History and nostalgia rolled into our local Dinosaur Park

I was introduced to a video that  I wanted to share. Fitting it in with other content is a little uneven, but I’ll contort a bit to make it as congruent as possible. It simply makes me laugh and I enjoy sharing a laugh.

I think most Californians know how the media portrays the state and we know how to laugh at the stereotypes and caricatures that at times label an entire region.

And it is a very large region. But as you already know, the greater Los Angeles area is really made up of many, many smaller cities with rich local history vital to the well-being of its inhabitants–and likely not a part of a tourism campaign.

I recently thought about how “small town” my own city can feel when my daughter brought to my attention the 50 year anniversary of a park that was very special to both my children growing up.

Dinosaur Park Play Day

I had no idea 50 years had passed since the whimsical sea creatures were installed at what was then called “Wells Park.”   DSC_9714

My grandparents lived just a block or two away in an era when it was still possible to walk directly through their neighboring elementary school at the end of their block, no locks or barriers, and with no division between the school playground and this delightful park.

DSC_9673

My children have the happiest memories of walking with their great grandparents and spending countless hours here. They grew up with this park. It has long been called “Dinosaur Park”  or “Monster Park” by local children, who, the story goes, saw the sea serpent as a dinosaur, and the name just stuck. DSC_0710

Fifty years ago when the sea creatures were installed I knew nothing of their significance, but in 2006, the Friends of La Laguna formed to restore and preserve “Dinosaur Park” when it was announced that the city intended to demolish it. A dedicated group of people devoted endless hours to preserve this special place. IMG_3606

There’s more than simple nostalgia contributing to why this play equipment is now listed on the California Register of Historical Resources.

DSC_0644

The park was designed and constructed by Mexican concrete sculptor Benjamin Dominguez. La Laguna was the capstone of his very long career in Mexico and the United States, where as an artist he blended the artistic medium of his Mexican heritage with children’s play space.

DSC_9680

La Laguna of San Gabriel was Dominguez’s final project. He was 70 years old when he was commissioned for this project, and using themes and characters from some of his previously installed playgrounds, our children have grown up with “Minnie” the whale, “Stella” the starfish, “Ozzie” the octopus and “Flipper,” “Speedy,” and “Peanut,” the three dolphins.

DSC_0835   DSC_0712

DSC_9688

I’m really grateful to the Friends of La Laguna for their response to save this playground. The Saturday celebration brought out many city officials and the artist’s youngest daughter who appeared to be very touched at the reception and praise of her father’s work and contribution.

If I start with my grandparents and their tie to the neighborhood and this park and then reach to my grandchildren playing on the same equipment, we’re spanning five generations. I think that’s very special all by itself.

It’s not a big tourist draw, I understand, but it’s a little gem in our city, and I’m grateful for the small town, grassroots effort responsible for preserving it for my grandchildren.

Doesn’t this have a small town feel?

Following the circuitous trail of the illustrious Patton’s

It’s been more of a challenge to tell the local story of General George S. Patton than I had previously thought. I think it would be easier if I had one of those enormous war room strategy maps to plot out the Patton family history. Sometimes I have trouble keeping all the characters straight. It doesn’t help that some of the history books hold contradictory information.

I started my original questioning with a trip to the San Gabriel Cemetery. 

I’m not intending to add much color to the General’s illustrious life, at least in terms of his military career. A general call “Old Blood and Guts”–a nickname he hated but his men loved, is a biographer’s dream. There is much written. Known for his explosive temper and shall-we-say colorful language, he was a leader for which myths and truth have mingled and persisted despite his death 67 years ago.

But there was a reason I decided to finally read a personal history of the Patton family. General Patton and his wife are buried in Luxembourg, but his grandparents, parents, sister and a few other family members I haven’t yet researched are buried half a mile from my home. When growing up I had always heard that Patton was born in neighboring Alhambra. In recent years, the city of San Marino has claimed him as their native son.

I assumed a kernel of truth was contained in each story.

Let’s start with the name.

The first George Smith Patton, the General’s grandfather, was a colonel in the Confederate States Army, killed at the Battle of Opequon. His son, born George William Patton, changed his name to George Smith Patton in honor of his father. Though given the name Junior, General George S. Patton was actually the third George Smith Patton.

But to get down to where was Patton born? My research says San Gabriel can claim him! Sort of…

Some of the records indicate he was born in “San Gabriel Township.” That term caught my interest. I’ve never heard that before.

Patton’s maternal grandparents were Benjamin Davis Wilson and his second wife Margaret Hereford. The Wilson name is very well-known in Southern California.

Benjamin Davis Wilson was a California statesman and politician. In 1851, Wilson was the second elected mayor of Los Angeles after California was made a state. Wilson’s name cropped up when I was studying early Los Angeles and the Water Wars, but I hadn’t yet made the connection to Patton.

There are many stories which describe Wilson as another very colorful and adventure-seeking man. He was also known for his kind treatment of the Spanish Native Americans. Don Benito, as he was called, became the first non-Hispanic owner of what was then Rancho San Pascual, which includes today’s towns of Pasadena, Altadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, San Marino, and San Gabriel.

