“The Oldest Park in the City of Redondo Beach”
By Kathy McLeod
In Redondo Beach, lies a small, uniquely-designed park that is steeped in our city’s rich history. Vincent Park was originally designed in 1887 by William Hammond Hall, the civil engineer who planned the original town site of Redondo Beach and who also designed San Francisco’s Golden State Park. The park’s “one-of-a-kind design” eventually shaped the surrounding streets and blocks of the city and is a beautiful example of historic park design.
Constructed around 1890, Vincent Park reflects special elements of not only our city’s cultural history, but that of the nation as well. It was during this time that America was filled with newly-found optimism. The coming of the industrial age and railroads to Los Angeles brought visions of new settlers and tourists alike. Our city founders saw, as one of our major attractions, the establishment of a Chautauqua Assembly Site, Vincent Park and its surrounding area.
What Was the Chautauqua Movement?
The Chautauqua was an organized, nationwide movement that had its roots in the early Protestant camp meetings and was meant to bring an emotional, communal and outdoor approach to America’s thirst for knowledge, religion, music and art.
The idea itself grew out of the association of two men; Reverend John Heyl Vincent (a Methodist minister) and a successful businessman, Lewis Miller. In opting for outdoor “Sunday School” which they first began at Lake Chautauqua in New York, both men felt that the outdoors provided a more spiritual, inspirational experience, especially for those unable to afford a higher education. The name “chautauqua” is of Native-American origin and has been given several different interpretations, mostly representing the shape of the lake itself.
The first Chautauqua Assembly brought thousands of people from twenty-five states and four foreign countries. To meet the growing demand for this new learning experience, independent Chautauqua Assemblies began to spring up all over the country from coast to coast. Our entire nation welcomed these exciting “out of door lessons” given by ministers, musicians, poets and storytellers, even with the likes of Mark Twain. A total of nine U.S. Presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, spoke at the Chautauqua Assemblies. Chautauqua Assemblies peaked in 1924 with over 10,000 American communities partaking with estimated attendances of over 40 million.
Today, very few people realize that when they are vacationing at the West Coast’s most pastoral sites (Yosemite Valley, Monterey’s Pacific Grove, the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon and the Vashon Island in Puget Sound), they are visiting former sites that were all important links in the chain of independent Chautauqua Assemblies that thrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Redondo’s Shining Gem
In the late 1880s, the Chautauqua Assembly Association of Southern California was given almost fifteen acres for an assembly site. Long Beach held the original site but Redondo later purchased the rights to the assembly, locating the Assembly Building at Diamond and Elena streets in 1889.
Hall’s location and design of Vincent Park represented the true meaning of the movement. As the Chautauqua used an oil lamp as their symbol to reflect a “lamp of learning” design, the City’s first map in 1887 shows Vincent Park and its surrounding streets in a “lamp-like” configuration, with the Park being the base of the lamp. In later years, Redondo High School purchased the large “lamp” portion for ball fields, leaving only the “lamp base” (Vincent Park) remaining. The streets surrounding the Park and running through the Park itself reflect the names of local and national leaders in the Chautauqua movement (Vincent, Spencer, Fleming) with the Park’s name honoring the movement’s founder, John Heyl Vincent.
Today, Vincent Park’s pristine presence in our city is truly to be respected and preserved. The Park is home to over twenty mature trees, numerous butterflies and dozens of avian species. In 2002, residents petitioned and the City granted landmark status to Vincent Park. The Park is one of the future sites of Redondo’s Path to History which recognizes important landmarks and historical sites within the City.