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New Gabelich Monument in Los Cerritos Park Dedicated w/ City Hall & Council Office Support

A Sleepy Hollow resident objects to process, wants monument to honor Sept. 11 events

Dedication 1

(November 17, 2001) -- In a tree grove not far from a wooden memorial sign posted by City Council directive years ago, a new stone monument with a biographical bronze plaque was dedicated today in Los Cerritos Park in memory of Gary Gabelich, a LB resident who set land speed records and won drag racing and drag boat racing titles in the 1970s and 1980s.

A crowd of nearly 100 people, including residents, family members and friends, city officials and racing aficionados, converged on the northwest corner of the park for a ceremony formally unveiling the privately funded decorative boulder and bronze plaque, placed in the public park with City Hall and Council office support.

A resident of the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood north of the park has objected to the process and urged that the stone monument be dedicated to the Sept. 11 events while leaving the wooden memorial sign to honor Mr. Gabelich.

Mr. Gabelich, a LB resident known as the "Rocketman," set a world land speed record of 622.407 m.p.h. in 1970. He died in a traffic accident in 1984.

In 1985, the City Council (after public hearings in two committees and an agendized Council item) approved dedicating a section of Los Cerritos Park in memory of Mr. Gabelich with appropriate signage to that effect and the proviso that the entire park be dedicated in his memory (details below). A wooden sign in Mr. Gabelich's memory was placed near the northwest corner of the park.

This year, without Council discussion, City Hall granted permission to place a stone monument to Mr. Gabelich at the park site, a decorative boulder with a bronze plaque containing biographical information and two pictures.

Councilman WebbAmong those speaking today was 8th district Councilman Rob Webb, who said: "We really appreciate the accomplishments and the dedication Gary had to our community, as well as Rae Gabelich, who continues to support the community of Long Beach. She serves on my 8th district advisory board as well as a past Parks and Recreation Commissioner..."

Ms. Gabelich & son GuyGary Gabelich's widow, Rae, accompanied by their son Guy, told the crowd: "It's really fitting that today, we have a permanent plaque in the park in Gary's community, in the neighborhood that he grew up in and where his family still lives."

Gabelich plaqueThe bronze plaque is mounted on the decorative boulder. (We reproduce the text verbatim below.) LB Parks and Rec. Director Phil Hester told the plaque was paid for by the Gabelich family. The monument boulder was donated with the help of a private entity and an individual.

Two park benches, reportedly in a state of disrepair, were replaced by Councilman Webb using his Council district discretionary funds (general fund money unanimously approved by Council vote on October 23, 2001). Mr. Hester said some irrigation devices were also moved, basically at nominal cost.

When asked by about the future of the current wooden memorial sign, Mr. Hester said it would be removed since it was effectively being replaced by the new stone memorial. The new memorial and plaque will be the replacement signage, he said.

The process involved has been criticized by one resident. Mr. Frank Acevedo told he objects to expanding the original Gary Gabelich memorial sign into a stone monument. He urged the new stone monument serve to honor victims of the September 11 terror attack while maintaining the original sign recognizing Mr. Gabelich.

Mr. Acevedo said expanding the sign into a monument deserved "full disclosure and discussion, given the timely and very sensitive issue of park land usage."

Last month, Mr. Acevedo received a letter from Parks and Rec Director Hester which said the City Council "does have a policy for naming of facilities, plaques and memorials" which "does insure that a proper process, with public input, is followed." Mr. Hester's letter (provided to us by Mr. Acevedo) included public record materials that we reference below.

TuttleIn 1985, then-Councilman Edd Tuttle (right, at today's dedication ceremony) requested Los Cerritos Park be renamed for Mr. Gabelich; the request was sent to City Hall's appointed Recreation Commission and Human Resources Committee.

The Recreation Commission recommended that the name of Los Cerritos Park not be changed, but "that the park be dedicated in memory of Gary Gabelich, with appropriate signing to that effect." A few days later, the Human Resources Committee recommended that "a section of the park" be dedicated to Mr. Gabelich's memory "with appropriate signing to that effect."

When the item returned to the City Council, an official transcript [City Hall used to prepare them] indicates Councilman Tuttle urged that Los Cerritos Park in its entirety, not just a section of it, be dedicated in Gabelich's memory. "I think it would be kind of hard to divide it down into sections, and I wanted to clarify that we weren't naming a little piece of a very small park after him," Tuttle argued.

In response, Councilman Wilder (who chaired the Human Resources Committee below) said:

"Mr. Tuttle, just for clarification. There was a consideration given to one of the groves of trees and picnic areas that was going to be enhanced in that park be named specifically Gabelich Grove or something like that, in addition, and there will be additional signage at that grove because there will be a sign around the grove. But essentially the recommendation is that we dedicate the park in memory."

