El Segundo’s decision to build a large central park in the city during the 1950s came from necessity. The postwar aerospace industry was ramping up in the area, and the sleepy little town’s population was growing rapidly. Recreational facilities needed to be improved and enlarged, and the city’s planners proved up to the task.
The city paid $200,000 for 12 acres of land running along Pine Avenue and Eucalyptus Drive in 1954, a good-sized plot for a park. But the city needed every bit of it.
Here’s what they planned for the new Recreation Park: a full-size baseball field for use by the El Segundo High team, another field for Little League and other youth leagues, a softball field, a two-story community clubhouse, tennis and basketball courts, lawn bowling, concession stands, and an outdoor stage area for music, dance and theater; They also planned room for picnicking and barbecues.
The city hired the Los Angeles architectural firm William Woollett & Associates to plan the community building as well as the rest of the park.
Planners expected the cost to range from $500,000 to $600,000 initially. But when the first bid, an incomplete one not including electrical work, came at $536,000 in 1955, they realized that costs would be more than anticipated.
The Woollett plans actually called for a bit more land than the original 12 acres. A small triangular parcel had to be purchased from Pacific Electric for $125,000 in late 1955 in order to ensure that the high school baseball diamond had a center field fence more than 300 feet from home plate, instead of an undersized 250.
The city, which started its own parks and recreation department in 1956 — partially so it could devote full attention to such details — officially broke ground on the new park that same year.
The City Council gave its approval to the $850,000 final plan for Recreation Park in September 1957. Adjusted for inflation, that $850,000 would be the equivalent of $7 million to 8 million in 2019, according to various inflation calculators.
Construction began shortly afterward, with the goal of having the baseball fields open in time for the 1958 season. The fields did indeed open in March 1958, and the park as a whole opened later that summer.
The first Little League game was played on May 7, 1958, and the El Segundo High Eagles played their home games at Recreation Park that season.
Founded in 1954, the El Segundo Little League would funnel several players to the major leagues. Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, who played his entire career with the Kansas City Royals, and his brothers Ken, John and Bobby played in the Little League. They went on to play for legendary coach John Stevenson at El Segundo High. All-Star Baltimore Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor and former Los Angeles Lakers small forward Keith Erickson also came up through the Little League and played for Stevenson.
George Brett and Stevenson — who helmed the baseball team at El Segundo for 50, until he died 2010 — both had the honor of having fields at Recreation Park named for them. The high school field became Stevenson Field in 1992, while the Little League field was renamed George Brett Field in 1999.
The Recreation Park clubhouse was also renamed the George E. Gordon Clubhouse in 1984 in honor of the former El Segundo city councilman. In 2002, the city drew criticism when it announced plans to raze the aging original structure and build a new one that included a gymnasium.
A new building, however, turned out to be too expensive. So the building was updated and revamped for $150,000 instead. After closing for a year, the clubhouse reopened in April 2005 and remains one of the park’s busiest facilities to this day.
Over the years, the city has continued to improve and add to Recreation Park. The Joslyn Center for adult and senior citizen activities opened there in 1966, and has become a popular gathering place for seniors.
The park now also has volleyball courts, a paddle tennis court and a roller hockey rink.
The park’s original plan and continual updating has allowed Recreation Park to continue thriving as the city’s busiest and most diverse recreational resource, mostly thanks to those visionaries who swallowed hard before laying out a small fortune for its original construction in the 1950s