Bunker Hill Park

Saturday, December 24, 2005

This is my Grand Intervention proposal:

Our New Park

by Tim Quinn

We were standing at the window on the tenth floor of City Hall looking west up the hill toward the Music Center. Spread out below was the new park, still un-named. The philanthropist directed our attention to the beautiful home midway up the hill that contained the ground floor of the museum bearing his name. He explained, "That home is the portal to our past. Built into the new false hill below are the four huge floors of our new Museum of Los Angeles. The false hill has more than enough room left over for the courthouse and administrative functions for the County. Those facades are on the Temple side." We had seen the pictures earlier, the reproduction of the old sandstone courthouse seemed to be tucked right into the hill side.

"Let's take the walk up so I can show you what we have done." We followed--who wouldn't?

We regrouped at the top of the stairs leading down to the Civic Plaza that now comes right up to the base of City Hall, Spring Street running underneath through tunnels for both the trains and buses. Our guide continued as he descended the stairs, "The cobblestones you see covering the plaza came from the old Santa Fe Freight Depot over in the Arts District. They covered the freight-handling yard, next to Sci-ARC, for nearly 80 years before we brought them here. The Museum of Jazz stands there now. Fascinating place. Makes one proud to be an Angeleno."

He gestured toward a Mayan-looking structure occupying the southern border of the Plaza. "That magnificent elegant structure comprises the grandstand and walls of The Taste, a court for Ulama,
a sort of handball or squash descended from a game played by the original residents of this area. I understand the game is still played in some parts of Mexico." A couple of us laughed at this; he had forgotten we were the Ulama team from Cal State Long Beach.

As our guide strolled across the cobblestones, he pointed to the pond at the far northern end of the Plaza. "We realized that an urban park should provide frequent opportunities for what we call `micro-vacations,' moments away from the city. These might supply the restorative tonic a hard-working civil servant obviously craves, yes?" We nodded.

We sat on the low stone wall at the edge of the pond. "Lesley's little lake here provides a variety of opportunities to forget where you are for a few minutes. We named it Poundcake Pond for the hill that stood here until 120 years ago. Besides, it sounds better than either New High Pond or Courthouse Lake. You can see the far shore is actually muddy. We've brought in crawdads and rainbow trout, a few catfish, but they're just for looking at." He threw in a small pebble. "The sounds of water are very calming. Don't you think? The ducks are real, by the way."

We walked the edge of the pond to Broadway where a stream spilled out from under a remarkable small bridge built entirely from small boulders. "We have been harvesting the boulders from local excavations going on Downtown, including our own, to mimic an old L.A. style perfected in the Lummis Home. Do any of you know it?" Some of us apparently did. So he continued, "One of our original goals for the park was to create a place that would age gracefully. Accomodate the roots of growing trees. Show the use of generations in the beautiful patinas and worn surfaces of real materials. We finally concluded that we could accomplish that by building a park that might have stood here, even hundreds of years ago, somehow. So we took what material came from the ground, as Lummis and dozens of others had before us, to make the things our park required: bridges, walls, benches and tables. Of course, it's all a big fiction. There is a giant concrete building under our feet, but this is Los Angeles, dammit. We know how to do fiction." The old guy was getting worked up, but as he gestured across Broadway at the new fake hill, I had to agree. It looked like it was coming down in the next quake, but it appeared to be an absolutely authentic California chapparal-covered hillside rising steeply from the sidewalk.

As if on cue, the signal changed to walk. We took the suggestion and crossed to the other side. The smell of the sage enveloped us as we made the sidewalk and I did, for a second, looking up at the yucca blooms, forget where I was. A local bus whirred past bringing me back to the city. Our guide continued south to the center of the block. Stopping, he said, "We've taken some liberties with the shape of the hill here to achieve a naturalistic impression. No buildings on this end, except for Court Flight." He pointed to the funicular rising up the hill above us. The funny little skewed boxes that made up the cars seemed pretty rickety. "Fiction again, its a completely safe, but accurate, re-creation of the train that served this end of the hill during the same years that the better-known Angels Flight thrived over at Hill and Third. People love this sort of stuff." It was clear from the bounce in his step as he entered the car that he was one of those people. We went up. Our benefactor looked out over the landscape as it gradually spread out below us. "My, those towers are new, aren't they. Things are changing so fast." I couldn't tell how he felt about it. Our reverie was interrupted by the comic last clunk of the car arriving at the top of its run.

