There is nothing more heartening than taking a summertime stroll through one of the hundreds of public parks in Los Angeles County. Nowhere else will you see such a mix of cultures, styles, and ages, all enjoying the beauty of outdoor life in Los Angeles. Toddlers celebrate their birthdays next to 50-year high school reunions, and hikers power walk past sunbathers. The smell of barbecue fills the air, while yogis burn sage as they stretch their legs to the sky. From the biggest park to the smallest, a feeling of camaraderie and celebration is all around.
Today’s Angelenos are participating in a civic tradition that has been strong in Los Angeles for over a century. In 1916, before television, the internet, and (most importantly) air conditioning, the burgeoning park system provided crucial recreation opportunities for the city’s 300,000-plus residents. To celebrate the end of summer 2016, let’s take a look at what summer was like 100 years ago in three of Los Angeles’s most popular parks.
If there was a jewel in the L.A. park system’s crown in the 1910s, it was Westlake (now MacArthur) Park. Opened in 1890, Westlake Park was situated in the most fashionable residential neighborhood in Los Angeles. Modeled on European parks, it featured elegant promenades and a shimmering lake dotted with various types of boats that one could rent by the hour. The park’s romantic beauty made it perennially popular with lovers both happy and sad.
During the summer months, live music was provided several times a week. This was the era of “park bands,” like the Los Angeles Park Concert Band and Gregory’s Band, which travelled from one big park to the next, playing a mixture of classical mainstays, popular waltzes, marches, and foxtrots. “One can enjoy it while rowing, entertaining friends, smoking a fragrant Havana or partaking of sweets,” a Los Angeles Times reporter explained. In 1914, Miller’s Military Band played many shows in Westlake. One concert in July was described thusly by the Times:
Westlake seemed to have taken upon itself a subdued festival attire last evening. Miller’s Military Band was playing to a large audience scattered around the edge of the lake. Numerous boats were lazily moving on the surface of the water, the red lanterns at the stern of each canoe casting long and dancing crimson shadows.