Time was when the Huntingtons, Gambles and other well-to-do families in the San Gabriel Valley could throw dazzling parties for a few hundred guests in the comfort of their own lavishly appointed estates.
But these days, when guest lists for children's birthday parties, wedding receptions and company picnics threaten to bulge beyond the seams of the average home, area residents increasingly are turning to community parks to host their large-scale festivities.
Most community parks are simple stretches of grass dotted with a few picnic tables and a playground. But others in the San Gabriel Valley offer a wide range of amenities--from lighted basketball courts to lawn-bowling greens to hiking trails--and make ideal party sites.
"Definitely parks are becoming more popular," said Mary Harley, reservations coordinator for the Pasadena Recreation Department. "More people are reserving, so it's really busy. From January to August, I get anywhere from 20 to 40 calls in a five-hour period.
"From September to December, it's moderate," Harley said, "but . . . there's (still) a lot of activity at the parks."
Take a recent weekend at Almansor Park in Alhambra, where Grace and Leo Tengco were throwing a birthday bash for their 8-year-old twins, Jacqueline and Katherine, in a lakeside picnic shelter.
Close by, soccer and softball games were in full swing, punctuated by shouts and cheers. Groups of teen-agers were chattering and giggling. A little farther away, more dignified outbursts escaped from an older crowd clad in dazzling white outfits and visors who were engaged in the delicate art of lawn bowling.
The Tengco twins, though, ignored the noise as well as three wedding parties that gingerly picked their way past the picnic shelter in search of strategic photo spots. Instead, Jacqueline and Katherine--"Jaya" and "Kaya" to friends--kept an eye on the steadily growing pile of gifts and discussed the pros and cons of turning 8.
When she woke up that morning, Kaya said thoughtfully, "I felt the same--like I was 7."
But Jaya noticed a change immediately: "When I woke up, I felt like I was 8. I felt smarter and happier."
Their mother, however, was decidedly tired after going all out in decorating the shelter according to the theme of Disney's "The Little Mermaid," the twins' favorite film.
"Little Mermaid" tablecloths and plates, as well as schools of goldfish swimming in glass bowls, adorned the tables. A mermaid pinata swayed gently in the breeze in time with the movie's sound track. And as the final touch, a live mermaid, courtesy of FairyTale Characters Professional Entertainment, was coaxed into performing a magic show.
The park, for Grace Tengco, was the solution to the problem of throwing a large party.
"My house is not big enough to entertain a big number of people. We're supposed to have 150 guests," said Tengco, who lives in Los Angeles. "We invited my kids' whole class, and my friends have a lot of kids. . . . I (looked) for a park that has a lake--I like that--and I just found it by accident."
Her friend Sharon Frias, who brought her 6-year-old son to the party, agreed that the park setting was ideal. "I'd rather have (the kids) outside than running around inside the house. Having them outside saves you the mess people make indoors, and it's just easier--when the party's done, everyone just goes home," she said.
"That's the reason why parents would rather have their kids' parties out in the park," Frias said. "It saves them the cleaning up, and the kids have more space to run around."
Here, for anyone seeking a place to park a child's birthday party, family reunion or weekend softball game, is a list of selected San Gabriel Valley parks and their amenities. In some cities, reservations are available only for residents. No alcohol is allowed in city parks, except in Covina.
ALHAMBRA--Almansor Park, 800 S. Almansor St. (818) 570-5081 daytime, 570-5052 evenings. Picnic area with barbecues. Reservations accepted (fees range from $20-50). Children's play area. Two man-made lakes. Athletic facilities: gymnasium, four softball fields (three lighted), three lighted tennis courts, golf course, horseshoe pits, jogging trail, lawn-bowling green, shuffleboard deck.
ARCADIA--Wilderness Park, 2240 N. Highland Oaks Dr. (818) 355-9938. Picnic shelters with barbecues. Reservations accepted (minimum $15 fee; residents only, youth and nonprofit groups excepted). Large multipurpose field. Nature center. Nature trails and a "Braille trail" with a chain to guide blind visitors and signs in Braille describing the flora and fauna. Campfire circle.
AZUSA--Memorial Park, 320 N. Orange Ave. (818) 334-2611. Picnic shelters with barbecues. Children's play area. Athletic facilities: gymnasium and teen center (pool tables, study hall, stereo TV, video games, snack bar, weight room), two lighted baseball diamonds, four lighted basketball courts, three lighted tennis courts.