EARLY HISTORY OF WASHINGTON PARK
In 1920, the city of Pasadena purchased 3.10 acres of land at the corner of El Molino and Washington Boulevard, owned by Abraham I. Shapiro, for $8500. $6900 was city funds and $1605 public donations including $1000 from Mrs. Justine B. Parker, of N. El Molino whose late husband, Warren Dawes Parker, had been an early booster of the park concept.
The Northeast Improvement Association was instrumental in gathering public input on the proposed purchase, calling the first meeting for public comments on the subject at Longfellow School on July 19, 1920. At that meeting the concept of the park was strongly supported: "Resolved, that we heartily endorse the policy of gradually establishing neighborhood parks and breathing spots in all parts of the city. The claim that such parks are not needed because Pasadena is itself a beautiful park is fallacious. The private grounds which give Pasadena her reputation are not open to neighboring children for playgrounds and the public streets are neither safe nor suitable for such purposes."3 At a larger gathering at the school in March 1921, three city commissioners and representatives of the PTAs of Longfellow, Jefferson, Washington and Madison schools were present. Resolutions endorsing the park were introduced. One read: "the city has not paid one dollar for park purposes east of Broadway and north of California street; the center of population is east of El Molino and north of Union; all the large public schools in this city are located in that part of the city discriminated against in the location of public parks."4
A petition was circulated among local residents calling for naming the new park after our first president. Mrs. Parker was among the 22 signatories.5
"We are met here on this beautiful spring afternoon to dedicate this parcel of ground as a public park. We are met not as the friends of a landholder who has called us together to look over the extensive acres which he has had dedicated to his private uses in the sports of the chase. We are met not as subjects of a king to see him parade his troops. We are met rather as citizens of a free country to dedicate for ourselves this plot of land purchased with our money, for our own delight and benefit. We are here to dedicate this park to a more beautiful Pasadena. "6
The formal dedication of the park, on Saturday, April 30, 1921 at 2 p.m., was high-lighted by speeches, music, and the planting of a small grove of memorial oaks.
Among those speaking at the dedication were John J. Hamilton, Commissioner of Public Works & Buildings; Mrs. I. N. Smith, Washington Heights Club Past President; Rev. Daniel F.Fox, First Congregational Church; and the Rev. Arthur O. Pritchard, Westminster Presbyterian Church, giving the main dedication address. The Rev. Carl F. Henry, Universalist Church; Prof. Rufus Mead, Principal of the John Muir School; M.V. Hartranft; Dr. George L. Huntington for the Audubon Society; Dr. Bertha Lovewell Dickenson for the Browning Club; Charles D. Daggett; and Rev. Robert Freeman each gave a three minute speech for the tree honorees.
The Pasadena Concert Band, directed by Harold G. Simpson, played several numbers; Mrs. C. C. Blauvelt lead the community in singing, and Miss Juma Wolff sang two solos ("I Love You, California" and "Hark, Hark the Lark"). 7
Folk games played by the pupils of the Longfellow School ended the program
The Memorial Oaks
At the dedication ceremony, five "Memorial Oaks" were planted at the southwest corner of the new park in honor of five lovers of nature: John Burroughs, John Muir, Theodore Parker Lukens, Dr. Charles Frederick Holder and Dr. Garrett Newkirk. An additional oak tree was planted for Dr. Warren Dawes Parker, a distinguished educator, who before his death was a prime mover in the plan for the park. Lukens was a former Mayor of Pasadena and first supervisor of what became the Angelus Forest Reserve. Burroughs was a famous naturalist and Holder and Newkirk were Pasadenans and prominent naturalists.8
Boy Scouts assisted in the ceremony, guarding the sites of the trees, which were later registered in the national honor roll of the American Forestry Association.8
Today four of the original trees are still standing - those dedicated to Muir, Burroughs, Lukens, and Newkirk.
Washington Park Leads the Way
"The unsightly dump at El Molino avenue and Washington street has been acquired for transformation into a park and playground. […] While only two small parks have been added [to the city of Pasadena], it is believed that the spirited contest necessary in order to secure the purchase of ground for Washington park has overcome the opposition to neighborhood parks for all the people, and that other victories for liberal and enlightened policies will be won, until every child in Pasadena will be within walking distance of some pretty playground."9
1Pasadena Star News, November 14, 1948, "Plans Told for Improvement of Washington Park Here"
2Pasadena Star-News, July 9, 1920, "Votes $6500 for Sunken Garden"
3Pasadena Star-News, July 20, 1920, "Endorse Park Project at Meeting"
4Pasadena Star-News, March 23, 1921, "City Officials in Favor of Small Park."
5Pasadena Star-News, April 15, 1921, "Select Name Washington for Park"
6Pasadena Star-News, April 30, 1921, "Dedication of Washington Park Held - Interesting Event Draws Large Crowd to Site on Northside - Memorial Oak Trees Planted - City Honors Six Men Who Were Distinguished Nature Lovers"
7Pasadena Star-News, April 29, 1921, "Dedicate New Park Next Saturday"
8Pasadena Star-News, May 2, 1921, "City Commission Holds its Final Business Session"
9Pasadena Evening Post, April 30, 1921, "Final Report upon Parks Filed"