WILSHIRE CENTER : 'Streetscape' Begins to Take Root With Tree Plantings

The 10 crape myrtle trees planted May 14 along 7th Street and Irolo Avenue as part of a Wilshire Center revitalization project aren't expected to blossom for another two years, but the effort to rally the community around the beautification idea already is showing results.

The trees, and another 2,500 to be planted this year, are one element of the Wilshire Center Streetscape Project, a $4.5-million plan to spruce up the area with new benches, bus stops, lights and signs, a median strip down the street and other improvements.

"It all starts with the trees," said Gary Russell, the project manager. "The simple act of planting a tree shows that with a little effort you can make a change in your environment."

Wilshire Center businesses and office buildings have been hit hard by the recession and by the obstructions of Metro Rail construction. The Wilshire Chamber of Commerce conceived "streetscape" as a way to spur a comeback.

So far, organizers have commitments for about half of the project's projected budget from federal, state, city and private sources. In addition, the chamber and others are lobbying the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to provide $16.2 million for programs to mitigate the negative effects of subway construction.

The MTA approved a $27.7-million mitigation program for the Hollywood area. Wilshire Center businesses say they deserve similar assistance.

Subway construction is "making it tougher for us to be competitive," Russell said. He added that although business people have taken the lead in the streetscape program, residents will play a more important role as time goes on.

Apartment managers, too, are vital to the project, said Frank Tysen, a member of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles and the chairman of the chamber's apartment committee. "To organize neighborhoods, you have to go block-by-block, and you need a group of managers who will do graffiti abatement, get rid of couches left on the sidewalk and coordinate anti-crime walks," Tysen said.

"It's a lot of work but a lot of fun too," said Abel Ramos as he took a break after digging a three-foot hole for one of the trees.

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