Chapter 10: Enduring traditions


In 1979 – Lakewood’s 25th year – city leaders sought new ways to give civic traditions greater expression.

Lakewood had gone through a disquieting period in the mid-1970s when local politics turned ugly. City employees went on strike for the first (and so far only) time in 1976, partly in protest of the city’s crisis of leadership. These conflicts included the recall of Council Member Donald Plunkett in 1977 and the election of a new city council majority in 1978, when incorporation pioneer Jackie Rynerson joined Paul Zeltner and Larry Van Nostran to form a city council majority focused on repairing public confidence in city government.

The experience of political turmoil taught Lakewood a harsh lesson – that divisive political grudges arise when residents lack reasons for loyalty to their community.

It’s a measure of the good sense of city officials that they understood that loyalty to Lakewood would not be guaranteed solely by residents' satisfaction with municipal services. City leaders understood that the future of Lakewood needed something of the heart as well. Renewed commitment to shared civic traditions was needed.

Beginning in 1978 and continuing today, Lakewood residents joined city council members in establishing new civic programs and neighborhood traditionsThese include:

Prayer Breakfast. Called a "Celebration of a Caring Community," the breakfast, sponsored by the Weingart Lakewood Family YMCA, draws together religious congregations, representatives from nonprofit agencies that serve the community, city officials, and residents to reflect on their goals for the coming year.

State of the City. The State of the City combines an overview of the past year’s achievements with a look ahead at the city's legislative, economic, and public safety goals. The city also participates in an economic forecast sponsored by the Greater Lakewood Chamber of Commerce that reviews regional and local business trends.

Award of Valor. The Award of Valor honors Lakewood sheriff's deputies and firefighters for their heroism, extraordinary service, and devotion to duty. Over the years, the program has expanded to include civilian heroes who earn the Mayor’s Award for their courage in responding in an emergency. Members of the city’s Neighborhood Watch program, the Volunteers on Patrol unit, and the sheriff’s station volunteer team also are recognized for their contributions to Lakewood's safety.

Memorial Day. Lakewood joins with the city's veterans organizations each year to remember the sacrifices made by all veterans in defense of the nation. The observance of Memorial Day takes place at the new Veterans Memorial Plaza in Del Valle Park.

Youth Hall of Fame. Jim Knaub was the first Lakewood Athlete of the Year in 1981. A former Lakewood High School pole-vaulter turned wheelchair marathoner, he won the Boston Marathon five times, establishing four world records. Today, the selection of an Athlete of the Year, Performers of the Year, and Special Achievement award recipients are made by a volunteer Board of Electors representing the city council, Lakewood’s high school athletic directors, park coaches, and the Recreation and Community Services Commission. Lakewood's champions join past award recipients in the Hall of Fame Gallery at the McDonald’s restaurant on Woodruff Avenue.

Three young baseball players on the Athletics team

Youth Sports Opening Day begins another season of park league play for boys and girls.

Legends of Lakewood. For the city’s 50th year of incorporation in 2004, the city council approved plans to commemorate those who had fought for the creation of Lakewood and who had, in later years, worked to preserve Lakewood quality of life. The first honorees were the leaders of the incorporation movement, original city council members, Lakewood’s pioneering developers, and the early supporters of the Lakewood Plan for contract city services. New inductees have been added to the Legends of Lakewood every five years since 2004.

Patriot Day. “Celebrating the Spirit of America” was the theme of Lakewood’s first observances of Patriot Day on September 11, 2002. The city's annual commemoration of 9/11/2001 remains an opportunity to demonstrate that Lakewood believes in America.

Youth Sports Opening Day. Team members, volunteer coaches, and families kick off each new sports year with a celebratory event at Mayfair Park.

Public Safety/Bike Expo. Opening day activities for youth sports at Mayfair Park coincide with the annual Public Safety/Bike Expo where Lakewood’s many public safety programs are on display.

Halloween Carnivals. Lakewood parks have been hosting neighborhood Halloween activities for youngsters since the mid-1950s. Today’s carnivals include fun activities and a not-so-scary haunted house.

Earth Walk. Lakewood celebrates urban nature at Monte Verde Park with displays of the city's conservation programs as well as the environmentally-aware services that Lakewood residents can use to reduce, reuse, or recycle just about everything.

Fest-Of-All. A celebration of all the cultures that make Lakewood a diverse community is the newest community event.

Summer Concerts in the Park. The city hosts a series of free, family-friendly concerts each year in the concert grove at Del Valle Park.

