Help Koreatown Hang On to Liberty Park

LP 01 Across Med

Los Angeles is notoriously behind the curve when it comes to providing public parks for its citizens. In rating 100 US cities on their park systems, The Trust for Public Land put LA at number 74. And while the city as a whole is lacking in public space for recreation, there are some neighborhoods where the need is especially acute.

Like Koreatown. This dense urban community has plenty of asphalt and concrete, but not much green space. So it’s disturbing news when a proposed project threatens to take away one of the few parks available to residents.

Liberty Park was completed in 1967 as part of Beneficial Plaza on Wilshire Blvd.. Designed by Peter Walker, its graceful curves and striking contrasts make it a unique experience. Walker was just starting his career in the 60s, but has since been become an internationally recognized landscape architect.

LP 10 Walk Pers

A view of the park facing away from Wilshire.

LP 12 Sm Tree

The park provides much needed green space in Koreatown.

 

LP 14 Reader

Liberty Park provides a quiet space in the middle of a busy urban area.

LP 20 Steps Const

The park sits at the foot of the former Beneficial Plaza.

But even more important than the park’s design is the place it holds in the community. In an area where parks are scarce, this is one of the few places where people can escape to relax on the grass or read in the shade of a tree. It’s also been a gathering place for the community, whether to celebrate Earth Day or to rally behind the South Korean team during World Cup Soccer.

LP 50 Lawn Shadow

A tall grove of trees provides much-needed shade.

LP 52 Trees Steps Pers

Looking through the trees toward the building that now houses Radio Korea.

LP 56 Trees Beer

The park’s design offers some interesting contrasts.

LP 58 Trees Bldg

Looking up from beneath the trees.

The proposed project is a mixed-use complex rising 30+ stories, and if approved in its current version it would reduce Liberty Park to nothing more than a few scraps of green space. It’s frustrating that the City of LA only required the developers to prepare a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for this new complex, allowing them to get away with a relatively low level of environmental review. It’s even more frustrating that the MND concludes that this project will have no impact on historic resources. This is ridiculous. Beneficial Plaza as a whole holds in important place in the area’s history, and there’s nothing else like Liberty Park in all of LA.

LP 60 Bush Row Orange

A view of the park facing Serrano.

LP 62 Side Run

A view of the park from the Oxford side.

But it’s not too late to preserve this beautiful and unique public resource. A group called Save Liberty Park has been working hard to raise awareness, and hopefully they can get City Hall to change course on this. They need your help. Here’s the link if you want to get involved.

Save Liberty Park

LP 90 Red Car

Keeping the River Clean

LAR 05 Riv Trees Fwy a

Yesterday I got up earlier than I usually do on a Saturday. It took some effort, but by nine o’ clock I’d made it to Marsh Park so I could take part in the annual LA River clean-up event organized by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR).

This stretch of the river is bordered by a mix of older stucco homes and industrial buildings. Marsh Park seems to wind its way through the neighborhood, I’m assuming because it was planned to take advantage of unused open space. It’s nicely landscaped, and has a cool play area for kids.

The entrance to Marsh Park.

The entrance to Marsh Park.

A grassy expanse in the park.

A grassy expanse in the park.

There's a cool play area for kids.

There’s a cool play area for kids.

These yellow flowers caught my eye.

These yellow flowers caught my eye.

The gate that leads to the river.

The gate that leads to the river.

A shot of the river with the freeway in the background.

A shot of the river with the freeway in the background.

You'll find a mix of residential and industrial on the streets adjacent to the river.

You’ll find a mix of residential and industrial on the streets adjacent to the river.

An artist's effort to beautify a wall.

An artist’s effort to beautify a wall.

Dozens of people had made it there ahead of me. I got a pair of gloves and a trash bag, and after a brief orientation they set us loose on the river. The guy who gave us the ground rules said that twenty seven years ago, when FoLAR started doing these annual clean-ups, they came across all kinds of things in the river bed. In the early days they’d be hauling out mattresses, shopping carts, and even cars. These days, he went on to say, it was mostly a matter of picking up plastic bags.

A quick orientation before we got started.

A quick orientation before we got started.

Heading out to tackle the trash.

Heading out to tackle the trash.

Exploring the river bed.

Exploring the river bed.

Looking high and low for trash.

Looking high and low for trash.

When the bags were full, we left them along the bike path.

When the bags were full, we left them along the bike path.

And this guy threw them in the back of a truck.

And this guy threw them in the back of a truck.