You’ll have to take it from me that this was a very large Rancho.

I mentioned the Wilson name has a strong recognition factor. Yes, indeed! Mount Wilson, a notable peak in the San Gabriel Mountains is where the majority of television and radio transmission towers for the greater Los Angeles area stands as a monument to the man who took the first white man’s expedition to the peak hoping to harvest timber for making wine vats. The wood was of inferior quality for that purpose, but the Wilson Trail remains one of the most popular hikes to the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains.

I wonder how many Southern Californian’s know that Mount Wilson was named after General George Patton’s grandfather?

I couldn’t help but notice a clear view of Mount Wilson taken from the foot of the Wilson/Patton burial plot.  The large marble obelisk measures almost 25 feet in height and is inscribed with the Wilson name. Looking north from that spot the television and radio transmission towers are easily visible.

Mt. Wilson

Wilson Obelisk

Wilson did live out his days in what is present-day San Gabriel and after that, understanding the property divisions gets complicated. I think it’s safe to say that each of the cities has a reasonable claim on some portion of the Patton family history.

Next to the cemetery, on what was once Wilson land, is one of the prettiest little churches in the area, the Episcopal Church of Our Savior. The General’s family were long time members and benefactors of the church, first built in 1867 with adobe and hand-made nails. It is told that Patton was baptized in this parish.

A beautiful bronze statue of General George S. Patton stands with his side arm in a dedicated space between the cemetery and the church.

But like I said, other cities claim him, too. So next post I’ll share another San Marino bronze and perhaps get a little deeper into the local history. There’s the arroyo which passes under the Rose Bowl and was once called Wilson’s Ditch, bringing water to the valley long before Mulholland and the infamous aqueduct, and I think I’ve figured out where the Patton family home was, right around the corner from the Huntington Library.

Wish me luck. You know I can get in trouble with my camera and private property.

Stay tuned…

Ringing in the New Year with a Rose Parade After Party

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted any updates. The Fetterly Bed and Breakfast has been open to New Years house guests and although I welcome good company and enjoy my role as tour guide, I replace blogging time with meal preparation and mountains of dishes. While the dust settles, I thought I’d sneak in a little photo sharing.

Because of our close geographical proximity to Pasadena, the annual January 1st Rose Parade has always been a part of our New Year’s celebrations. It is a REALLY BIG DEAL in our part of the world. I know many friends from other states who aren’t at all interested in watching it on television, so perhaps part of the excitement is determined by whether the floats have ever been seen up close and personal.

Today’s Rose Floats sport highly elaborate , high-tech computerized animation and flowers, seeds and grasses from all over the world. Floats are designed and constructed by professional float building companies, taking up to a year to complete. Most of the Rose Parade activities are facilitated by hundreds of volunteer hours.

This year’s 124th Tournament of Roses Parade included 42 floral floats, 23 marching bands, and 21 equestrian units.

A young couple became man and wife on the Farmer’s Insurance float during the parade.

But the best parade moment was when an army sergeant deployed to Afghanistan, Eric Pazz, stepped off the parade float to surprise his wife and his four-year old son, three months before his redeployment date. What an emotional moment!

Another favorite float was the $247,000 flower-covered float submitted by the Defense Department. The float, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the July 1953 armistice that brought an end to the Korean War, is a replica of the Korean War Memorial.

In case I haven’t told you in the last fifteen minutes how I don’t “do” early morning cold…I watched the parade from the comforts of my home. As a high school student I walked the parade route–as a spectator–many times, but I’m more than happy to see the floats the following day, parked and ready for a more relaxed photo shoot.

Every square inch of visible float is required to be completely covered by seeds, flowers, fruit, vegetables, grasses or other vegetation. No unnatural substances are permitted. The floats are decorated in a two-stage process. The materials that won’t wilt or die are placed first–seeds, beans, bark, straw, seaweed, and then later the more delicate flowers.

After more than an hour of walking about, the little girls were tired and we didn’t want to ruin the experience, so we headed for home before I could see the San Gabriel float. But I was rewarded the next day when the float was parked in our city not far from home.

The San Gabriel Centennial float was the first in 40 years. The float won the Directors’ Award for Outstanding Merit in Design and Presentation and it was really beautiful . The float, covered in seed, cinnamon and flowers, depicts the historic Grapevine Arbor, with two oxen pulling a cart of grapes heading into the winepress. It also includes a bell representing El Camino Real and woven baskets full of grapes and oranges.

I’ll be sharing much more throughout this year as two anniversaries are celebrated–San Gabriel’s Centennial, and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Father Junipero Serra, founder of the San Gabriel Mission and instrumental in the formation of the state’s mission system. The city has a very rich history.

Oh, and one more thing.

I didn’t follow-up with telling you about our New Year’s Eve concert at the Disney Concert Hall, did I? I did take a couple of photos with my iPhone…that is until I was politely told to stop taking photos. Oops! No, that wasn’t embarrassing.

I got a couple of nice shots just under the wire. I’ll share them with you next time.

Now, back to my house guests. We have other field trips we need to plan.