Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Who's on First?

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Who's on First?

Article excerpt

Have you ever taken the time to learn why your park or recreation center is named what it is? I did when I travelled to Los Angeles last November for the ribbon cutting and celebration for a completed project at the Lou Costello, Jr. Recreation Center. I considered it a fun fact that the project involved the refurbishment of the baseball diamonds, as I played out in my mind the famous comedy duo Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First," the pair's signature comedy skit that I had watched so many times with my baseball-loving family. The project was part of NRPA's work with The Coca-Cola Company's Refreshing Community Spaces program, and what an exciting day as members of the Boyle Heights community poured onto the field and into the nearby recreation center for games, music and fun. Everyone I talked to was thrilled with the new fields and especially the shade structures and new bleachers--no more splinters! Many sat proudly on a bench to have their photo taken with a festival-like backdrop--their home field and the park where their community comes together were in full celebration mode.

I worked with the staff of the Los Angeles Park and Recreation Department for many months on the project and was so excited to meet many of them in person at the event. "There's a fine line between comedy and tragedy," Superintendent Sophia Pina-Cortez said to me as I expressed my appreciation for her remarks at the celebration. During the many months it took to complete the refurbishment, I merely assumed that the field and recreation center were named for Lou Costello, Sr., the actor and comedian. In fact, the site was named in memory of Lou Costello, Jr., his only son.

In 1943, just one day before his first birthday, Lou Costello, Jr., also known as Butch, fell into the family swimming pool and drowned. Earlier that day the elder Costello asked his wife Anne to keep Butch awake to see if he'd recognize his dad's voice on the radio, because he and Bud Abbott were performing their radio show that evening. Many Hollywood stars and friends--people like Mickey Rooney--called and offered to fill in for Lou, but he somehow managed to get through the hour-long radio program. Only after they finished and Lou quickly left the stage to return home did Abbott explain to everyone on the set and in the audience that earlier that day Butch had drowned. Lou reportedly said to his sister, Marie, "I asked Anne to keep Butch up as I wanted to see if he'd recognize my voice on the radio, and wherever God has taken my son, I want him to know he can still hear me." This is why he went to the studio and continued with the show on that impossibly sad day.

Lou Costello, Sr. turned tragedy into purpose with a mission to help people learn to swim, a life skill that he now saw as crucial. The recreation center in Boyle Heights was part of that mission--the land that is now the park and recreation center was originally the site of the Lou Costello, Jr. Foundation, which was founded by Lou Costello, Sr. and Abbott in 1947. In 1949, the land was conveyed to the city of Los Angeles under the condition that it would continue as a memorial to Butch and serve the youth of the community. During the ensuing years, thousands of people have enjoyed the center's pool and perhaps more importantly, thousands have learned to swim there--a key component of what Abbott and Costello had hoped to accomplish. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.