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Work Begins to Turn Downtown Parking Lot Into Urban Oasis

Times Staff Writer

Stalled in the planning stages for 14 years, work began Tuesday to transform a parking lot in the downtown business district into a sculptured paradise of trees, grassy knolls and fountains.

In the shadows of Los Angeles’ newest skyscrapers, work crews planted 20-foot-tall pine, sycamore and jacaranda trees in the 2 1/2-acre parcel named Grand Hope Park for the streets that border it.

The park site was purchased, designed and prepared with $24 million in Community Redevelopment Agency funds as a centerpiece for the CRA’s urban residential village in South Park, which is already under construction and includes a fashion design school, apartment buildings, restaurants and shops.

“It will be a place for people who live and work downtown to have a meal or a drink, a place to listen to the sound of water in the shade of specimen trees,” said Barbara Kaiser, park project manager. “It should also pull down thousands of people from office buildings” at the western edge of the chaotic garment district.

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‘A Little Color’

“That’s exactly what we need, a little green, everything is so gray around here,” said textile designer Martine Drea, who works a few blocks away. “We could really use a little color.”

Plans for the park began in 1975 and originally called for a man-made lake rimmed with residential towers, Kaiser said. But soaring land costs and changes in federal urban renewal programs forced CRA officials to whittle it down to a more affordable site bordered by 9th Street on the north, Grand Avenue on the east, Olympic Boulevard on the south, and Hope Street on the west.

“I’m pleased this project is coming to fruition,” Mayor Tom Bradley said through a spokesman. “It will create the ideal balance between the buildings in the area and open space.”

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The park is scheduled to open in 1991, to be timed with the completion of the neighboring 192-unit Del Prado housing project and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, a school that will house 3,000 apparel arts students, Kaiser said.

San Francisco Architect

Designed by renowned San Francisco architect Lawrence Halprin, who also created the famed Ghiradelli Square in his hometown, CRA officials hope that the park becomes a landmark in a part of Los Angeles better known for its traffic congestion, air pollution and high-rise office buildings.

“It will give a whole new focus to that side of town. There aren’t any parks down there now,” said CRA arts planner Mickey Gustin, who described the park’s theme as “bringing functional art and nature to an urban setting.”

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Sometime next year, after the trees mature, construction will begin on a host of permanent park structures, including two fountains, one of which will resemble a coiled snake, a 53-foot clock tower that will mark the time with melodies written by local composers, and a children’s section decorated with a wall frieze of hand-painted tiles depicting a column of marching ants.

Scattered throughout the park will be pergolas topped by stenciled flower images and sculptured “urban wild animals” such as squirrels, raccoons and birds, Gustin said.

Missing, however, will be such otherwise predictable park accouterments such as baseball diamonds, tennis courts and swimming pools.

‘Enjoy the Greenery’

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“We want people to enjoy the greenery we are creating among the business offices as opposed to a place for kids to play soccer or baseball,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser also said that plans have been worked out to prevent the park from becoming a haven for drug peddlers and panhandlers.

The CRA Board of Commissioners adopted a policy in 1988 under which developers in South Park that have an agreement with the agency are required to pay an annual fee to maintain a 24-hour security system, Kaiser said.

“For example, the Fashion Institute and Del Prado will write a check for $50,000 ever year to maintain the park and pay for a park ranger,” Kaiser said. “If you are eating a sandwich or reading a book, great. But if you have a group of people drinking wine and being disruptive, they’ll be asked to leave.”

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