Dirt, disappointment and decay have long characterized Chittick Field, once deemed “the dust bowl,” but on April 23 the City of Long Beach celebrated the grand reopening of the 19-acre sports complex after $9.9 million in renovations.
Residents who gathered at Chittick Field, located off of Walnut Avenue just north of Pacific Coast Highway, Wednesday morning did not find the same dilapidated park they would have found a year ago when the facility’s latest renovations began.
Sixth District Councilmember Dee Andrews has been one of the project’s most visible long-time champions. While addressing the crowd, the former Long Beach athlete described “the dust bowl” with a playful resentment. He said, as children, he and his friends would swim in the stagnant water.
“We didn’t have a swimming pool in our back yard,” Andrews said. “We used this as our swimming pool.”
Los Angeles County 4th District Supervisor Don Knabe also shared some of his own experiences playing at the park.
“Just driving up here, this place brings back so many great memories for me,” Knabe said. “I’m not sure that I could have imagined all this when we started talking about what the field would look like today. For those of us that have the memories from way back, even prior to the dust bowl, this is absolutely spectacular.”
The new Chittick Field boasts a 400-meter all-weather track, three soccer fields and a football field, as well as lights, bleachers, restrooms and a 134-space parking lot.
“This is my dream,” Andrews said.
The brand-new facility is a far cry from the site’s long and messy history.
Chittick Field, or Hamilton Basin, as it was originally known, was developed in 1936 for flooding control. In 1950, four baseball fields were built after the flood-detention basin was green-lit to include recreational space. Initially, four baseball diamonds were constructed.
By 1962, a fifth baseball diamond and a soccer field were approved. In 1975, soccer field irrigation and unpaved parking were added. In 1977, 1993 and 1995, the City approved lighting upgrades.
But by 2000, the site’s irrigation system had deteriorated so drastically that the fields returned to dirt and the poor conditions prompted league play to be discontinued.
The Salvation Army then became involved in the project in 2005. The organization was interested in transforming the park into a $140-million Ray and Joan Kroc Corps community center, but only if the City of Long Beach could raise $15 million of its own funds to invest in the facility.
Plans for the pricey community center included an education and community building, a gymnasium with four basketball courts, an amphitheater and three pools.
However, the City only raised about half of that figure, and the Salvation Army pulled out. For those involved with the project, this was a major letdown.
“We were all pretty upset,” Knabe said.
But on Wednesday, Knabe and Andrews were all smiles as they unveiled the new park to hundreds of residents and City officials.
Mayor Bob Foster called the new Chittick Field “a jewel right in the middle of the city.”
“What a great place to come now,” Foster said.
Congratulations and thanks were given by Frank Komin of Occidental Petroleum, former NFL player Willie McGinest and Mayor Bob Foster, as well as musical performances from Andrews’s grandchildren and former American Idol contestant Clint Jun Gamboa.
Immediately following the event, younger athletes were invited to play on the field, but not without a warning from Andrews.
“Little baby kids, if you come out here and mess this up, I’m telling you, it’s on,” Andrews said. “This is something that will last forever if you take care of it. Treat it like you’d treat your little brothers and sisters.”