Lakewood's parks and community facilities remember some of Lakewood's best known residents. Among them is softball champion Lisa Fernandez, three-time Olympic gold medalist. In 2001, the Mayfair Park baseball diamond, on which her victories for St. Joseph High School were won, was renamed Lisa Fernandez Field in her honor.
Decades earlier, another woman athlete of astonishing skill had been honored by the city. Pat McCormick Pool at Bolivar Park, dedicated in September 1958, recognizes a remarkable sports achievement: four Olympic gold medals. McCormick won the platform and springboard diving events in two consecutive Olympics in 1952 and 1956.
Lakewood "legends" - Jacqueline Rynerson and John S. Todd
Lakewood's other Olympians include Susie Atwood, Steve Genter, and Ann Simmons (swimming) and Kim Attlesey, Sandy Goldsberry, and Martha Watson (track and field).
Professional athletes who have called Lakewood their home include major league baseball players Tony Muser, Damion Easley, Chris Gomez, Dave Hansen, Mike Fitzgerald, Rod Gaspar, John Flannery, Brian Hunter, Bruce Ellingsen, Floyd Chiffer, Larry Casian, Joel Adamson, Dave Marshall, and Craig Grebeck; NBA basketball players Craig Dykema, Tom Tolbert, Tod Murphy, and Duane Cooper; NFL player Mike Rae; race car driver Robbie Gordon; and wheelchair athlete Jim Knaub.
The late Dave Rodda, formerly Director of Recreation and Community Services, coached two US Olympic women's track teams: the 1980 Moscow Olympics team (which did not compete because of a U.S. boycott) and the 1988 Seoul Olympics team.
Rynerson Park along the San Gabriel River in eastern Lakewood doesn’t honor a champion athlete, but rather a champion of community building. Jackie Rynerson had been a member of the recreation district board that preceded the incorporation of Lakewood. With her husband Bud, she had been one of the leaders in the early efforts to secure Lakewood’s incorporation.
She was a member of the Lakewood Recreation Commission, formed in 1957 with the creation of the city's recreation department. She also was one of the founders of the Project Shepherd assistance program. And all of this was before she was elected to the city council in 1978. When she retired in 1990, after 12 years, a grateful city renamed River Park in her honor.
Lakewood also knows the terrible costs of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and all the nation’s conflicts. In Del Valle Park, where annual Memorial Day programs are held, Lakewood remembers its heroes at the Lakewood Veterans Memorial Plaza. (A closer look at Del Valle Park's jet plane)
Commemorative bricks honoring veterans surround the memorial plaza.
The centerpiece of the memorial – a decommissioned Douglas Aircraft F3D-2 Skyknight jet fighter – began as a giant play structure for youngsters at Del Valle Park, brought there by the efforts of the city's Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Kenneth Pitsenberger.
The jet arrived in April 1959 painted in Marine Corps colors. Dedicated on Armed Forces Day that year, the jet – repainted dark blue to reflect its night fighter role during the Korean War – was immediately swarmed by dozens of youngsters eager to play make believe.
Some youngsters, like the late Dennis Lander, remembered playing on the jet as it lay on the park grounds. But jets aren’t jungle gyms, and the plane began to deteriorate. In response, the city raised a 12-foot high concrete pylon at the edge of the park, bolted on the jet, repainted it in 1960s Marine Corps combat colors, and dedicated it in 1964 as the city’s memorial to US service members killed in the Korean War.
Later, the city began a tradition of recognizing the young men of Lakewood who had fallen in Vietnam at the city's Memorial Day observances.
In 2015, to complete the celebration of the city's 60th year of incorporation, the Skyknight jet was restored and the Lakewood Veterans Memorial Plaza was rededicated. (A gallery of photographs from Memorial Day 2015, highlighting the dedication of the new Lakewood Veterans Memorial Plaza)
The Vista Lodge at Monte Verde Park was built with the aid of the Taper Foundation.
Other public facilities named in honor of civic leaders include the William J. Burns Community Center, the John Sanford Todd Community Center, the Angelo M. Iacoboni Library, and the George Nye, Jr. Library. Mae Boyar Park honors the memory of the wife of Lakewood developer Louis Boyar.
Several city buildings honor the contributions of two of the builders of Lakewood whose foundations have given Lakewood a remarkable assemblage of community facilities.
The Weingart Foundation dates from 1951, when thousands of new Lakewood homes were being built by Ben Weingart and his partners S. Mark Taper and Louis Boyar. Weingart’s life had begun in poverty, but when he died in December 1980 his real estate holdings, worth many millions of dollars, funded philanthropies that continue to bebfit Southern California.
Weingart’s long association with the city can be seen today in the public facilities made possible with the support of the Weingart Foundation: the Weingart Ballroom in The Centre, the Weingart Senior Center, the Palms Park Community Center, and the Lakewood Family YMCA.
Mark Taper, another pioneering Lakewood developer, is best known for his contributions to the arts in Los Angeles but he was also generous to Lakewood.
Mae Boyar Park is named in honor of the wife of pioneer developer Louis Boyar.
In 1971, the city developed a small park tucked behind the city’s maintenance yard along the San Gabriel River. Monte Verde Park included a 675-square-foot, one-room building with a small meeting area and a modest kitchen facility. When city officials began the renovation of Monte Verde Park in 2000, they intended that the $1.4-million project include replacement of the aging park building.
With a grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation, that goal was spectacularly realized with the dedication of the S. Mark Taper Foundation Vista Lodge, a 3,000-square-foot interpretation of a classic mountain lodge with exposed beams, a “great room” with a fireplace, and a wall of windows that provides a panoramic view of the park and its landscaped amphitheater and nature trail.
In 2020, in recognition of his 45 years of service to Lakewood, the new tennis courts at Mayfair Park were renamed in honor of the late Howard L. Chambers.