Make the Park Atop Bunker Hill a Redevelopment Priority
#25 GRAND AVE.
Great cities have great gathering places. From Central Park to Boston Common to Golden Gate Park, a patch of green in an otherwise concrete landscape has provided far more than an aesthetic respite.
As the focus on L.A.’s downtown increases, serious consideration must be given not only to reviving its residential and cultural character but to providing a central gathering point at which those efforts can converge.
The value of such a park is far greater than its use as a lunchtime gathering place for office workers or a weekend playground for the growing number of people living downtown.
Other than in the concrete confines of Dodger Stadium, nowhere in Los Angeles can major cultural events like Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park take place. The Mall in Washington, D.C., has no counterpart in L.A. that could provide a venue for a major public address like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Common among the great, truly urban parks is their centrality and accessibility, coupled with enough area to comfortably hold large crowds. The upper end of Grand Avenue close to freeways, stocked with parking and within easy walking distance of the burgeoning residential community to the south and the established one to the north provides the perfect spot.
The greatest drawback to any such plan is scale. Central Park covers 840 acres and was expensive to assemble even in the 1850s, when it was conceived.
Plans for urban parks atop Bunker Hill have arisen several times in the last generation. A five-acre park was a component of Cadillac-Fairview’s California Plaza project in the early 1980s.
In the intervening years, commercial and cultural development has gobbled up much of the remaining space best suited for a large park. That leaves the bulk of the remaining developable land in the hands of the city and county.
The two governments have, in the last several months, come together to pool their holdings in an effort to establish a unified development on eight acres along and around Grand Avenue atop Bunker Hill.
And while the ambitious plans have moved forward (the panel overseeing the project may select a master developer with which to negotiate as soon as next month), much of the focus has been on the massive amounts of new office, parking, retail and hotel space this $1.2 billion project could create.
It is unlikely, perhaps unreasonable, to expect that a park on the scale of Central Park or the nearly 150-acre National Mall be included in those plans. But in allocating as much as $70 million for the expansion and improvement of the 16-acre County Mall between Hill Street and Broadway in front of the Hall of Records, an opportunity exists to create an urban gathering place that could become a focal point of the city’s civic and cultural life.
Once a master developer is chosen for the city/county-backed Bunker Hill project, immediate efforts should be made to fund the wor and a lesser reworking of Paseo de los Pobladores to ensure that common space, between the Hall of Administration and County Court House, is sympathetic to the new city green.
As important as the site is the design. The governing bodies must resist the inclination to burden the location with monuments, frills and articulation. What is common among the park’s great forbears is their simplicity and openness.
Sixteen acres of grass and judiciously located trees will enhance downtown even in its least-used state. When employed to its maximum capacity, such a park could provide a venue that could become as historic as the events it would host.
Proposal: Creating an urban park at the top of Grand Avenue near the Music Center and City Hall
Obstacles: Reconciling differing
county and city land-use agendas, solidifying cooperation of the private sector, overcoming inherent disputes over design issues
Cost: As much as $70 million, already allocated
Time Frame: Three to five years