Accordingly, Wilder moved, seconded by Tuttle, to concur in the committees' recommendations "that a section of Los Cerritos Park be dedicated in memory of Gary Gabelich, with appropriate signing to that effect...with the proviso that the entire park be dedicated in memory of Gary Gabelich." (Yes: Wilder, Edgerton, Clark, Wilson, Sato, Tuttle, Harwood, E. Kell; Absent: Hall)

Following the vote, Mayor Kell noted Tuttle had spent many hours working on the proposal and said, "I know how much you [Tuttle] believe in this gentleman and we all know his wife and his family. It's a very nice thing for you to do."

Park view 3

Wooden signage dedicated to Mr. Gabelich's memory was placed adjacent to trees near park's northwest corner. This year, city staff approved placing the new stone monument to Mr. Gabelich amid the same tree grove.

On October 18, 2001, Parks and Rec staff went before the Recreation Commission and sought approval for "completion of the installation of the Memorial for Gary Gabelich at the Los Cerritos Park." A memo from Parks and Rec Manager of Maintenance Operations, David Ashman, concurred in by Director Hester, said in pertinent part:

"Over the years, the [previous] signage had been damaged or removed. At the request of Rae Gabelich, Gary's wife, staff has been working to restore this marker with a new sign. The Department has worked closely with Ms. Gabelich to complete a fitting memorial. The sign will be a cast bronze plaque mounted on a large boulder, set in the ground in the heart of the existing Memorial Grove."

The Commission voted its approval for completion of the installation.

Park view 2On Thursday, November 15, a worker was still putting final touches on the boulder.

Dedication 1 The new monument occupies a pad that we roughly (very roughly) estimated to be approximately 10 ft. by 10 ft., extended somewhat by surrounding landscaping and a manicured perimeter.

Displeased with the process involved, Mr. Acevedo has cited city policy number 8-7 governing the naming of city-owned land, buildings and facilities) which says in part, "City owned land, buildings and facilities may be named in honor of persons who have served the nation, the State of California and or the City of Long Beach in an exceptional and distinguished manner; and where such action is warranted by a contribution or service which is deemed to be of major significance."

Mr. Acevedo said he fails to understand "how the late Mr. Gabelich moving in an 600 plus miles per hour classifies as a major or significant contribution to the city of Long Beach." He added, "In light of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 where nearly 6,000 innocent people perished, public expenditure of land or funds to memorialize such a insignificant event as a land speed record that took place 31 years ago is completely unwarranted."

The verbatim text of the bronze plaque reads:

Gary "Rocketman" Gabelich

8/29/40 - 1/26/84

On October 23, 1970, Gary Gabelich became the 34th man to establish a new official World Land Speed Record of 622.407 m.p.h. at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Wendover, Utah.

He was the first in numerous fields on land and water racing and served as an Apollo test astronaut for North American Aviation in 1968-1969.

Born in San Pedro and raised in Long Beach, Gary attended Hughes Middle School and Poly High School.

Gary demonstrated his strong commitment to youth and community through his service with the March of Dimes, Special Olympics, California Pools for Hope and numerous local and national civic activities which included 3 USO tours during the Vietnam war.

Gary's motto: "Don't Wish It, Make It Happen..."

In Loving Memory,

Gary's family

Mr. Acevedo suggested "that the City of Long Beach be the first in the nation to dedicate a memorial to the tragic events of September 11, 2001 by dedicating the now placed rock as a place to reflect on this significant moment in history. It would then be proper to amend the current sign dedicated to the late Mr. Gabelich to properly reflect his accomplishment."

On learning of Mr. Acevedo's objections, Los Cerritos neighborhood resident and civic activist John Deats commented:

"I was aware of Gary Gabelich's accomplishments when they took place in real time. He did bring fame and positive attention to LB when he was making news and setting records. I think it is a magnanimous gesture on the part of Rae Gabelich to spend her money and to have improved Los Cerritos Park in the past, as well as with this monument."

Ms. Gabelich has been involved in LB civic affairs for a number of years. In July, 1989, she was nominated by Mayor Kell, and approved by Councilmembers, to serve on City Hall's Recreation Commission. She was reappointed for a second four year term in 1993, serving until June, 1997. Earlier this year, Ms. Gabelich testified at the City Council in favor of City Hall's plan to expand the NLB police facility in Scherer Park.

Reggie Bannister, vice president of S.T.O.P. (Stop Taking Our Parks), which opposed expanding the NLB police facility into Scherer Park, said he is not opposing the new Gabelich memorial. Mr. Bannister acknowledged the previous Council voted action and said his only concern "is that this not be turned into a precedent for future Council actions. We would not want to see future use of public park land for privately funded memorials."

Los Cerritos area resident Deats (who supported the NLB police facility expansion in Scherer Park) said controversy is misplaced. "This to me is an action out of the goodness of Ms. Gabelich's heart. I would like to see more people in this city use their own money for projects they want done," Mr. Deats said.

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