Redevelopment along the Cornfield Yards in 1954
April 26, 2009 § 11 Comments
A big thanks to Edgar Garcia of the city of Los Angeles Planning Department’s historic preservation team for this very-late-breaking exclusive story. Though the news is 55 years old – and a bit of stretch to claim that it really belongs here (it’s more a story of near-river redevelopment than a river story,) Creek Freak found it interesting and decided to pass it along.
There are implications for today – especially for the city’s Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan which proposes undoing quite a bit of what seemed like a good idea many years ago. It’s also scary in its casual cold language about removing homes and displacing people; making more clear why “urban renewal” and even “redevelopment” have such a bad reputations among most under-served communities today. It’s a cautionary note for those of us who would use redevelopment tools to improve our city – we need to be careful to consider the impacts of our actions, and how our actions will appear in the future. Hopefully plans being made and implemented today won’t appear as shortsighted as this past example does to me today.
In the 1954 publication Accomplishments: City Planning Commission, one of the accomplishments touted is the approval of the Ann Redevelopment Plan, signed into law on September 3, 1954, by Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson. The Ann Redevelopment Plan is named as such after Ann Street, which runs perpendicular to Spring Street and Main Street, from the Cornfields (now Los Angeles State Historic Park) to William Mead Homes. The 33-acre plan area is bounded by North Spring, Mesnager, North Main, Llewellyn, and Rondout Streets. The Ann plan was the first redevelopment plan approved in the state of California.
The document describes the “Conditions Within Project Area” as follows:
– “66% of the 102 residential structures are substandard, many of which are unfit for human occupancy.”
– “Crime, juvenile delinquency, and disease rates are considerably above the city-wide average.”
It further concludes that “[t]he existing residential structures… should be eliminated at the earliest possible moment in the interest of public welfare.”
The maps tell the story better than my words do. The existing map shows plenty of housing… the redevelopment map shows consolidation into what today might be derisively called “super-blocks.”
It always seemed odd to me that William Mead Homes (a ~500-unit public housing project owned by the Los Angeles city Housing Authority) is an isolated island of housing surrounded on all sides by industrial development. Well… William Mead Homes weren’t alone until the city took out the adjacent housing via the Ann Redevelopment Plan. The maps also show that there were plenty more adjacent commercial establishments than today’s single liquor store.
A couple other interesting things show up on these maps:
– On the upper left of the existing land use map, between Mesnager and Sotello, there is an unlabeled pair of dotted lines that, I think, indicate the location of the pedestrian bridge that extended across the Cornfield Yards from Spring Street to Broadway. (Bridge photo here.) It looks like the bridge connected with a fair amount of housing – perhaps where railroad workers lived who commuted on foot to jobs at the Cornfield Yards and/or on North Broadway?
– Both maps show the City of L.A. animal shelter (at the intersection of Ann and Naud.) This is the shelter that gave the name “dogtown” to the area, and to the gang located there. The animal shelter (now the North Central Care Center) was relocated to Lincoln Heights, but the name dogtown can still be found graffitied on walls in the vicinity of where the dog pound used to be.
To make things conducive to industrial development, the Ann Redevelopment Plan calls for “[r]elocation of present residents,” “[r]emoval of all existing residential structures,” and “vacating unnecessary streets and widening others to suitable widths.” Sadly, banishing housing and vacating and widening streets is exactly the opposite of what the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP) plans today. The CASP wisely proposes to add housing back into the area (mainly mixed-use – which, as the map shows was there before – some directly across from the Cornfields), to narrow streets and to dedicate small-scale new steets to create a walkable grid. Perhaps the historical grid can be restored – maybe start with the now-vanished Shieffelin and Beale Streets? Were those 1950’s street closures revocable?