Saturday, July 11, 2015

Vincent Lugo's Monster Park, and Its Forgotten Namesake

I had lunch with Vincent Lugo the other day.



No, not that Vincent Lugo, but close enough: his only son.



People may know Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel by its original name, San Gabriel Municipal Park, or more commonly by "Laguna de San Gabriel," or, as the kids say, "Monster Park."



They're not exactly monsters, but some big colorful beasts do call it home.



Most of them are relatively innocuous super-sized sea creatures...



...like a snail converted into a slide.



Although there's no water to be found...



...there's plenty of marine life on this sandy lagoon.



The sculptures were the last project of Mexican artist Benjamin Dominguez...



...who, by age 70, had already completed parks in Texas, Beverly Hills, Garden Grove, and Whittier Narrows' Legg Lake park.



He intended to capture the friendly faces of the sea...



...but kids always seem to see monsters, dragons, and dinosaurs in the figures.



Still, they're undaunted by such hulking figures as Ozzie the Octopus...



...and climb all over them...



...completely disregarding the fact that their historic character prevents them from conforming to modern safety standards.



The kids don't seem to care, though, and they manage to negotiate odd-sized footholds and narrow passageways...



...to slide through the forehead of a monster.



I myself couldn't resist having a go at one of them...



...so I chose Minnie the Whale, who seemed sturdy enough to bear my (adult) weight.



According to photos, at some point, she used to be pink.



The thing is, La Laguna Playground is just one portion of the nine acre park, the largest in San Gabriel. And although some people might be aware that Benjamin Dominguez was the artist behind these fanciful concrete monsters, does anybody know who commissioned the sculptures from Dominguez?

Vincent Lugo. 

The father, not the son who made me a sandwich. The namesake of the park.

In 1965, Lugo was parks supervisor for the City of San Gabriel, and was chiefly responsible for converting a city landfill into the San Gabriel Municipal Park – lauded for transforming trash into beauty.

Because of his contributions to San Gabriel as a city employee for over 30 years, and because of his vision to beautify those nine acres of city dump, Vincent Lugo was remembered in a 1988 rededication of Municipal Park, which was renamed Vincent Lugo Park in his honor.

There has been a lot of attention on the preservation of the park – particularly of the lagoon, which was threatened with removal in 2005 in an attempt to update the aging park. Supporters considered the steel-framed concrete critters "historic public art" in a unique playground, and by 2007, saved them.

Ongoing revitalization started in 2011, and since then, a lot of the focus has shifted onto their creator, Benjamin Dominguez, with the contributions of the parks supervisor – and even his name – largely forgotten.

But there's more to Vincent's story than just the park named after him: he was the descendent of the pioneering Lugo family of Rancho San Antonio. The Lugos were among the other influential Californios of the 1850s – the Picos, the Olveras – and were the ones to sell areas of San Bernardino County to the Mormons. They are included in the "Becoming LA" exhibit at the Natural History Museum. They are mentioned in books about El Pueblo, and pictured on horseback.

But who was Vincent P. Lugo of the 20th century, descended from one of the prominent founding families of Los Angeles, and father to my new friend Vince?

I don't really know yet. But I look forward to finding out.

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Photo Essay: A Metal Menagerie of Wild Animals