Groups Back Center With Both Day Care and Artists' Housing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last spring, the leaders of two community organizations in Highland Park were given a rare challenge.

A group seeking a day-care center and another seeking space for artists were asked to reconcile competing wishes and come up with a single proposal for what the city should build on a vacant lot in a run-down section along York Boulevard.

Last week, they presented a plan. The city, they said, should build a combined child-care center and artists' village on the lot at the corner of Avenue 53 and York Boulevard.

After hearing this novel idea at a community meeting Thursday night, Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre immediately endorsed it and said he would seek city funds.

Alatorre said he agreed with community members that a facility that would include a preschool, affordable housing and work space for artists, as well as some commercial space, would serve critical needs.

He also said such a center could spark the economic and cultural revitalization of a section of York Boulevard now dominated by empty storefronts, fast-food restaurants and auto repair shops.

"I think it would be a real exciting project," the councilman told approximately 80 people who attended a community meeting Thursday night at the Highland Park Senior Citizens Center. "It ultimately can be the thing that brings back York Boulevard."

Alatorre said that he would ask the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to identify sources of funding for the project, and that he would report the findings at a future community meeting.

A representative for Alatorre said that after the councilman finds a funding source, the community groups will be asked to form a committee to locate an architect for the project and to oversee the construction and operation.

Members of the Mt. Washington Preschool and Child Care Center and the Arroyo Arts Collective jointly developed the plan after Alatorre announced last May that the 30,000-square-foot lot would be available for community use.

Members of the two groups said that there is a dire shortage of child-care facilities and of affordable housing for artists, so the two uses will complement each other nicely.

"Children and artists have the same temperament," joked Carol Van Beek, an interested community member who attended the meeting. "There's no conflict."

The combined plan was also endorsed by Carlos Chavez, director of community relations for neighboring Occidental College, who said that the school administration is "willing to help in any way we can."

Pat Griffith, a member of the Mt. Washington child-care cooperative, said her group wants about 10,000 square feet devoted to the preschool, which would be enough space to accommodate 80 children.

Diane Alexander, a member of the artists' collective, said she hopes there will be room for between 15 and 24 units of living and work space, as well as some art-related businesses and exhibition space.

The preschool group and the artists' collective had been looking separately for sites on which to build their projects. They began working together after Alatorre's announcement that he would allow community members to dictate how the lot would be used.

Once the site of a commercial building and small houses, the York Boulevard lot was purchased by the city about a dozen years ago as a site for a new fire station. That plan was dropped because of funding constraints. A fire station was eventually built at the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 45. More recently, a proposal for a 60-unit apartment complex also fell through amid community protests concerning the project design.

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