After watching Buster Keaton’s antics at San Gabriel’s Mission Playhouse I decided to head home. Living in SoCal traffic is always a concern so I checked Google maps for the fastest route and found myself navigating the city’s side streets. As I was driving I noticed a sign for Vincent Lugo Park and immediately took a detour. The park had been long on my list of must see spots and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to visit pass me by.
Vincent Lugo Park, named for a long-time city parks supervisor, was founded in 1965 and, at first glance, appears to be a typical urban park. There are picnic tables, a ball field and some walking trails and if you take the right once you’ll come across something really special.
Vincent Lugo Park doesn’t have any old playground. Instead it contains a magical area called Laguna de San Gabriel consisting of whimsical sea creatures designed by artist Benjamin Dominguez.
Today the playground is beautifully restored but there was a time when it was in danger of being no more. In 2006 it was to be demolished because it was deemed a safety hazard. When I was a kid I played on playgrounds much jankier than this and I came out ok but I know liability is a real issue nowadays. Regardless, citizens rallied and the playground was saved. In fact, it was completely restored and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s truly a magical place. If I had come here as a child I would have been in heaven climbing an octopus, sliding down a sea serpent and traveling through the belly of a whale. Heck, as an adult I was filled with joy just looking at it and if there hadn’t been so many kids present I might have indulged in a ride.
Historic places come in many shapes and sizes and Laguna de San Gabriel is one of the most unique ones. I’m certainly happy it’s been embraced and lovingly preserved by the citizens of San Gabriel. I hope it entertains generations of children to come.