The rest of the park spread out before us. The top of the hill was almost flat, rising gently toward the Court of the Music Center. In the middle distance was the Victorian mansion we had seen from City Hall. Behind it, slightly higher, the Chandler Pavilion. Now at ground level, it was finally evoking the ancient temple that inspired it. All around the new hill, Downtown's high-rises formed a glittering frame for what I realized was Los Angeles's new Acropolis. What philosophy might arise to match this beautiful place? What civic spirit ignited? What music written? But our guide was speaking. "These photos we have mounted here were taken by Ansel Adams in 1940 from this spot. The comparison is quite amusing. About the only thing left is City Hall. Beautiful photographs though, don't you think?" We did.

We spent a half an hour wandering through the gardens that occupy the eastern end of the plateau. The beds and path were bordered by the same stone work that made the bridge down below: rounded river rocks carefully fitted to form graceful sloping walls. My favorites beds were the cactus and agaves. Huge century plants and more flowering yuccas. We re-assembled in front of the mansion.

" . . . built in 1880 for the families retirement from the mining business. The Bradbury's had met in Mexico where she was born. They worked in mining and real estate in Mexico and up and down the state before coming here to retire because of the old man's failing health. Didn't work though: he died a couple years later. Simona proved to be a powerhouse, an able businesswoman. It was she, with her husband's business partners, that built the block on Broadway bearing their name. I believe it shows a woman's influence and the architectural sophistication of someone raised in old Mexico. She built a few other buildings, too, including one that served as the county courthouse for a time. Quite a woman, apparently."

"She used the home. Our reproduction is all plastic, by the way. Pretty convincing though. She used the home as a social center, opening it for gatherings and meetings of her wide circle of friends and the many clubs and committees she belonged to. It was a well-known and welcoming place. That is why we chose it as the portal to the museum below. It embodies an attitude toward neighborhood and community, a meeting of public and private needs. It has great dignity. At the same time, it celebrates workmanship. It elevates family, community and the civic dialog by its fine example. It is a handsome building, don't you think?" We did.

"But there is a bonus," he continued, "The home later came into the hands of the young Hal Roach. This would have been around 1912 or 15. He used it as the headquarters for his film studio, the interior and exterior as film sets. That would have been silent film, by the way. You know, black and white, really early stuff. We have a little theater downstairs where we show nothing but films shot up here on the hill. Amazing collection of stuff. Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, funny, funny stuff, right here."

We walked to the corner and up the path toward the Music Center Plaza. "On the right up ahead is our new little amphitheater. Diverse program lined up there, you'll see. Most of the art you see was commissioned for the site, but some of it was saved from basements and bad installations elsewhere. The older things, you know, mostly Pershing Square." We fanned out over the lawns and paths looking over the collection, enjoying the live music. I eventually found myself in the Music Center Plaza and noticed a new building there. Or an old one that had not been there before. It was a standard issue clapboard two-story boarding house. "It is a duplicate of a building that used to be here when this was the intersection of Bunker Hill Avenue and Court Street." The philanthropist was standing beside me. "We call it the Jon Fante Residence. Its a haven for writers, poets, artists to spend some time in Downtown Los Angeles. We've already booked two years, lots of interest. Who wouldn't want to work up here for a little while, hmm?" I had to agree.

