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MacArthur Park Lake Restored and Refilled

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The $8-million road back for MacArthur Park Lake seems like it ought to be paved with gold.

It turns out the new lake is paved with asphalt, however.

Workers who drained the Los Angeles landmark 2 1/2 years ago so the new Metro Rail subway could be burrowed underneath were filling it back up Saturday and cautiously checking the new blacktop bottom for leaks.

The asphalt lining is designed to keep the 107-year-old lake from ever becoming the noxious, sludge-lined mudhole that subway engineers discovered when they emptied it in 1991.

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The twin-tunnel subway will run 30 feet beneath the 14-foot-deep lake when the next segment of the line is finished in about three years.

Transit officials who are already patching leaks in recently completed subway sections in the Downtown area are crossing their fingers that the tunnels stay dry once the lake level is high.

“I’ve been down in the tunnels three times today and I haven’t seen any leaks,” a construction foreman, said Saturday.

Workers plan to temporarily halt the refilling today so they can test the pump that will run a new fountain in the middle of the lake. When they resume pouring in 1,300 gallons of water per minute on Monday, it will take another four or five days to top off the lake.

The water bill for the refilling will come to about $30,000, according to Anthony Greno, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The total cost of refurbishing the 23-million-gallon lake and the surrounding park will surpass $8 million, according to an agreement between the city’s Recreation and Parks Department and the county Transportation Commission--a predecessor to the MTA.

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Along with the easy-to-clean asphalt bottom, there will be a new aeration system to keep the water from becoming stagnant and new shoreline drainage to prevent lawn runoff from polluting the water with fertilizer.

The old lake was so contaminated that it had to be treated with chemicals before environmental officials would allow it to be emptied into a nearby storm drain. And the thick ooze of tainted lake bed mud that had entrapped tons of trash and debris had to be scooped out and trucked to a lined landfill.

The shoreline will boast new landscaping, vandal-resistant lighting and a new style of park bench. Parks officials hope the improvements will help restore the splendor lost when the site at Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado Street became overrun by drug dealers in the 1980s.

Some of those watching the refilling Saturday wondered whether MacArthur Park’s luster can be repaired at any price. The new high-back benches, several said, will probably prove popular with transients. And crack cocaine users will welcome any new shrubbery.

“But maybe the good people will come here now and the drug dealers will go someplace else,” said Polonia Castellanos, who was with her husband, Edgardo, and 5-month-old daughter, Jakaline. “I hope they can keep it clean.”

Los Angeles Police Officer Rudy Alvarez steered his patrol car onto the dry part of the paved bottom and drove around the lake. He said he hopes LAPD foot patrol officers--perhaps augmented by MTA Transit Police--can be assigned once the lake is filled.

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“It’s going to be a very nice place, where families can come on Saturdays and Sundays. It will be for a while, at least,” Alvarez said.

Families lured back to the park could force the bad element out, said Richard Hodson, a Long Beach resident who rode the Blue Line trolley and the Red Line subway to buy a pastrami sandwich and borscht lunch at Langer’s Deli across the street from the park.

Others hope he’s right. A 75-year-old woman who has lived a few blocks north of the park for nearly two decades said she hasn’t set foot in it in years.

“I’m afraid to,” she said--adding that she was also afraid to give her name.

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