In the 1880s, the City of Los Angeles received a thirty-five-acre mudhole and refuse dump in a land swap with George S. Patton Sr., father of the World War II general.
Generous application of fertilizer and sweat turned the eyesore into Westlake Park, a handsome civic asset. A boating lake attracted visitors to Westlake Park, then on the remote west side of the city. It became a popular recreation spot.
Wilshire Boulevard began at the west edge of the park in 1895, and for almost thirty years the park blocked traffic from continuing into downtown.
On December 7, 1934, a viaduct across the park connected the original length of Wilshire Boulevard with the last leg of Wilshire going into downtown.
In 1942, the name was changed to MacArthur Park for Army General Douglas MacArthur, through the influence of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who thought it might boost his presidential ambitions for General MacArthur.
By the mid-twentieth century, MacArthur Park had become a well-known cruising site within the LGBTQ community and formed the backdrop to a significant legal challenge in 1952.
In 2007, Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park opened, providing the community with free music and entertainment.
Like many other parks and public lands in the early to mid-twentieth century in Los Angeles, MacArthur Park served as a popular cruising location for LGBTQ individuals.
One famous inccident occurred in 1952 when leading activist Dale Jennings was arrested and charged with soliciting an undercover police officer for sex. At first, Jennings chose to not contest the charges, as was common practice at the time in order to avoid public scrutiny.
At the urging of fellow Mattachine Society co-founder Harry Hay, however, he changed his mind, and his case went to trial. As one of the men to contest entrapment charges, Jennings sought to shine a spotlight on the harassment that gay and bisexual men frequently faced in Los Angeles.
Jennings's trial became a national story and brought newfound attention to the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay rights organizations in the country. When the jury voted to acquit him 11-1, membership to the Mattachine Society increased two fold.
While many within the movement's leadership welcomed the Jennings victory and the attention it brought to the issue of gay civil rights, others contended that the activist should have been more cautious.