Volunteer Day. One day each spring Lakewood residents and members of service clubs come together to help their neighbors in need. In 2022, Volunteer Day celebrated 25 years of making our community a better place.

Pan American Fiesta. The fiesta weekend includes a flag presentation ceremony, a children’s cultural booth, a fiesta historical display, carnival rides, craft dealers, and food booths.

Block Party. A Family Fun Zone for kids, Taste of Lakewood food booths, and a professional fireworks show returned to the Lakewood Civic Center in 2022.

Christmas Tree Lighting. The holiday season in Lakewood begins with the tree lighting ceremony in the Lakewood Civic Center.

Tradition: Remembering the past

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.

Jacqueline Rynerson and John S. ToddLakewood "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)

A small child bends over a pavement of memorial bricks

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)

Exterior of the S. Mark Taper Vista LodgeThe 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 signMae 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.

Tradition: Lakewood volunteers

Volunteerism and community participation still drive programs for youth, seniors, and families in need. Lakewood volunteers serve as Neighborhood Watch block captains, park league coaches, Tot Lot monitors, Meals on Wheels drivers, Project Shepherd warehouse workers, hospice volunteers, and in many other roles.

Meals on Wheels volunteer and client

Meals on Wheels volunteers bring more than meals. They bring reassurance and care.

Lakewood’s volunteer spirit is highlighted on Volunteer Day. With the help of the city and the staff of the Recreation and Community Services Department, community groups, religious congregations, and service clubs help neighbors in need with landscaping, yard cleaning, painting, and other small-scale improvements.

Lakewood’s superior quality of life today depends on the dedicated work of thousands of men and women who give their time and energy to dozens of community organizations and causes. (Learn about more volunteer opportunities and some of the civic organizations that benefit Lakewood)

Tradition: Pan American Festival

The origin of Lakewood’s oldest community celebration has been told many times – how two neighbors who lived in the Greenmeadow neighborhood of Lakewood Village (now part of Long Beach) chatted over a backyard fence about the opening of a new park across from Mark Twain Elementary School. Recollections of that conversation, reported in the April 21, 1955 edition of the Long Beach Independent, gave 1945 as the year that the two neighbors talked. Later accounts say the origin year was 1946 or 1947.

But all accounts agree that neighbors Jesse Solter, a member of the Lakewood Lions Club, and Walter Montano, a Bolivian immigrant, agreed that the new park should honor the spirit of pan-American friendship. Closer ties between the United States and the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean were a cornerstone of American diplomacy during World War II. Solter and Montano hoped the pan-American spirit would endure in post-war Lakewood.

When ground was broken in September 1945, the new park was given the name Pan American Park. Latin American consular representatives were on hand to celebrate with Solter, Montano, and other Lakewood Village residents. The park was completed the following year, and in 1947 the first Pan-American Festival was held with Costa Rica as the honored nation. Inez Lehman, a social studies teacher at Lakewood Junior High School (now Bancroft Middle School), organized the first flag exchange. In the following years, the countries honored were Mexico, 1948: Argentina, 1949; Bolivia. 1950; Brazil. 1951; Chile, 1952; Colombia, 1953; Cuba, 1954; and the Dominican Republic, 1955.

Lakewood’s tradition of international friendship was recognized by the United States Information Agency in 1956 with a Certificate of Merit “for outstanding service to world understanding” through Pan American Festival events. Today, the Pan-American Festival is credited as being the oldest community-based appreciation of pan-American cultures and peoples in the United States. 

The early festivals included a parade, a flag presentation that highlighted the honored county, a band concert, and a dinner dance.

 Postcard showing boys and girls conducting the flag exchange ceremonyStudents at Hoover Middle School once conducted a flag exchange to open the Pan American Festival.

The festival soon became a two-day event, with folklorico dancing and awards to student essay contest winners on Friday and the Saludos Amigos parade and flag exchange on Saturday afternoon followed by a reception for consular officials at the Lakewood Golf Course clubhouse and a community dance at Pan-American Park in Lakewood Village.

In 1960, all parade and festival events moved to Lakewood locations.

By 1962, the Pan-American Festival filled an entire week, beginning with the El Comienzo luncheon on Monday, the announcement of a new Pan-American Hostess, and student presentations in both English and Spanish. The festival concluded with a parade that ended at the Lakewood Civic Center.

