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Long Beach’s Heartwell Park started out as a shotgun. East from Clark Avenue to a point at about where Studebaker is today, it was long and slender like the barrel of a shotgun, then as it reached the San Gabriel River it flared out and widened in the shape of the gun’s stock until it ended at Pioneer Boulevard.

The shotgun shape of Heartwell Park. Illustration from the Long Beach Independent, Jan. 9, 1953.

The Long Beach Water Department purchased the long strip of undeveloped land from the Montana Land Co. in 1931. The company agreed to sell the property to the city with the provision that it be used for public parks and playgrounds and the development of water.

It was named for Col. Charles L. Heartwell, the first president of the Long Beach Water Department’s board of water commissioners.

For years the land remained largely unused for anything but water. It stood guard, instead, against a possible incursion by Lakewood to move south of Carson to annex a huge portion of unincorporated land stretching to Wardlow Road.

But because one city couldn’t occupy two separate discontiguous parcels of land, the shotgun strip kept Lakewood at bay. Eventually, Lakewood promoters of annexing the land thought they’d found a way to connect their city to the southern section by creeping across unincorporated land near the Douglas airplane plant, but that bit of ingress was cut off when Long Beach allowed Douglas to expand its facility with the agreement that it would annex to Long Beach, thereby cutting off Lakewood’s chances of increasing its size.

One last stab by Lakewood was a plan to establish a city that would be called South Lakewood on the southern side of Heartwell, with the idea that the twin cities could eventually join up in the future.

Meanwhile, in other park news, plans were afoot for a massive, 1,350-acre Los Alamitos Park, which would eventually be called El Dorado Regional Park. Those plans would further stymie Lakewood’s hope for southern expansion.

Lakewood backers complained, led by Angelo Iacoboni, president of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce and who would later become Lakewood’s first mayor. He called the Los Alamitos Park  plan “an encroachment device” and said “It’s doubtful Long Beach intends ever to establish a park in the region in view of the fact that it has had Heartwell Park for approximately a generation without doing anything about it. (And) to obtain the land would make the complete envelopment of a large Lakewood area south of Carson Street.”

From today’s vantage, you can see Lakewood continually banging its civic head against the Carson Street boundary as defended by Heartwell in what would be a vain attempt to significantly expand its size. Much of the area on both sides of Carson that it had its eyes on were indeed on the cusp of aligning with Lakewood as evidenced by places like Lakewood Village, a panhandle of Long Beach extending north of Carson to Del Amo Boulevard between Lakewood and Bellflower boulevards, a neighborhood whose residents frequently prefer to call The Village.

And, while Long Beach did, indeed leave Heartwell relatively unimproved and used strictly as a buffer against incursions for many years, it grew into a vibrant and much-used recreational area with the passage of nearly $5 million in parks bonds in 1956.

As a result of that financial infusion, Heartwell added its 3-par 18-hole golf course and restaurant, 10 baseball diamonds, a walking path, a community center and hundreds of trees. It’s lake came along in 1965 and in the 1980s it added soccer fields and continued to provide a 2.5-acre space for Girl Scout administrative office and camping areas as well as nearly seven acres for the Campfire Girls. Today, at 161 acres, it’s the city’s second-largest park.

Heartwell’s community center, one of the later improvements made to the park. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Heartwell’s eastern end, the stock of the shotgun, was initially turned into an honor farm for alcoholics and, later, into a community garden and finally into the property now occupied by Walmart in the Long Beach Towne Center.

The biggest park, El Dorado Regional, too, became a reality, despite Iacoboni’s cynical doubts, and as for the residents of the area that Lakewood once hoped would become the city of South Lakewood, they voted, parcel by parcel, to annex with Long Beach in the 1950s, save for a little unincorporated “Island” community between Palo Verde and Woodruff avenues and Conant Street and Heartwell Park.

Local history: How Long Beach enthusiastically passed bond to buy Recreation Park in 1923

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.