New Designs for L.A. State Historic Park

November 21, 2008 § 3 Comments

Rendering of Planned Los Angeles State Historic Park - View toward Downtown Los Angeles

Rendering of Planned Los Angeles State Historic Park. Downtown Los Angeles is in the background. The foreground of the picture shows the planned "fountain bridge" connection to North Broadway on the right.

At a meeting this evening, California State Parks presented the latest plans for Los Angeles State Historic Park.  The 32-acre site is the former Cornfield Yard – a vacant former railyard located between Chinatown and the Los Angeles River – and between Spring Street and North Broadway.  There’s a temporary 14-acre park at the site today – called the “Interim Public Use” park.

Tonight’s meeting was officially the start of State Parks’ environmental review process for the Los Angeles State Historic Park Master Development Plan.  They’ve issued a Notice of Preparation requesting comments on the scope of their environmental review.  Scoping comments are due by December 18th and can be emailed to

Plan View of the New Park

Plan View of the New Los Angles State Historic Park

For folks who’ve been tracking the designs, they haven’t changed all that much.  In fact, I am running images from the park presentations from August.  The press person I spoke with tonight stated that the designs shown tonight should be available on-line – by the time you read this, they’ll probably be available on the State Parks webpage (which includes full-size versions of the images shown here.)  The designs were introduced by the park’s designers from Hargreaves Associates.

The park will have a pedestrian “fountain bridge” connected to North Broadway.  The bridge will echo the original trestle bridge that spanned the site historically, which enabled workers to get from Broadway to get to industrial jobs at the yard and in areas east of it.  The bridge is an important connection, as currently, the bluffs and the Metro Gold Line train are barriers to access for communities west of the site, including Chinatown and Solano Canyon.  At least two additional pedestrian access ways are proposed, but will depend on land not currently under State Parks control.  One is a proposed at-grade connection into the heart of Chinatown.  The walkway would go under the elevated Gold Line Train through what is currently a parking lot and connect to North Broadway near Gin Ling Way.  Another connection would be along the Los Angeles River.

The design of the site goes from more urban at the Chinatown end to more natural at the Los Angeles River end.  As one walks into the park from the Chinatown Metro Gold Line State, one first encounters an urban plaza, about 3 acres, which will include a children’s play area, fountains, and gardens.  These features are configured in parallel lines recapitulating the former rail tracks.  Along Spring Street will be a 3-story “welcome station” building, where the fountain bridge touches down.  The building will feature rooftop views, cafe, bookstore, and electronic historical exhibits. 

The designs call for a stage to be located at the site of the former railway roundhouse, with the stage featuring some portions of the now-buried roundhouse foundations (revealed in recent archaeological excavations.)  The stage would be used for large events, such as concerts.  Concert goers would occupy the adjacent great lawn… which is (unfortunately, in my opinion) becoming a little less great with successive designs.  In Hargreaves’ original competition-winning entry, there was a 15-acres great lawn – it took up nearly half the site.  Last summer it shrank to something like 11 acres… tonight it was 8 1/2.  That’s still a good sized plot of grass for a park in the center of Los Angeles – I just hope it doesn’t get any smaller.  I am a fan of flexible un-programmed spaces like a great lawn that can be used for a pick-up soccer game one day, then an outdoor film festival the next.

LA State Historic Park's Ecology Center and Wetlands

LA State Historic Park Ecology Center and Wetlands

Continuing northeast, the site winds into more formalized garden spaces which reflect California’s historical landscapes.  Five historical timeline paths run throughout the site, telling specific histories including water and industry. As one gets close to the river, one encounters the second building on the site, called the “ecology center,” which is surrounded by wetlands.  The designers are exloring using a solar- or hydro-powered pump to import water from the adjacent Los Angeles River.

The images that actually got audience applause were a look further into the future, when the park could connect to the river.  Additional parcels would need to be purchased, so it would be phase 2 (or probably phase 7+.)  Concept images showed the river edge of the park extending from the North Broadway Bridge to the North Spring Street Bridge.

Audience members were generally excited about the project, though they expressed concerns including traffic and parking (reminding me that we’re still in Los Angeles), the absence of commemoration of the water wheel that was at the site, and connections between the park and the adjacent Chinatown Gold Line Station.  Joe Edmiston, head of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, suggested that State Parks forego constructing any buildings on the site, and instead use funds purchase the bluff land above the park and the parcels along the river.  This additional acreage would connect LASHP with the river and with Elysian Park.

Though neither the design team nor the agency staff would comment on cost estimates, my sense is that it will be at least $60-70M for just the initial park and probably double that when we really make the connections to the River and to points west of the park.  State Parks has some of this money (rumored to $20-30M) set aside from past park bonds, so there are some serious funding needs to be covered before we proceed with construction.  Maybe Mayor Villaraigosa get this included in President Obama’s economic stimulus package?

The final schematic design is supposed to be complete in February 2009.  The earliest planned grand opening would be in 2012 and that’s likely to be phase one.


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§ 3 Responses to New Designs for L.A. State Historic Park

  • jishica says:

    Joe, thanks for keeping us updated on this. I love Joe [Edmiston]’s suggestion that the buildings at the “ecology center” go instead to purchasing land to expand the park and make more connections. The site is so narrow and relatively small that I think we would be better served with minimal buildings on site.

    Also, hate to rain on the parade, but this wetland thing really bothers me – especially in the context of “ecology.” Why do we have to continually mediate nature experiences through pumps and man-made constructions that have more to do with our idea of “nature” than put our collective energy into restoring the processes that will give us “nature’s” idea of “nature?” The LA River being at the park’s doorstep could provide a much richer idea of ecology.

    I can see a purpose in converting existing, but out-of-service reservoirs or recreational lakes into constructions like these – using reclaimed water only. But I see no benefit to creating more artificial water features in LA. Let’s make the real ones work!

  • Joe Linton says:

    I am glad Jessica brought this up – maybe our parades really need some rain!

    Generally I think that we don’t need any more pumping of water in Los Angeles. We already spend about a quarter of the energy that the city generated pumping water. Pumps break down (the one at the corner park at the River Center was broken for over a year recently) which can obviously wreck wetlands habitat.

    I agree with Jessica that it’s way better to put the energy into the river itself. This may be difficult at the cornfields site.

    If we want a wetland area at the site (debatable), I’d rather use see it utilize run-off from Solano Canyon which could arrive to site fed by gravity. This could be the only off-site water source, or could perhaps mingle with some pumped water (not that I am supporting pumping.) Maybe this would allowing us to turn off the pump during wetter months. Perhaps that gives us some seasonal variation – would need to be well thought out… and we probably end up spending a lot of energy and time and effort and maintenance to imperfectly approximate natural variation.

    Another option – which might be expensive and difficult to permit and not be as ecologically apposite as Jessica’s convictions are – would be do a gravity-fed system that would take water from an intake pipe located upstream in the river. It would resemble the Tujunga Wash Stream Restoration Project or the lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park side streams… but it would have some historical precedent in echoing the Zanja Madre, too.

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