Notable guests participated, including film and television actors Peter Graves, Fernando Lamas and Leo Carrillo, as well as champion athletes Pat McCormick and Susan Atwood, along with dignitaries from South and Central American nations. In recognition of Lakewood’s contract plan for law enforcement, Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz and Sheriff Peter Pitchess both served as parade Grand Marshals.

In the years after 1978 (when floats and marching bands no longer paraded), festival events began with a pancake breakfast at Mayfair Park and a display of historical photographs and programs telling the history of the Pan American Festival Association. The traditional trouping of flags opened the weekend’s dance and music performances that ended on Sunday evening with a free concert.

Today, food booths have been joined by craft vendors selling their wares. Civic organizations offer information about health, public safety, environmental conservation, and neighborhood improvement. Cultural awareness activities enlighten young minds. The bright lights, laughs, and thrills of a carnival remain part of the fun.

Tradition: Preserving a landmark

The Lakewood Golf Course clubhouse – called La Casa de Buenos Amigos (The House of Good Friends), designed by architect Hugh R. Davies – was the social center of the Lakewood community in the 1930s through the 1980s. The campaign to incorporate Lakewood gained strength in 1953 during meetings at the clubhouse. And long before Lakewood had any banquet facilities nearby, residents gathered at the clubhouse for weddings, club meetings, and award dinners.

In 1977, the county launched a $1.9 million renovation of the golf course and closed the clubhouse. But when the course upgrade was completed in 1979, the clubhouse remained closed. In the years that followed, vandals broke through its skylights. Pieces of its ceiling collapsed. Rain damaged the floors and wallboard. In 1980, the county called the clubhouse a “total loss.”

Exterior of the golf course clubhouse in 1981Restoration of the golf course clubhouse in 1981 united the community in support of a venerable Lakewood landmark.

Without the clubhouse, use of the golf course began to decline and course revenues dropped off. Continuing revenue losses led County Supervisor James Hayes to propose demolishing the clubhouse, selling the land on the south side of Carson Street for development, and shrinking the course from tournament-length to just nine holes.

Residents and Lakewood city officials decried Hayes’ plan to dismember the course.

In an effort to save the clubhouse and golf course, the city commissioned an independent analysis which concluded that, far from being a total loss, the clubhouse could be restored. Armed with a realistic cost estimate ($550,000) and projections of future revenue if the clubhouse reopened, Lakewood countered Hayes’ proposal with a dramatically different plan. The city would begin renovation of the clubhouse through an innovative lease-back agreement.

Under the agreement, the city loaned the county $400,000. The county provided $150,000 in direct costs. The county agreed to repay the loan in eight years using revenues generated by the renovated clubhouse. Community groups pitched in to raise another $49,000 to provide new furnishings.

Rebuilding the clubhouse was no small task. But with strong community support, the renovated clubhouse reopened in 1981.






















Del Valle Park's Skyknight jet

Jet aircraft like Lakewood's F3D-2 Skyknight (note the spelling) were first deployed to Korea in late 1952 and flown by Marine Corps aviators. In the following months, Skyknight jets like Lakewood’s shot down more North Korean aircraft than any other single type of Navy or Marine Corps aircraft. The first air-to-air victory by a jet aircraft occurred about midnight on November 2-3, 1952 by a Marine Corps F3D-2 Skyknight piloted by USMC Major William Stratton and his radar operator Master Sgt. Hans Hoglind of the VMF(N)-513 “Flying Nightmare”  attack squadron. 

Lakewood's Skyknight jet arrivesLakewood's Skyknight jet arrives at Del Valle Park.

They were on combat patrol near the North Korean Sinuiju airfield when Hoglind picked up a contact on his intercept radar. Within minutes, Stratton sighted the flare of jet exhaust. Stratton believed he was pursuing a Soviet-made Yakovlev Yak-15 (although no Yak-15s were reported to be in Korea).

After getting clearance to engage, Stratton put three bursts of 20mm cannon fire into the enemy plane and saw it explode and plunge towards the airfield below. This marked the first time that a jet had been shot down at night in air-to-air combat with the aid of intercept radar.

In 1959 and after 14 months of negotiations between Navy officials and Kenneth Pitsenberger, the city’s superintendent of parks and recreation, Del Valle Park received a very unusual piece of playground equipment – a decommissioned F3D-2 Skyknight like those that had flown during the Korean War. Lakewood's Skyknight was delivered to the park on April 11, 1959 by the Navajo Freight Lines company.

