 1931. To expand his Midwest perspectives, he traveled west to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his Master’s degree in landscape architecture (1933). While earning his graduate degree in “The Golden State,” Mott fell in love with the state and became one of its more decorated park and recreation professionals. Among the positions he held were superintendent of parks and recreation for Oakland, President of the Oakland Zoological Society and president of the California State Park Foundation.

For his fi rst position, Mott was hired by the San Francisco regional offi ce of the National Park Service to supervise landscaping duties performed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration (1933). In order to spend more time with his family, he took a position as a public housing planner in 1940. This enabled him to start his own landscape consulting firm. These activities resulted in his appointment as superintendent of parks for the city of Oakland. During his 17 years as superintendent, the city bloomed under his open management style. Mott’s colleagues called him the man with “an idea a minute.” To educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment, Mott hired Paul Covel, America’s first municipal park naturalist-interpreter. It was an unheard of idea at the time, but quickly became a nationwide standard. He also created Children’s Fairyland, the first threedimensional theme park and predecessor to Disneyland. By the time Mott departed Oakland to become general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District in 1962, the Oakland Parks Department gained a national reputation for excellence.

Established on March 21, 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Civilian Conservation Corps were designed to combat unemployment during the Great Depression..


William Penn Mott Jr. is the only individual to receive the Cornelius Armory Pugsley Medal on three occasions: in 1972 for his work as director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation; in 1982 for his efforts as executive director of the California Parks Foundation; and in 1988 for his contributions as director of the National Park Service.
National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection

As general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, Mott revitalized the district and helped transform it into the largest multi-county regional park system in the country. Under his guidance the East Bay Regional Park District grew from 10,500 acres to 22,000 acres and from five to 20 parks, serving a rapidly expanding population of 1.5 million in two counties. Triple the number of visitors were engaged in the park system during Mott’s tenure. In 1967 Mott was appointed, by then- Governor Ronald Reagan, to serve as director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR). During this time an additional 154,000 acres were added to the existing 800,000 acres of the state park system. Other acquisitions Mott started were still in progress and finalized after his departure in 1974. A total of 24 new parks, historic parks, reserves, beaches and vacation acres were added due to Mott’s influence. The California Journal which had been leery of Mott at the beginning of his reign, by the end declared “Mott has developed a reputation as something of a magician with projects, a master manipulator of elected officials, a hard nosed negotiator for park property and a fighter to preserve the state’s natural resources.”

At age 65, Mott refused to retire. He became the director of park and recreation for the community of Moraga, CA. Recently established as a district, Mott said the position offered “a great challenge and opportunity to set up a prototype of a local park jurisdiction that could be copied nationwide. During this period he also provided consulting services to the East Bay Zoological Society in Oakland and was president and CEO for the California State Parks Foundation (1969-1985). Mott founded this non-profit organization while serving as State Parks director. Known for his vision, creativity, and ability as a team player, Mott was chosen by President Ronald Reagan to head the National Park Service in 1985. This position was held with distinction until Mott returned to his adopted state in 1989 to assist the Park Service in planning the Presidio’s transformation from a military base to a national park. Appropriately, the visitor’s center at the Presidio is named in his honor. Also bearing his name are annual awards given by the Sierra Club in park leadership and the California Department of Parks and Recreation for innovation.

William Penn Mott Jr. was a member of the Board of Trustees during the merger of the National Recreation and Park Association (1965), a charter member of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (1980), and a trustee of the National Park and Conservation Association.


The William Penn Mott Jr. Park Leadership Award is presented annually to a public official who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to the protection of America’s natural and cultural heritage by the National Parks Conservation Association.
Photo from the cover of Prophet of the parks: The story of William Penn Mott Jr.

Mott served the park and recreation field for nearly 60 years. During his career he was a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Recreation and Park Association (1965), a charter member of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (1980), and a trustee of the National Park and Conservation Association. At the time of his death in 1992, he was working primarily on plans for the transformation of the Presidio in San Francisco to its status as a National Park and assisting in the upgraded planning for Yosemite National Park. Mott was perhaps the most influential professional in the parks field of the last half of the twentieth century. His leadership in parks and recreation included service at all levels of government and several non-profit organizations and agencies. Wherever he went, programs seemed to spring to life through his inspiration and leadership. Perhaps President William Jefferson Clinton described Mott, best, calling him “one of the most vibrant and dedicated people I have ever met. He was one of a kind.”

Adapted from: Hartsoe, C, Sanders, D & Bridges, M (eds) (2009), Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame. National Recreation and Park Association and American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration.

  • American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration. (1983). Legends of the American Park and Recreation Association. Downloaded on May 10, 2008 from http://www.aapra.org/ legends.html
  • Butler, M.E. (1999). Prophet of the parks: The story of William Penn Mott Jr. Ashburn, VA: National Recreation and Park Association.
  • Crompton, J.L. (in press).Twentieth century champions of parks and conservation: The Pugsley Award Recipients 1965-2007. Volume II. Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing.
  • National Park Service, directors of the National park Service, Downloaded on May 14, 2008 from http://www.nps.gov/history/history/ hisnps/NPSHistory/directors.html

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