While Pershing Square, a hardscaped wasteland populated by painfully dated public art, seems to be a lost cause, a small but promising public park is well underway in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles, setting up what many see as a tipping point for a growing residential community.
Construction of the 0.7-acre lot that will become the Spring Street Park has been underway since October in Downtown’s Historic Core, a neighborhood full of Beaux Arts and art deco buildings that has become the city’s unofficial residential center. “This park will announce the maturity of the re-population of this area,” said Deborah Weintraub, chief engineer of LA’s Bureau of Engineering (BoE), which is leading the project.
Downtown added 15,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, all while bereft of a functional public park. In 2009, the city made a surprise decision to purchase the site using $5.1 million in Quimby funds (money set aside by local residents and developers for public improvements) from Council District 9. Enter Spring Street Park, designed by BoE and LA-based design firm Lehrer Architects LA.
At the northern end of the site, a grassy ellipse is oriented askew to Spring Street, while to the south a plaza with permeable pavement anchors the L-shaped parcel. Benches and walls are strategically placed among the park’s overlapping, curved surfaces, creating zones that will allow visitors to “be a part of a large public space while still having a private and intimate experience,” according to Michael Lehrer, founder and principal of Lehrer Architects LA.
Encouraging users to move between private and public realms, stands of bamboo and subtle fences blur the boundaries between the park, surrounding residential buildings, and the street. Meanwhile a long, diagonal walkway bisects the park, connecting Spring Street on one side and an alley leading to Main Street on the other.
The park will be managed by a partnership between the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks and a group of local residents called the Friends of the Old Bank District Gardens. The project is expected to open in fall of 2013.