The plane, repainted dark blue thanks to its night fighter role, was originally intended to be a climbing structure for adventurous Lakewood youth.

Dedicated on Armed Forces Day in May 1959, the jet was immediately swarmed by dozens of youngsters eager to make believe. Master Sgt. Hoglind, who attended the dedication, wondered if Lakewood's Skyknight would survive this new test of its combat durability.

According to the Long Beach Press Telegram, "What seemed like a good idea at the time has become a first class headache in Lakewood. Last May a Douglas F-3D, a jet fighter, retired by the Navy after heroic service in Korea, was enthusiastically promoted – free – by the Lakewood park department. It was brought from Litchfield , Ariz., and set up in Del Valle Park. Hardly had the dedicatory oratory concluded when a massive wave of thrilled youngsters swarmed all over it. They had continued to crawl in, out and over it day after day. Only problem was that here's a 10-foot drop from the center of the fuselage to the ground, a hazard to reckless youth. So last Dec. 22 the city council ordered the plane fenced off. Now the problem is what to do with 45,000 pounds of airplane. Lakewood officialdom is welcoming suggestions."

City officials initially considered scrapping the plane. Instead, it was lifted on a concrete pylon, painted in Marine Corps colors of the 1960s, and rededicated as Lakewood’s Korean War monument on Memorial Day in 1964.

Lakewood Veterans Memorial Plaza

Lakewood Veterans Memorial Plaza at Del Valle Park

For new generations of Lakewood residents, Del Valle Park would always be known as "Airplane Park."

In the mid-1960s, Memorial Day observances jointly sponsored by the city and Lakewood’s veterans' organizations began the tradition of recognizing the young men of Lakewood who had fallen in Vietnam. Today, members of the city council still read the names of these young men under the wings of Lakewood's Skyknight.

On Memorial Day 2015, the restored jet fighter and the new Lakewood Veterans Memorial Plaza were rededicated by the city council before an an audience of veterans and residents estimated at well over 5,000. (The history of Skyknight from the Korean War to the Lakewood Veterans Memorial Plaza.)

The memorial plaza, designed to evoke the flight deck of the carrier Intrepid from which Skyknights once flew, is engraved with the names of Lakewood's Vietnam War dead and the text of "The Boys of Del Valle Park" by Dennis Lander, a Vietnam veteran. The poem recalls the boys who once played on the jet before growing up and going off to war.

The F3D Skyknight

F3D Skyknights were manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company in El Segundo. The plane’s portly profile earned it the nickname "Willie the Whale."

The F3D was not a sleek and nimble fighter, but it was not intended to be. The Skyknight was designed in 1946 around the bulky radar systems of the time. The result was an airplane with a broad and deep fuselage that made a stable platform for the radar dish and the four, 20mm cannons mounted under the plane's nose.

Because of the risk of injury, the Skyknight did not have ejection seats. The pilot and radar operator used an escape tunnel that opened under the fuselage.

The first flight of the prototype F3D-1 occurred on in March 1948. It was followed by the F3D-2, which was first ordered in August 1949. A total of 237 were built before production ended.

In the years after the Korean War, the Skyknight was gradually replaced by more powerful aircraft with better radar systems. The plane’s career was not over; its stability and spacious fuselage made it adaptable to other roles.

Skyknight jets continued in service through the 1960s with a gull gray (above) and white (below) color scheme, flying electronic countermeasures missions during the Vietnam War until 1969. The U.S. Marine Corps retired its last Skyknight in 1970.

Jet.jpg F3D-2 Skyknight Specifications:

Crew: Two (pilot, radar operator) 

Length: 45 ft 5 in (13.85 m)

Wingspan: 50 ft 0 in (15.24 m)

Height: 16 ft 1 in (4.90 m)

Wing area: 400 sq ft (37.2 sq/m)

Empty weight: 14,989 lb (6,813 kg)

Loaded weight: 21,374 lb (9,715 kg)

Maximum takeoff weight: 26,731 lb (12,151 kg)

Engines: Two Westinghouse J34-WE-36 turbojets, each 3,400 lb (1,542 kg)

Guns: Four 20mm (0.787 in) Hispano-Suiza M2 cannons (200 rounds/gun)

Cruise speed: 395 knots (454 mph, 731 km/h)

Range: 1,195 nm (1,374 mi, 2,212 km) with the addition of two 150-gallon tanks

Service ceiling: 36,700 ft (11,200 m)

Rate of climb: 2,970 ft/min (15.1 m/s)