Last week, I wrote about growing up in the Midwick Tract in Alhambra, California. At the edge of the tract was Granada Park, the hub of activity for the entire area.
The kids in the tract attended two public schools and the nearby Catholic school, but on weekends and during the summer, we all met at the park.
In those days, we walked, skated, or rode our bikes everywhere. Parents didn’t worry about us. We had no need for block parents because most mothers stayed home. If we ever needed help, we knew we could knock on any door and find it.
For the neighborhood boys, summer began with Little League tryouts. Although several teams, sponsored by local businesses, played at Granada Park, not every boy who wanted to play made a team. Larry’s dad (second from the right in the back row) was a coach for his brother’s team. I also recognize quite a few of the other neighborhood dads in the photo above.
The park featured a large baseball diamond where the games were played. We sat on bleachers to cheer on our friends. Parents manned the snack stand in case we were hungry. A second diamond, adjacent to the main one, could be used for practice.
Next to the baseball diamonds, were the tennis courts. When others weren’t playing, we roller-skated on the cement courts. Sometimes we rode our bikes there as well. Some years later, lights were installed so the courts could be used at night. Larry remembers skateboarding there in the evenings.
The biggest draw at the park was the pool. Although I learned to swim at the YMCA, most of the neighborhood kids, like my brother, learned at the park.
I always associate the strong smell of chlorine with the pool. We paid our quarter and were entitled to a full day in the pool. We accessed the deck through the locker rooms, segregated by gender. Before we emerged, we were required to shower. Of course, most kids turned on a shower and flicked water on themselves. If the lifeguards caught anyone with a dry suit, they blew their whistles and made the dry swimmer return to the showers.
Between the locker room and the deck, we had to traverse the footbath. The strong chlorine smell burned my eyes and stayed on my skin for days. I often wondered if straight bleach was poured into the basin.
The pool seemed huge to me as a kid. It might have been Olympic size or larger, but I can’t be sure. The shallow end was two feet deep and the depth increased to about ten feet. (I’m sure others will correct me if I’m wrong.)
Two diving boards graced the deep end. One was a standard springboard. When I took diving at the Y, I practiced on the low board.
Next to it was the high dive. A platform rose probably fifteen to twenty feet high from the deck, accessed by a steep ladder. (Again, it seemed high and scary to me as a kid. I’m sure others may remember exactly how tall it was.)
When I was in my teens, I finally decided to try it. I climbed the ladder, but when I looked down, I froze. I had intended to dive, but the idea of going headfirst into the water so far away terrified me. Only one of us was allowed to be on the platform at a time, and the kids on the ground started yelling at me. Retreating down the ladder would have labeled me as a chicken for life. I finally screwed up my courage, walked to the end of the board, and stepped off the end. I held my arms close to my sides and dropped straight in. I sank to the bottom, kicked off, and rose to the surface. I never tried the high dive again.
A big hill rose in the center of the park. I remember rolling down it with my friends. We often had grass stains on our clothes. Our mothers complained but we loved playing there.
Some kids brought large pieces of cardboard they used as sleds to get from the top to the bottom. Others brought large blocks of ice. In the heat of summer, riding those down must have felt good. I never did it, but some of my friends remember it fondly.
My idea of a great summer day was riding my bike to the park with a book and sitting under a tree on the hill reading the afternoon away.
When I was in junior high, a gymnasium was built at the top of the hill. Kids played basketball on the court, and dances were held there. I attended one, but I never went back.
Next week, I’ll tell you about my favorite place in the park: the playground.
Did you go to a park as a child? What do you remember?