What's with the park at First and Broadway?
Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Director, Government and Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles

Last Tuesday, October 7th I had the opportunity to participate in a community meeting about the proposed civic center park at First and Broadway in Downtown, Los Angeles. At first, I was a skeptic. After all, the City of Los Angeles was about to design and build a park that was immediately adjacent to Grand Park and directly across the street from the parks at City Hall and the LAPD Headquarters. Was adding another park to Civic Center the wisest choice to make, especially when so many other areas of Downtown LA desperately need more park space?  Was it the best use and highest value of the land? I was curious about the forces behind this decision, especially after LA spent nearly $10 million buying this lot from the State of California.

Originally, this was the site of the State Building (see photo) - a WPA project completed in 1931 at a cost of more than $2 million, which was dedicated the day before the opening of the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles in a ceremony that included Amelia Earhart.

For over four decades, from even before I was born, since the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake, the State of California had been resting on its laurels with regards to this piece of land in one of the most premiere spots of town in one of the most treasured cities of America? Why?  Was it nothing more than tired-old ineptness?  Was it lack of vision?  A lack of focus?  An awkward fetish to add another block of government-sponsored blight?!  

I am sure that many have a litany of stories for why it took a cash-strapped, mismanaged state administration to optimize this latent asset.  I’m sure this two acre plot of land was the victim of a thousand poor decisions, an icon of an aggregate failure on the part of our various multiple-layered governments (Federal, State, County, City) to work together cooperatively and with high-functionality.  

Yes, I had given up on First and Broadway and had decided to participate in the community hearing as a disgruntled citizen.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the General Manager of The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, Michael A. Shull, share  refreshing tone of approach and say that anything was possible and that the sky’s the limit!  As the newly appointed General Manager, Shull reflected upon the need for this particular park to overcome its forty-year legacy of mismanagement and to place LA on the world map for stellar park placemaking!  That this new park was to serve as a new icon for the civic center and to represent the future of Los Angeles.

Additionally, Chief Deputy City Engineer, Deborah Weintraub, AIA from the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering inspired the community with examples of world-class parks.  She shared images of about 25 different parks from around the globe and encouraged the community to think broadly about the prospectives of what the park at First & Broadway could become.  It doesn’t have to be just another passive, bucolic setting.  Nor does it need to only serve one limited purpose - such as a sports field, a dog park or an amphitheater.  in fact, if designed effectively, the park could serve a multitude of purposes centered around a collective theme that would help stitch a neighborhood together with more opportunities for civic engagement.

So that got my mind racing: what were the limitations on this parcel of land?  What all could we challenge this piece of land to provide us? Other than funding, what land-use and zoning limitations were placed this 2 acre parcel?  

Could we dig the world’s deepest hole in the ground?  

Could we build the 21st century version of the Eiffel Tower?  

I asked these questions in earnest to both test the waters and to find out if Shull was sincere in his thoughts about the limitless possibilities of place making.

Most people in the room assumed I was just being hyperbolic.  After all, something as striking as the Eiffel Tower looming over City Hall?  Would the Eiffel Tower even qualify as a park under a traditional definition of what constitutes a park?

Well, in my opinion yes it would.  And if it is a park - a vertical park, then why not construct something as striking and phenomenal in Downtown LA at First and Broadway.  

My vision for this park would be a steel, open-structured tower with 30 foot clearances between each story and each story open to the air almost similar in style to the steel structure currently being erected on First Street for the US Federal Courthouse designed by SOM . The tower’s program would be park-like and green.  Each different level could have a diversity of uses.  Trees, fountains, green-walls, swing-sets, basketball courts, sand-boxes and slides,  balance beams, fitness equipment, climbing ropes and verdant patches of landscape to relax upon,  a dog park on level three, a volleyball court on level five, a urban garden with fruit trees on level eleven, an observation deck, shade canopies, light wells, water features, active and passive areas - all outdoor and open to the air with magnificent views and breath-taking vistas of the entire city around you.

Furthermore, this towering, open-air steel structure programmed with a diversity of uses and recreational activities, could be built as proximate semblance to the original State of California building pictured above., sharing its footprint and shaped as its silhouette to pay homage to the rich history of our city.

The Department of Recreation of Parks and the Bureau of Engineering will soon reach out to their list of on-call consultants and coordinate a design competition to procure the professional expertise to  outreach to the community and design the park. 

Let’s hope that process allows for a stellar outcome.  Let’s hope for a park at First and Broadway that truly is as iconic and awe-inspiring as the Eiffel Tower.

Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Director, Government and Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles

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Last updated: 14-Oct-2014 01:23 PM
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