FoLAR has been taking care of this long-neglected natural treasure for thirty years. Unlike the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, a latecomer with a pro-development agenda, FoLAR’s members have been trying for decades to realize the river’s tremendous potential as a public resource. Back when most of us were making jokes about this massive concrete channel that wound its way through the landscape, Lewis MacAdams and his cohorts saw what the river had once been and could be again. They’ve been working diligently since the eighties to protect and restore the LA River, and to educate the rest of us about its past and possible future.

Developers have realized that there's money to be made by building along the banks.

Developers have realized that there’s money to be made by building along the banks.

One of the river's current residents.

One of the river’s current residents.

The Griffith Observatory was visible off in the distance.

The Griffith Observatory was visible off in the distance.

Standing under the freeway you could hear the steady din of the cars above.

Standing under the freeway you could hear the steady din of the cars above.

I spent a while collecting trash, and then I wandered off to take pictures. I’d never walked along the river bed before. It was pretty cool. I don’t know about you, but for most of my life I barely noticed the LA River. Encased in concete, bounded by industrial parks and rail lines, running beneath dozens of bridges, it’s as if the river has been buried by the city. We’re only starting to dig it out now. It will be many years before we uncover its real potential.

I’m so glad I made the effort to be there for the clean-up. It was a great day. And it’s just one of many events that FoLAR holds throughout the year. Check out their web site for more info.

FoLAR

LAR 90 Riv Path

Waking Up in the Park

NH 05 Pk Tree Shad

I’ve been going past North Hollywood Park since I was a kid, but I’ve hardly ever set foot in it. Lately, though, every time I’ve gone by I’ve felt like I needed to check it out. So I finally decided to take the time.

NH 07 Pk Tent

God knows what possessed me to go over there at seven in the morning. I’m barely awake at that hour. But it was cool because I had the park mostly to myself. The sun was just coming up and the only other people around were the dog walkers and the joggers. Not that the park was quiet. It’s bounded on all sides by major roadways, occupying the triangle made by Chandler, Tujunga and the Hollywood Freeway.

NH 14 Pk Church

You can see the traffic backed up on Tujunga. And you can also see St. Paul’s First Lutheran Church in the background. I looked on the net for a history of the church, but didn’t find much. Their web site said the congregation has been active in the area since the twenties, but didn’t offer too many details. I was curious about the campus, because it’s an interesting mix of old and new styles.

Also across the street from the park is Masonic Lodge #542.

NH 15 Pk Mason

Freemasonry has pretty much disappeared these days, but it played a large part in European and American history for hundreds of years. Ben Franklin, W. A. Mozart, Simón Bolívar, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie were all Masons. The history of Freemasonry is long and complex, and because it was a secret society there’s much that will never be known. Some people see it as an important fraternal organization that helped shaped democracy, others see it as a band of power mad imperialists who wanted to rule the world. If you’re into conspiracy theories, you can’t go wrong with the Masons. There are all sorts of crazy stories out there. But to get back to Lodge #542, in its heyday its members included many Hollywood luminaries like Clark Gable, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Audie Murphy. The Los Angeles Conservancy has a nice write-up about the building’s design.

Masonic Lodge #542 at The Los Angeles Conservancy

Inside the park itself is the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Library. This beautiful little Mission style building was originally constructed in 1929, and it was designed by architects Lewis Eugene Weston and Lewis Eugene Weston, Jr..

The front of the Amelia Earhart Library.

The front of the Amelia Earhart Library.

A side view of the library's entrance.

A side view of the library’s entrance.

The back of the library.

The back of the library.

In the decades since it was built, the library has undergone a number of transformations. Like so many buildings, it’s been adapted over and over again as the community around it changed. To learn more, follow the link below.

Amelia Earhart Regional Branch History at LAPL

If you’re wondering why this branch library is named after Amelia Earhart, it’s because she was living in nearby Toluca Lake at the time she took off on her final flight. There’s also a statue of Earhart in the park at the corner of Tujunga and Magnolia.

NH 30 Pk Amelia

Honestly, until yesterday the only thing I knew about this early aviator was that she died trying to fly around the world. After doing a little reading, I found out that she racked up a number of impressive accomplishments in her short life. You might want to do a little reading about her yourself.

Amelia Earhart Bio

Even though there wasn’t a lot happening at seven a.m., the park is often crowded when I go by in the afternoon. Activities are offered for people of all ages, and there are plenty of folks who go there just to hang out. In spite of the cars rushing along the park’s perimeter, once you get away from the traffic it’s easy to forget about the city buzzing around you. The paths wend their way through large expanses of grass. There are fabulous old trees rising up above you.

