And what about the concrete ramps that led from Grand Avenue and from Hill Street to the underground garage? There wasn't enough money to get rid of both sets of ramps -- and besides, the garage needed to stay open. The designers and their clients compromised in the end, removing the ramps along the top of Grand but leaving intact the ones on Hill. And even that compromise ate up a good chunk of the total budget (which grew, thanks to earned interest, to $56 million by time the park broke ground two summers ago).
The choice has paid big dividends along Grand, at least, where the sidewalk along the eastern side of the street now flows directly into the park. From there it's a few steps down to a wide paved overlook. It offers an up-close view of the restored and expanded Will Memorial Fountain, which now includes choreographed water features and a reflecting pool where kids can splash.
On the lower portion of the park's first phase to open, near Hill, is a sloping lawn with a small raised stage at the eastern edge. The furniture here -- and this is a rarity in L.A.'s parks -- isn't tied down or fixed to the ground. Visitors will be able to move it around, grouping tables together for a large gathering or dragging chairs from the sun into the shade.
The silver-and-green signs that mark various entrances to the park make its design goals clear in several different languages: This is the L.A. park "for everyone," "para todos." The collection of plants and trees, in a similar spirit, isn't restricted to native species but is drawn from around the world.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the park is how dramatically it reframes views of some of downtown's best-known landmarks. From the overlook plaza you can catch a glimpse of Disney Hall. The 1962 Hall of Records by Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander, among the most underrated modernist buildings in Los Angeles, can be seen from a new angle from the performance lawn and may gain some new admirers as a result. And throughout the park the City Hall tower is a dramatic, insistent presence.
This effect will be heightened when the lower portions of the park open later this year, providing new perspectives on Thom Mayne's Caltrans building and the skyscrapers of Bunker Hill.
But the ramps along Hill are a jarring reminder of how the site used to look. And in general the design (with the exception of its excellent Grand Avenue frontage) is most disappointing where it meets the street and by extension the city. Early versions of the Rios Clementi Hale plan included new sidewalk and crosswalk designs that would have unified the park as a whole, even when it ventured across Hill and Broadway. Those didn't make it into the final version.
It's possible those streetscape improvements can be adder later on. But as it looks now, Grand Park repeats some of the mistakes that have doomed earlier developments on Bunker Hill, focusing on internal amenity at the expense of its relationship with the street.
Still, the success of the park design as a whole is a breakthrough for a resurgent downtown and a step forward for Los Angeles.
This city has had big but partly inaccessible parks (Griffith Park) and legendary parks that we've come close to ruining with too much design (Pershing Square). Mostly what we've had is a collection of thousands upon thousands of privately owned and miniature Central Parks -- one for every suburban backyard.
Grand Park represents something else: an attempt, imperfect but encouraging, to chip away at the rigid infrastructure of the car-dominated city and make a private city a little more public.