This proposal incorporates ideas from other participants and blog contributors. It is not intended to subsume or replace those contributions, but to honor them. They include Josef Bray-Ali, Lesley Taplin, Stuart Rapeport, Steven Rosen, and others.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Reintroducing Los Angeles to Its History

We maintain some distorted version of Los Angeles in our heads. There is no way to bring back the hill or the neighborhood that once filled what is now a park that looks like a mall. Some of the variety can be re-injected though. It was built once why not build it again. A sign in front could say, "This home once stood on ground approximately sixty-five feet above this spot. It was built by Mr L.L. and Mrs Simona Bradbury in 1861. It was later occupied by the Hal Roach Studios, and was torn down for a parking lot in 1925. It was rebuilt in 2007 to remind us of our not so distant roots."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It seems that the Park is conceived as an entirely separate entity from the rest of the Grand Avenue development, and is planned to be built on top of a parking garage (already existing).

I have a suggestion: What if the one of the project parcels were used for all the parking, so that there would be no parking facilities (except for valet, service and handicapped needs) on any of the other parcels, including the park? This would ensure that even though the project will be designed as fully dependent on automobile visitors, those visitors would be expected to traverse the urban fabric of the area in order to come and go.

Parcel M is located on 2nd & Grand, across Second Street from Disney Hall. The western slope of Bunker Hill and Hope St could serve as the auto entrance and exit, and at the Grand Avenue street level there would be a pedestrian entrance and street level retail, and perhaps also an apartment tower or office tower.

This would allow the Park, and Parcels Q and W to fully utilize their urban potential, and actually interact with the street without
requiring pesky driveways all over the place. Nothing kills the urban street like auto entrances and exits.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Leslie Taplin writes;

You had asked a very good question of the group, namely, what kind of park would you be inclined to take your friends to visit? I thought that was an excellent parameter for considering design ideas. I have a simple answer that keeps coming back to me - one with a lake. And ducks. And maybe fish. Lakes are not like other bodies of water. They aren't like most fountains downtown which too often, when they are working, have an aggressiveness that pushes you away. Lakes make you go inward, a walk around a lake is a meditation. Staring into a lake is a deepening experience, and when people go deeper in that way they get quieter, more kind to others and to themselves. Ducks are just entertaining, and their quacking would add a nice white noise to the sound of buses and commuter traffic. They're fun to feed, the scraps of your bag lunch. A lake might even become a welcome stopover for migrating flocks of visiting birds. Those who live downtown could follow those migrations over time, clock the seasons by it. I don't know enough about fish to make any recommendations about them, but flashes of silver under the water always quickens the heart. That's my answer to your question what kind of a park would I really visit, and bring my friends.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

This is not exactly about the Park, but about the Grand Avenue development in general. Grand Avenue's built component proposes 1800 housing units, a large amount of retail, and a hotel. In addition, they are proposing 4,000 parking spots. Immediately adjacent to the development is a Red Line station.

Here are the statistics for the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, also developed by Related:

Time Warner Center is a 2.8 million square foot, mixed-use project located on New York's most prominent development site at the southwest corner of Central Park. Designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the project consists of two 80-story towers rising from a seven-story podium. The development was completed in 2004 and contains almost 1.1 million square feet of office space, 338,000 square feet of retail space, a 251-room luxury hotel, 201 luxury condominiums, a 1,100-seat jazz theatre and a 500-space parking facility.

Note how much parking Time Warner has. It is also immediately adjacent to a subway station.

I am VERY concerned that this Grand Avenue project has been hijacked by a totally suburban mindset. The Paseo proposed would turn all the activity inward, away from the street. How much would you want to bet that the streets will be lined by blank concrete walls. Despite all the denials by the developers, that is exactly what their plans seem to be in my view. By encouraging an inward facing development with huge amounts of parking, are they really trying to contribute to a healthy downtown, or are they trying to make this project a singular destination that does not encourage interaction with the larger downtown?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Someone suggested that the park could become the repository for historic architectural fragments, a sort of outdoor museum of the city. With that in mind I walked past SCI-arc and the adjacent land soon to be developed into residential gold by Richard Meruelo. The SCI-arc building originally served as the Santa Fe freight depot around a hundred years ago. Meruelo's flat land was part of the facility and much of it is still covered by tan cobblestones. Acres of land densely covered by heavy rectangular bricks of solid stone. Each one hand made. The neighborhood story goes that they were used as ballast in cars returning from the East after delivering a load of fresh fruit.

