A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

SoCal isn’t usually the first place that pops into the head of most people when they are thinking about places rich in history. Strolling Main Street at Disneyland and gazing upon Clark Gable’s star on Hollywood Blvd. don’t exactly stand on the same footing as visiting Monticello or paying respects to the fallen at Gettysburg.

And while most tourists can be forgiven a lack of knowledge about the subtle yet fascinating history of the region, I have no idea what to say to the local natives who claim the movies Chinatown and L.A. Confidential as primary reference sources on the history of Los Angeles and it environs.

No wonder we have an actor for Governor.

Despite all that, there is a ton of history layin’ ‘round here that not only makes living in SoCal a great adventure but serves to make things like the urban fishing experience much more enjoyable, in my humble opinion.

Take Lincoln Park for example. Now, every major city in the U.S. and many not so major ones as well, have a Lincoln Park. What makes the one in L.A. unique is…well, that is in L.A.

But seriously, Lincoln Park and its lake were once one of the open-air gems in a quartet of parks situated roughly in the four cardinal directions from the city center. Established in the final years of the 19th century, it was originally called East Los Angeles Park then Eastside Park then Eastlake Park and then, after firmly establishing its direction from downtown in the hearts and minds of the citizens, Lincoln Park in honor of … the High School down the road.

In its heyday, Lincoln Park was THE place to stroll on a warm Sunday afternoon and possibly take your sweetie out for a pleasant rowboat ride on the small lake. If rowing was not your thing then a meander through the alligator farm might have been in order. Over a hundred large gators were on display as well as a wide variety of alligator related trinkets – some things in L.A. never change. It is recorded in several historical articles that escaped alligators would frequently make the lake in Lincoln Park their temporary home until they could be rounded up and returned to the farm, none the worse for the wear.

If large, bellowing reptiles were not your cup of tea, then you could check out the ostriches at the adjacent ostrich farm where, aside from the obligatory gift shop selling ostrich plumes for your hat, you could watch ostrich races or have a photo taken of you sitting in a small cart being pulled by – what else – ostriches.

In case that wasn’t enough distraction to hinder your back cast and confound your choice of flies (just what does one use to entice a gator to strike?) William Selig of early movie studio fame went on to establish a zoo on the north edge of the park and in a most Disney-esque fashion had high hopes of turning East Los Angeles into an entertainment destination par excellance.

He never got beyond a couple of Ferris wheels as far as amusement parks go but his property adjacent to the park eventually became a huge movie studio and the zoo grew to became one of the biggest zoos and most famous botanical gardens in the world with over 700 animals including many “celebrity” animals from Selig’s movies

Other historical documents tell of a mock Indian Village in the park where real Native Americans demonstrated traditional arts and crafts and of various fairs and of a variety of other amusements for the general public.

One of my favorites was a series of stepping stones that allowed one to seemingly walk on water across a corner of the lake. That might have been handy in those days prior to reliable waders

Sadly, the magnificent zoo, alligator farm, studio buildings and Ferris Wheels have vanished from the landscape of Lincoln Park as have the stately greenhouses, the rowboats and the wooden carousel. Laundromats and donut shops stand in the places where beautiful entry gates topped with sculptures of elephants and big cats used to tower.

Today there remains a closed and shuttered boathouse and the occasional portion of an odd pathway or awkwardly positioned streetlamp as well as similar out of place fragments of stone walls or curbs which serve as clues to a mostly forgotten yet glorious past.

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