It really is a small world.
About 100 years ago, the city's first park opened on Olvera Street. At about the same time, Israel Borts was born in Moscow.
Neither was certain to survive this long, and Borts had no idea how important the parks would be to him.
Borts has lived a century. He ran a trucking company, raised five children and has lived to see seven great-grandchildren. He hasn't stopped getting out and about. Borts is a member of three senior citizen groups at the Hazard Recreation Center, and says the social programs are the center of his life.
"They mean everything to me. There's no rocking chair in my home," said Borts, who moved to East Los Angeles in 1920. "My senior citizens groups are always on the go. We have parties and take trips to Las Vegas. The programs keep me busy. They keep me alive."
Borts was one of 200 park users who gathered Tuesday at El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park to kick off the centennial celebration of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. The department will sponsor special activities throughout the year, including animal shows at the Los Angeles Zoo, ethnic food fairs, talent contests and photo exhibits.
Tuesday's celebration featured performing groups that practice at area parks, including the Asian American Ballet, the Xipe Totec Aztec Indian dancers and Somebody Special Inc., a drill team of teen-age girls who boogie to Motown sounds.
"While we're working out in the park, we're staying off the street and out of trouble," said dancer Tenisha Webb, 12, of Pacoima.
A time capsule, containing examples of arts and crafts, feathers of the endangered California condor, a preserved grunion, park T-shirts and sporting goods, will be buried at Olvera Street in a couple of weeks. Parks officials said the capsule will be dug up in 50 years.
Mayor Tom Bradley, who attended the celebration, said, "By then, the department will be discussing playgrounds on the moon, keeping ahead of the times as always."
Besides the various galas planned to celebrate the centennial, parks officials said 1989 is also expected to be a better year for 66 inner-city parks that are run-down, dominated by gangs and abandoned by the public.
The City Council alloted nearly $3 million to the Department of Parks and Recreation for refurbishments and increased security at the parks, most of which are located in South-Central and East Los Angeles.
"With that money, we have hired 27 more park rangers and completely restored gymnasiums, basketball courts and baseball diamonds," said Jack Perez, the department's superintendent of recreation. "The facilities look like new. The grafitti is gone and our rangers are keeping incorrigibles off the premises."
Last year, the city lost $15-million worth of equipment because of vandalism in the parks, officials said.
"I don't see why anybody would want to ruin parks," said 10-year-old Jessica West of Pacoima. "They can be really fun places when people are not fighting."