These stones could be used to pave the plaza at the bottom of the hill or the pathways in the gardens. They're not native, but they are substantial, have seen a lot of history and show it. This would bring the texture that dreaded places like City Walk fail to achieve, the wear of use on real materials that cannot be faked and that contributes so much to our sense of investment and permanence. City Hall is among our best buildings and the stone covered civic plaza would lend to its dignity.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

El-Brayjerino posts this comment:

I have a degree in Anthropology, so this idea really stood out as a way of coming to terms with this
region's history, and a means of showing that history to future generations through the playing of an ancient and wholly indigenous game.

How about building an Ulama court somewhere in the park? Ulama is commonly referred to as "the ball-game played by Native Americans".

The game, or forms of it, have been around for over 3,500 years. It is still being played, but only in a few small villages in western Mexico.

There used to be an Ulama court in the Los Angeles area (built by the Chumash out at Malibu point).

Ulama courts, in Mexico, are called "taste"s (TA-stay). They don't come anywhere near the size and maintenance requirements a football, baseball, or soccer field would require.

Cal State Los Angeles has two of the world's foremost ulama scholars at its campus. James Brady (Archaeology) and Manuel Aguilar (Art) recently completed a round of ulama-based research in 2003.

Here are some links that might help you get a better idea about ulama, and whether or not it might have a place in the new park to be built downtown:

A general guide to the ball-game:

Dr. Brady and Dr. Aguilar's "Projecto Ulama" web-site:

Additionally, Archaeology magazine published an article about this research in their September/October 2003 issue (Volume 56 Number 5) in an article entitled "Extreme Sport" by Colleen B. Popson.

Check out a portion of it here:

I'm not much of a visionary, but I have spent my whole life in Los Angeles, and I feel that we need some legitimate means to allow people here to become "natives" of this region - to connect with its history, natural and built environment.

South Pasadena

The soils that make up downtown and much of the basin and valleys are rich in river rubble. Rounded rocks from pebble sized to boulders. There is an indigenous architectural style in the area that takes advantage of this ready building material to create beautiful sloping foundations and walls with the stones sorted for size with the largest, naturally, at the bottom and the smaller ones at top.

Alhambra Park

Could the stones and boulders from the excavations one block away be harvested and used to accent and buttress the terracing in the park following this native Los Angeles style? I saw large piles of these stones at the excavation for the Elleven project in Southpark. Examples of the style can still be found throughout Pasadena and South Pasadena.

El Alisal - the Lummis Home

Disney Hall sits right on the sidewalk, it draws you toward it. This, certainly, can give us some hope that these folks also walk those sidewalks. I've spoken to Brenda Levin at Starbuck's, saw Witte rushing into Office Depot. Oldenburg's collar and tie shows Gehry can share the spotlight. These are encouraging signs to me.

I can't get past the feeling that Luckman, the Chandlers, Welton Becket and Perriera must have hated Downtown, been embarassed by its corny and very visible roots. They built a Music Center and Park that seem downright pathological in its desire to cut out the street and the people that used its sidewalks. Topped by the behemoth Chandler Pavilion, the complex quickly became a symbol of the imperial self image of an absent ruling class as, months after its opening, the Watts Riots brought the city to its knees.

I am not an architect or an urban planner but I imagine the Music Center and its surrounding 'neighborhoods' have become textbook examples of how to screw up a good thing, how to miss an important opportunity. I will say again that Disney Hall shows vast improvement and I hope that Gehry can prevail again in creating a place that even its designers and builders would be happy to live, work and play.

We still need to ask questions, make suggestions, insist that they explain themselves. Even well meaning people can overlook important considerations or meaningful opportunities. The people that know and care about downtown have the perspective to see those opportunities and articulate them.