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Park Design Finalists Draw Cornfield With Bold Strokes

Times Staff Writer

If you were given a cleared plot of land to build a 32-acre park on the cusp of downtown Los Angeles, what would you do? Build a smaller version of New York City’s Central Park? Design something radical involving the demolition of one of the city’s most beloved landmarks, Dodger Stadium?

The three finalists vying for the job of designing the new Los Angeles State Historic Park -- better known as the Cornfield -- unveiled their ideas before more than 100 people Saturday at a community meeting in Lincoln Park.

And, it’s fair to say that none of the designs could be classified as meek.

The park, bordered by North Spring Street and North Broadway, is between Chinatown and the Los Angeles River. Once a rail yard, the land was purchased by the state in 2001, saving it from becoming a new warehouse district.

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The competition during the design phase has been intense. Last spring, 33 firms submitted entries. A committee selected by state Department of Parks and Recreation officials has since whittled the list to three: New York-based Field Operations, Hargreaves Associates of San Francisco and Mia Lehrer and Associates of Los Angeles.

On Saturday the finalists unveiled their drawings. The 10-member selection committee will make a recommendation, and state parks Director Ruth Coleman will name the winner in November.

The drawings shown Saturday won’t necessarily be the final design. The winning design team will work with state parks officials to create the final plan, which will be presented in a series of public meetings.

Of special interest Saturday: All three proposals connected the park to a restored, natural-appearing Los Angeles River.

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Those in attendance expressed a diversity of opinions:

There was too much grass in some plans, not enough in others. Some wanted more sports fields, others none at all. And there was a lot of talk about how to get there. Would everyone take the Gold Line light rail to the Chinatown station, which is a few hundred feet from the park?

As she examined the plans, Coleman said her dreams “of having a competition with some of the best designers in the country were realized.... I really think we can’t go wrong with any of them.”

Field Operations

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The East Coast firm billed its pitch as “a radical proposal, a practical solution.”

The plan started with tearing down Dodger Stadium and moving it to the Cornfield. A four-level parking garage would be built next to the new ballpark, with the state park -- including a long promenade and sports fields -- on top of the garage. That would bring the park up to the level of Broadway, which sits on a bluff overlooking the Cornfield.

The Dodger Stadium property would be divided into 205 acres to become part of adjacent Elysian Park and 60 acres for residential and commercial development.

“The stadium is obsolete and will change, whether it’s five years or in a decade,” said Thom Mayne, a Los Angeles-based architect who is part of the team.

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The new development, in turn, would generate hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for all the improvements, according to the firm. The new Elysian Park would include a championship golf course, miles of running and bike paths, hiking trails, soccer fields and a bird observatory.

Field operations Director James Corner summed up the project by saying, “We get a bigger park, a more contiguous park and the money to build it.”

Mia Lehrer & Associates

Los Angeles-based designer Lehrer started by telling the crowd that the new park would be “associated with our city and nowhere else.”

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Lehrer would take the 32-acre site and divide it into four large, grassy areas. The largest, called the Great Meadows, would be on the northern end of the park and include an amphitheater that could accommodate several thousand spectators.

The park would also have three new buildings. One, called the Wheel, would occupy the site of a former railroad roundhouse. It would also serve as a theater-in-the-round.

The other buildings would include an entryway pavilion on the Spring Street side of the park and a bridge that would allow visitors to the park to walk to Solano Canyon on the other side of Broadway.

The park also would include a walkway three-fourths of a mile long, called a Linear Museum, that would include exhibits -- some projected on a screen -- detailing the history of the park and city.

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“We hope that this is a park that will grow with time and add to the history,” Lehrer said.

Hargreaves Associates

The San Francisco-based landscape designer divided the site into thirds -- a large public plaza, a great lawn and a section of wetlands and islands closest to the Los Angeles River.

The plaza would host a range of activities, from farmers markets to ballroom dancing under the stars. The 15-acre lawn would be the “belly” of the park.

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The wetlands area would include several types of habitats and gardens where designers said visitors could have “smaller moments among the larger moments.”

The design would incorporate four bridges. Three would connect the park to Broadway or Elysian Park, including a large bridge covered by the natural landscape.

“It’s wide enough to be a real ecological patch between Elysian Park and this park,” said Mary Margaret Jones, a senior principal with the firm.

A fourth bridge would soar above the park, connecting Spring Street to Broadway and allowing for views of the downtown skyline and the L.A. River.

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The judges are expected to take several weeks to confer over the proposals. Public comments at Saturday’s meeting appeared to favor Mia Lehrer.

Jan Dyer, a landscape architect, praised Lehrer’s work for its classical lines and elements. “I thought hers was the one that is most likely to get built,” Dyer said.

There are funding obstacles to be surmounted before the park can be built. Proposition 84, if approved by voters Nov. 7, would give the state Parks Department $400 million, a portion of which could be allocated by legislators to pay for construction. If the measure fails, the state would likely have to rely on private-sector funds, which could take years.

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Still, some remained optimistic.

“This could have been warehouses, and instead it’s going to be a park,” said Robert Garcia, executive director for the Center for Law in the Public Interest. “It wouldn’t have happened without the people on the selection committee and in the audience. This is a dream come true.”

steve.hymon@latimes.com


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