A first visit to Grand Park, Los Angeles

I’m glad we took the time last weekend to explore a section of downtown Los Angeles. This weekend I’m involved with pre-Thanksgiving activity.  I guess I can’t get out and play EVERY weekend.

We live about 12 miles from the downtown Los Angeles Civic Center. One of our favorite destinations is the Music Center/Walt Disney Concert Hall, and for many years we’ve been hearing about the Grand Avenue Project, intended to revitalize that particular area. Until recently we were under the impression the economic downturn had all but gutted the original plans.

In addition to the Los Angeles Music Center, one of the three largest performing arts centers in the United States,the Civic Center is also  the administrative core of the city, with a complex of government offices, buildings and courthouses.  In fact, the Civic Center is home to more government employees in the United States other than Washington, DC.

A recently completed survey also reveals that downtown Los Angeles has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade, with 45,000 residents, a weekly 500,000 + employment population and over 10 million annual non-local visitors. That’s a lot of people competing for breathing room!

Yes, the poor economy has affected many of the city’s plans to renovate and improve the quality of the downtown environment.

But not everything has been stalled. One of the key components, a 16-acre park stretching between City Hall and the Music Center Complex, has greatly improved the landscape.

Now I’m willing to concede this isn’t Central Park, or Golden Gate Park, or Griffith Park or….

But I think it’s a wonderful effort!

The $56 million park, designed by local architects and landscape architects Rios Clementi Hale, was primarily funded by corporate interests as a trade-off for future Grand Avenue development projects.

Surface parking lots were demolished, concrete walkways reconfigured, and iconic areas like the Court of Flags redesigned to include more garden and planting areas. The relocation of the flags and monuments representing dozens of flags flown on American soil since before the Revolution,  also accommodated a grade change of approximately 15 vertical feet. The slight slope makes a very beautiful presentation.

The newly renovated green space, for both residents and office workers,  offers a beautiful view of City Hall and the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain. It is; however, incomplete.

The original plans called for razing the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and the county Hall of Administration. Both buildings have suffered earthquake damage and new buildings would in the end be more efficient to operate, but new facilities would also be very costly to build. Eventually those plans will be executed, and the green space will expand even further.

It does still remain to be seen how well the park will be embraced by the public. Office workers undoubtedly enjoy the opportunity to take their lunch or breaks outdoors, and a newly renovated Starbucks remains on the premises, so coffee needs are still met!

The park is visually very appealing and the sound of splashing water, coming from the iconic Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, sometimes recognized  as the “Pretty Woman” fountain because it appeared in a major scene with actors Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, is a lovely mask to city noise.

The fountain now has a flat-edged splash pool added for child’s play, and the addition of dancing lights will be enjoyed by evening  Music Center guests.

The bright pink furniture, a modern contrast to the more traditional older buildings, can be moved around the park, for garden enjoyment, and adds to the friendliness of the area.

Much of the design of the park was inspired by what one article referred to as the city’s “off-the-charts diversity.” The 24 gardens are inspired from the design of a flattened map of the globe. The welcome sign gives evidence of the cultural diversity of the area, and the many languages represented.

The second tier of the park includes a performance lawn with stage, and the promise that in the coming months programming at Grand Park will be coordinated by the Music Center.

It will be interesting to watch as the development expands and more of the original plans are executed, but for a first phase, I’m quite impressed. I’ll be visiting again, and it will be nice to photograph the gardens next spring. I was so awed by the use of space that I didn’t take many photographs of the gardens this time.

Next stop…Disney Concert Hall.

You’ll love it or hate it! No one seems to be neutral. But you’ll have to wait just a bit for me to prepare my architectural review. This is just a tease.

I hope you’ll take a moment to look at the photos in the slideshow. They will help you appreciate the surrounding area and how the park fits into the overall landscape of downtown Los Angeles.

Don’t you think someone from the Los Angeles Tourist Board should hire me? I’m very enthusiastic! Do come to visit sometime, won’t you?

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