NH 33 Pk Flowers

For years I’ve been rushing past this beautiful park, convinced I didn’t have the time to stop and linger. We get so caught up in being busy that we tell ourselves we can’t take a break. We’re plugged into so many different things that we’re bombarded with stimulus all day long, and we convince ourselves it has to be that way. It doesn’t. We need to step away from the traffic, phones, TV, etc., and let ourselves walk on the grass, feel the breeze, lose ourselves in the blue of the sky.

We need to take the time for a walk in the park.

NH 50 Pk Wide

Sunday Afternoon

WL a 02 Grass Relax

Not too long ago I took a trip down to Westlkake/MacArthur Park. It’s a popular gathering place on weekends. Thousands of people show up there to play games, listen to music, attend worship services, or maybe just lie on the grass and stare up at the sky.

The park was created by civic leaders back at the end of the nineteenth century. It’s bounded by Sixth, Alvarado, Seventh and Park View. Originally christened Westlake Park, the name was later changed to MacArthur Park, after the five star general who played a prominent role during WWII. Some years ago there was an intense debate over which name was more appropriate. When you ride the Red Line to Seventh and Alvarado, the automated PA announces Westlake/MacArthur Park.

When I first came up out of the subway, the first thing I saw was the crush of street vendors lining the sidewalk. There were dozens of people selling everything from jewelry to DVDs.

Street vendors on Alvarado.

Street vendors on Alvarado.

On the other side of Alvarado there were also people selling juices and ices from carts.

More vendors on the other side of Alvarado.

More vendors on the other side of Alvarado.

The City is currently considering new rules to regulate vending on sidewalks and in parks, and the debate is pretty contentious. Merchants in brick and mortar stores are angry because they’re competing with people who can operate with no overhead, and so offer lower prices. There are definite health concerns about vendors selling food without a license. But these people are just trying to make a buck like everyone else. This is their livelihood. I’m sure the debate will continue for years to come, and I doubt anyone will find a solution that makes everybody happy.

There was a woman at the corner of Seventh and Alvarado bellowing through a megaphone about how people should give their lives to Christ.

A woman evangelizing at Seventh and Alvarado.

A woman evangelizing at Seventh and Alvarado.

I’ve gotta say, this really drives me crazy. I know she feels like she needs to preach the Gospel, but there are plenty of Christians who do the same thing without resorting to amplified rants on a street corner.

At the corner of Seventh and Alvarado you have Langer’s, a deli that’s been around forever. I haven’t been there for years. Some day I’ll have to go back and check it out.

Langer's

Langer’s

Up at Wilshire and Alvarado stands the Westlake Theatre, which opened in 1926. It stopped showing movies a long time ago. For a while it was a swap meet, but it looks like it’s completely closed now.

Westlake Theatre

Westlake Theatre

The park bisected by Wilshire, which runs right down the middle of it, but there are tunnels running underneath that allow people to pass from one side to the other.

A view of Wilshire facing Park View

A view of Wilshire facing Park View

A view of Wilshire facing Alvarado.

A view of Wilshire facing Alvarado.

Now let’s head into the park.

Entrance to the park at Seventh and Alvarado.

Entrance to the park at Seventh and Alvarado.

But first, make sure you know the rules.

Sign posted inside the park.

Sign posted inside the park.

As you can see, a lot of people are just looking for a shady spot where they can hang out and relax.

Trees provide plenty of shade.

Trees provide plenty of shade.

But not everybody is kicking back. Soccer is big here, and on weekends teams of kids take turns honing their skill on the field. Families line up around the perimeter, watching, cheering, coaching.

Kids playing soccer.

Kids playing soccer.

Families standing on the sidelines.

Families standing on the sidelines.

Soccer stars of tomorrow.

Soccer stars of tomorrow.

This looks like a pretty innocent shot of a food truck parked on Wilshire. But notice the graffiti on the concrete. “MS” stands for Mara Salvatrucha, a brutal gang that has a presence in the neighborhood. Fortunately, gang violence has been declining all over LA for several years. And the crowds of people enjoying the park didn’t seem concerned for their safety. The vibe was very relaxed.

Food truck parked on Wilshire.

Food truck parked on Wilshire.

The Levitt Pavilion offers a wide range of entertainment, and it’s free.

Levitt Pavilion

Levitt Pavilion

Performers getting ready for a show.

Performers getting ready for a show.

This is one of the tunnels that goes under Wilshire, linking the two sides of the park.

Tunnel running beneath Wilshire.

Tunnel running beneath Wilshire.

Mural running the length of the tunnel.

Mural running the length of the tunnel.

The lake is a draw for birds of all kinds. Please don’t ask me to name the different varieties. I know some of them are ducks. Other than that, I have no idea.

Birds at the edge of the lake.

