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Who is Red Morton?
Like all good stories, the story of the Redwood City’s Park, Recreation and Community Services Department starts simply. Imagine a warm summer evening in the city. It’s just after dinner time. People are putting away the dishes or sitting down with newspapers or turning on the radio. Outside, a breeze rustles the branches of the trees, and the cries of children at play drift through the air.
Right about now, as the light over the hills is turning golden, a young man with red hair is driving down Roosevelt Avenue in a gray Model T Ford. When he gets to the softball field at Hawes Park, he unloads the bats and balls he always keeps in the back of his car. Then he gets out the old line marker, fills it with chalk, and starts to line the field. Once that’s done, he puts four quarters into the machine that turns on the field lights. By then, players are warming up and spectators are arriving. When the 200 seat bleachers are just about filled, twilight has fallen. The lights grow brighter, and as the players take the field, the crowd begins to cheer. It’s time to play ball!
For Alfred “Red” Morton, the young man with the red hair and the Model T, that was a typical summer night in 1937. Hired that July to be Redwood City’s first recreation director, Red ran an operation that was simplicity itself. He had two part-time assistants to help him oversee the recreation facilities at Hawes, Mezes, and Chestnut parks. His office as a shared space in the basement of the Carnegie Library, which was located at Broadway and Jefferson.
The program Red put together that first year concentrated on the basics. He revived the adult softball league, introduced junior softball, and stated a supervised program of playground activities.
Red’s enthusiasm and spirit of hard work were contagious. In October 1937, Redwood City established its Park and Recreation Commission to help plan the city’s future recreation facilities. In a time when it was tough to make ends meet financially, the commission looked for practical ways to accomplish its goals.
One of the first ideas was to use the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which then employed about 49,000 people across the country in city recreation departments. In 1938, while City Hall and the Library were being built under WPA sponsorship, a small group of WPA workers, directed by Red Morton, helped start the city’s recreation programs.
Morton found another source of assistance. He enlisted the services of the city’s school facilities and teachers. During the early years of the Recreation Department, the Sequoia High School gym and swimming pool offered a full schedule of activities for both adults and youngsters. This program of cooperation between school district and recreation department was the first of its kind in California.
As far back as 1938, Red Morton was campaigning for a centralized recreation facility for the entire city. While the Community Park project has to be put on hold during the war years, Redwood City continued to look to the future. The minutes of the Park and Recreation Commission from December 1942 note that postwar plans would include development of a park in a “30 acre area bordered by Roosevelt, Dickey, Myrtle, Madison, and Valota Streets”.
In 1945, the year the war ended, Morton presented the commission with a rough sketch of the recreation center site. William Penn Mott, Jr. turned that drawing into architectural plans, and within two years, construction was underway. With one ball field in the park already in use, the Recreation Center was completed and dedicated on June 13, 1948. The foundation of the 20 year plan had been laid.
During the next two decades, Morton continued to lead the effort that would make Community Park the centerpiece of Redwood City’s park system. By 1956, when the San Francisco 49ers moved their headquarters to Community Park, the Armory, the Community Park Pool, and the Veterans Memorial Building had been built. The Police Youth Club (now the NFL Alumni Building) was completed in 1962, and in 1965 the newly expanded 49er building was named the Morabito Memorial Field House. In 1967, the Recreation Department celebrated its 30th anniversary by opening the Community Activities Building. That same year, the old Recreation Center was renamed in Red Morton’s honor.