The Redwood City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department has come a long way since a young man named Alfred "Red" Morton started a recreational softball league in 1937. Today, we provide hundreds of classes, camps, programs, and services for tens of thousands of residents each year; provide after school educational and sports programming for over 8,000 elementary school children; provide specialized services to thousands of residents who need extra support; bring over 100,000 visits to Downtown each extended summer through our Events programming; and host hundreds of thousands of people in our 30 parks, plazas, and playgrounds each year. It's AMAZING what we can accomplish TOGETHER!
Redwood City, which in 1867 became the first city to be incorporated in San Mateo County, has a rich history that goes back to the days of the Gold Rush. The story of how the community grew from a tiny village on Redwood Creek into a city that is today is reflected in the names of four of its parks. Mezes, Hawes, Stafford and Stulsaft Parks are named for people who played prominent roles in creating today's Redwood City.
Mezes Park (Tank Park)
In the 1850's, all of what is now present-day Redwood City, was part of a large estate known as Rancho do las Pulgas. This rancho belonged to the Arguello family, who had been granted the land by the government of Mexico in 1835. After the Mexican War, people began to settle along Redwood Creek, hoping that the U.S. government would refuse to recognize the Arguello's right to the property. Simon M. Mezes, who had come from Puerto Rico to practice law in San Francisco, was hired by the Arguellos as an agent to protect their land title.
In 1854 Mezes succeeded in clearing the Arguello's title. In return for this service, the Arguellos sold him a large portion of their estate. Mezes then proceeded to sell lots for $75 each to the people already living in the village on Redwood Creek. He also completed a survey for a map of the town, which he named Mezesville. Although this name has vanished into history, the present-day arrangement of Redwood City's downtown streets can be traced to Mezes' map.
Mezes donated two blocks to Redwood City for plazas. In 1905 one of those blocks was turned into a park known then as California Square. The other block eventually became Mezes Plaza. Francis Hutchinson, former principal of Sequoia and Woodside high schools, remembers that in 1920s Mezes Plaza was just a vacant lot that he and other kids in the neighborhood used as a playground.
In 1928 the Veterans Building was moved onto the Mezes Plaza block. Two years later, the park site was cleaned up and shrubbery was planted. Two tennis courts were built in 1934, and in 1937 playground equipment was installed. In 1946, at the request of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, an Army tank was placed in the park as a memorial to those who had served in the two world wars. Over the years, Mezes Park has been renovated several times, and most recently in 2013.
State Assemblyman Horace Hawes introduced the Consolidation Act of 1856, which created San Mateo County and unified the city and county of San Francisco. For framing this piece of legislation, Hawes is known as the "Father of San Mateo County". In 1857 Hawes acquired a large tract of land called Redwood Farm and moved to Redwood City. In 1863 Hawes donated land for the city's first schoolhouse. The property is now the site of the Downtown Library (old firehouse) and parking lot. In 1869 Hawes gave the City $2,500 for what was probably its first recreational facility, a gymnasium constructed on the school property.
Hawes Park was built in 1934 but not officially named until the next year. Dan Stafford, then a member of the City's Planning Commission, suggested the park be named after Hawes for his role in the struggle to keep the county seat in Redwood City. Later in 1935 the night-lighted softball field was constructed. In 1937 the Park Department installed a playground, which within a few years was expanded to include a lighted basketball court, horseshoe pits, and an archery range.
Until the building of Community Park (now Red Morton Park), Hawes was the center for the City's recreational activities, which included softball, marble tournaments, pet shows, Easter egg hunts, and the Junior Olympics. In 1955, the City turned over a large section of Hawes Park to the School District for $31,000 so that Hawes Elementary School could be built. This land switch was another example of the close cooperation between the Park and Recreation Department and the School District, a tradition that started in the 30's and continues today.
Daniel R. Stafford, the man who named Hawes Park, was born August 11, 1870. His father, James Stafford, moved to Redwood City in 1866 and purchased a sloop which he used to haul lumber, grain, and other goods between San Francisco and Redwood City. In 1872, James opened a grocery store, which Dan took over in 1885 at the age of 15 and managed until 1926. Considered the City's leading grocer during those years, Dan then started a career in real estate and investments.
Active in local government, Stafford served as City Clerk for 12 years, Mayor for 10 years, and was on the City's Board of Trustees. In 1892, he organized the Chamber of Commerce. In 1946, two years before he died, Stafford gave the City eight lots of land for the park that now bears his name.
In 1937 there were about 10,000 people living in Redwood City. By 1960 that figure had almost quintupled. One person who helped make this growth possible was Morris Stulsaft, a San Francisco real estate developer who earned a fortune from land development all over California. Projects Stulsaft started in Redwood City include the Woodside Plaza and Roosevelt shopping centers and a 2,000 home housing development in the area between Alameda de las Pulgas and Woodside Road. Stulsaft was also influential in bringing Ampex to Redwood City and sold property needed for the Kaiser Permanente site.
In 1951, Stulsaft gave the City 38 acres for the park that now bears his name. He knew about the mercury deposits in the area, but felt that the City was welcome to them. Redwood City eventually made about $19,000 from cinnabar mining operations in the park. Dedication ceremonies for the park were held on September 6, 1952. In the 60's, the Park Department cleared and landscaped the tie, developed picnic areas, and constructed a service road, a bridge and restrooms.
Stulsaft Park's wooded setting made it a natural choice for a children's day camp, which was started in 1960 and remains one of the Department's most popular programs today. In 1966, at the request of area residents, playground equipment was installed near the Farm Hill entrance to the park.