Birds at the edge of the lake.

If you want to learn more about the park’s history, the link below will lead you to an article on the KCET web site that talks about its origins. Aside from the information, it includes some amazing images of the area through the years.

How a Neighborhood Dump Became a Civic Treaure

And this article on Wikipedia offers more detail on some interesting chapters in the life of the park.

Westlake/MacArthur Park on Wikipedia

WL a 90 Wtr Kids

A Patch of Green in the Grey

LT X05 Pl Trees

Week before last I went downtown to attend a meeting at City Hall. When I got there, the room was packed. It was hard to even find a seat. The zoning administrators started off with the obligatory preliminaries, which went on for quite a while. I looked around me and realized that there were dozens of people besides me who wanted to speak. I knew I was in for a long, dull morning.

So I split. They didn’t need me, and it seemed crazy to sit there waiting for a chance to talk when I knew there were other people who would cover everything I had to say, and probably say it better than I could. I decided to grab some breakfast and find a quiet place to chill. I got some food and some coffee and headed over to the plaza by the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC).

LT X10 Pl Guys

I love to hang out there. It’s spacious and usually pretty peaceful. Unless there’s an event going on, it’s unlikely you’ll find more than a handful of people on the plaza. One side is shaded by tall trees.

Opposite me I could see people coming and going at the JACCC. They do a lot of interesting programming. They even offer ukulele lessons.*

LT X12 Pl Uk

Take a look at the web site to find out about upcoming events.

JACCC

I spent a while looking at the kites on the west side of the building, as they rose and fell with the breeze.

LT X15 Pl Kites

Then I was ready to go. But as I was leaving I saw a grove of trees off to one side. I’d never really noticed them before, so I walked over to take a closer look.

LT X25 Pl Gdn Trees View

And as I neared the trees, I realized that they were part of a garden that rested just below the level of the plaza.

LT X30 Gdn Wide

As I stood there by the locked gate, an elderly woman walked past and told me that the garden was open to the public. All I had to do was go to the JACCC and sign in. So that’s what I did.

It was so cool to discover this peaceful patch of green in the middle of downtown. I walked around snapping photos and enjoying the quiet.

LT X45 Gdn Path

I’m sure the sound of traffic was all around me, but I was more focussed on the sound of the stream that runs through the middle of the garden. I would’ve loved to spend a while just sitting on a rock and gazing into the water. Unfortunately, I had other stuff to do, so I moved on after about fifteen minutes. But I will be back.

LT X50 Gdn Water

*
In surfing the net, I noticed this comment by a woman who’s apparently a regular at the JACCC. “It is ukulele heaven in DTLA.” An amazing claim, which I can’t verify. You’ll have to check it out yourself.

Legalize Sleep

DSC08124

Demonstrators on the steps at Pershing Square.

There were a number of actions planned for this weekend to coincide with Martin Luther King’s birthday. I had heard that Black Lives Matter was holding a vigil downtown, and so I hopped on the Red Line and got off at Civic Center. But it turned out the vigil was over, and so I was standing there on First Street wondering what to do next.  Fortunately, I ended up running into a group of people who were demonstrating to protect the rights of the homeless. They were marching through downtown on their way to Pershing Square. I met up with them when they made a stop on Fifth Street.

DSC08112

The group stops to hear a speaker on Fifth Street.

One of the major points the speakers made is that our government is trying to control and restrict the use of public space. This affects the homeless in that they aren’t allowed to sleep in parks or on sidewalks, but really it affects all of us. Public space is an essential part of civic life. Our elected officials are putting more and more restrictions on the way public space is used, often for the benefit of business interests. The whole idea of public space is that it’s for everyone, not just those that our elected officials deem worthy.

The reason that homeless people end up sleeping in parks is they have nowhere else to go. The Mayor and the City Council are bending over backwards to help developers build luxury residential towers, while affordable housing gets harder and harder to find. Affordable units are being demolished or converted to condos so that property owners can make an even bigger profit. This will only increase the number of people living on the streets.

DSC08126

Protesters walking through Pershing Square.

So you’ve been kicked out of your apartment because the landlord hit you with a huge rent increase. You can’t sleep on the sidewalk. You can’t sleep on bus benches. And you can’t sleep in the parks. Where do you go? Our elected officials don’t seem to care. They’re too busy granting variances for the developers who’ve been giving them campaign cash.

The affordable housing crisis in LA is getting worse. We need to address it. Instead of racing to build high-end residential skyscrapers, we need to be creating housing for all the people of Los Angeles. Everybody deserves a safe place to sleep.

DSC08134

My favorite slogan from the demonstration.