• This article first appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net January 2021 print edition.

      A blue whale slide

      Blue Whale slide (Photo – sangabrielcity.com)

      The City of San Gabriel, 4 square miles with a population of 40,000, is a relatively small city in the San Gabriel Valley.

      By Chasity Jennings-Nuñez

      San Gabriel parks are one of the factors that add to the quality of life of its residents. According to the The California Healthy Places Index, a tool developed by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California to assess local factors and social determinants of health, San Gabriel has healthier community conditions than 44.5% of California communities.

      Parks are more than the grass, trees and picnic tables that make up their spaces. Parks represent the health of a community, equity, and in some cases, a connection to culture and history. According to the Public Health Alliance of Southern California’s website, “Everybody should have access to parks and other open spaces near their home. Parks can encourage physical activity, reduce chronic diseases, improve mental health, foster community connections, and support community resilience to climate change and pollution.”

      San Gabriel has four parks, Marshall, Smith, Vincent Lugo and Roosevelt, that are open to the public during all regular park hours. In addition, to increase access to green space, the playgrounds, fields and tennis courts at Coolidge and Washington Elementary serve as “pilot parks,” accessible after school hours and on the weekends.

      Dragon kid slide

      Blue Dragon slide (Photo – sangabrielcity.com)

      Dinosaurs Roam in San Gabriel

      La Laguna de San Gabriel was constructed in 1965 and is located in Vincent Lugo Park. Known to children as “Dinosaur Park”, even though there aren’t any actual dinosaur figures, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Slated for demolition in 2006, secondary to changes in safety specifications, the one-of-a-kind park has not only been spared, but its uniqueness preserved. Extensive renovations were required to address safety concerns and the erosion of the structures.

      Faced with the daunting task of saving La Laguna, without a financial commitment from the city, Senya Lubisich and Eloy Zarate, San Gabriel residents, organized community support and founded the non-profit Friends of La Laguna. Professor Lubisich holds a doctorate in European History and teaches at Citrus College. Her husband, Eloy Zarate, is a professor in the History Department at Pasadena City College, focusing on Latin American history. They understood that it was more than just saving a park. Dr. Lubisich says “Playgrounds, especially those from the 1950’s and 60’s, are community spaces that can be utilized to tell the stories of a community and understand the cultural movement and patterns of a place.”

      a Dinosaur slide

      La laguna (Photo – sangabrielcity.com)

      The Friends of Laguna successfully led the efforts to have La Laguna nominated to the California Register of Historic Places.  They have secured over $1,000,000 for preservation designation and renovations, utilizing support from the California Cultural and Historic Endowment, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the PCC Foundation, private residents, businesses, local developers, and a substantial grant from the Annenberg Foundation.

      The designer of La Laguna was Benjamin Dominguez (1894-1974), a concrete artisan who studied his craft at the University of Mexico from 1922-1925. He was a successful artisan in Mexico when he decided to immigrate to the US at the age of 62, to provide more opportunity for his children. The story of Benjamin Dominguez is integral to the cultural significance and

      important historical value of La Laguna Park. His struggles to be appreciated for the artist that he was and respected as an immigrant for his contributions and abilities, echo many immigrant stories.

      La Laguna is a magical space filled with colorful, larger-than-life creatures that bring to mind pages from a story book. The 14 concrete play structures allow children and adults to let their imaginations wander as they dart in and out of Minnie the Whale’s wide-open mouth, through

      the arches of a playful sea serpent or ride on the back of Flipper, one of the colorful dolphins. All

      of these creatures guard the most magnificent structure, the lighthouse serpent slide. The lighthouse serpent is the last structure set for renovation by the Friends of La Laguna and Senya and Eloy continue to look for the support necessary to preserve this important piece of San Gabriel history. La Laguna de San Gabriel was Benjamin Dominguez’s last work and his artistry continues to capture the hearts of children and adults.

      Chasity Jennings-Nuñez is a San Gabriel resident and Harvard trained, Board-certified Ob/Gyn in Los Angeles.

      snail slide

      Yellow and blue snail (Photo – sangabrielcity.com)


      > This article appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net January 2021 print edition.

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      1. Alisa DeHoyos says:

        Was literally just talking about that park yesterday with my mom. Grew up in San Gabriel and that park was my childhood in the early 70s. When you’re a little kid those creatures seemed magical. Great memories.

      2. Jean Prinz says:

        I’ve lived in San Gabriel for ages, but I’ve never been to this park. I’ll have to go explore this playground.

      3. Billy Gallegos says:

        Back in the late 70s and early 80s, we would always have our large family gatherings at the park in San Gabriel and we always made it a must to go on those dinosaur slides.

      4. Christine Cox says:

        I had my son’s first birthday party there. He’ll be 48 soon!

      5. Kenny Hernandez says:

        Lot’s of good memories!

      6. Suzanne LePage says:

        I love that park, I took my kids there all the time.

      7. John Duguid says:

        My grandmother lived in the Village and I have been going to that park since it was named “Wells Park”. I used to take my kids here when they were young as well. Great piece of San Gabriel history.

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