October 4, 2012
It’s been rolling out, bit by bit, since mid-summer, but this weekend, Grand Park will finally get the grand opening Los Angeles has been waiting for.
As the third and final section of the 12-acre space opens to the public, a festive block party is being planned on Saturday, October 6, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., with dancing around the fountain, Cuban jazz on the lawn, food trucks on the street and, at the park’s eastern boundary, a soaring aerial ballet up the sides of L.A.’s iconic City Hall. Then on Sunday, the park will leap into action as a hub for the wildly popular CicLAvia.
“It’s really exciting,” says Dawn McDivitt, who has managed the park project for the county’s Chief Executive Office. “The opening of the first two blocks in July drew 5,000 people in the first weekend, and we think this weekend will draw even more.”
Stretching from City Hall to the Music Center, the new park—an inviting 4-block rectangle of grass, plants, water and hot pink lawn chairs—has been drawing crowds since its first segment opened this summer, offering the first substantial stretch of green space in downtown L.A.
Conceived nearly a decade ago as part of a plan to redevelop Grand Avenue with luxury hotels, condos and retail, the park moved ahead while other elements were postponed by the economic downturn, largely because of a $50 million payment that was negotiated upfront from Related Cos., the project’s developer.
The first section, opened in July, is anchored by a Starbucks and the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, which features an ankle-deep membrane pool that has become a major weekend draw for nearby families. The middle section features a community terrace with a Court of Flags, a Vietnam Memorial and 24 cherry blossom trees from the Japanese Consulate. The final section, at the City Hall end, will offer a dog park and a spacious event lawn that planners already are programming for local gatherings. Also on tap for the future is an anchor restaurant or café at the City Hall end of the park.
“I think if you ask anyone, the park is already a success,” says McDivitt, noting that none of the park events so far have drawn fewer than 200 to 300 people. “And when you compare that to the mall that was there before, where, if you saw 20 people in all three blocks, you were lucky—just looking out my window at the Hall of Administration, it’s amazing. People who have driven in from their communities for events, neighborhood people from the lofts, mothers sitting around the membrane pool with their children. There are more people than I’ve seen down there in 22 years of working here.”
This weekend’s kickoff is expected to draw crowds from throughout the county, starting with 11 a.m. dance lessons at the Music Center Plaza in a salute to Latino Heritage Month.
At 4 p.m., the Grand Park celebration will officially begin with “A Fanfare for Grand Park,” a reprise of a dance performance that premiered at the park’s July dedication.
At 5:30 p.m., down the hill on the park’s performance lawn, the Latin jazz duo Dos y Mas will launch the park’s new World Jazz Series, and at 6:45 p.m. outdoor videos will be projected onto the wall of the county’s Richard Neutra-designed Hall of Records building that flanks the park.
After a welcome from public official and dignitaries, the party will move to the event lawn. There, at 7:45 p.m., the aerial dance troupe Bandaloop will perform a spectacular vertical dance on the walls of the city’s towering City Hall building, suspended hundreds of feet off the ground by climbing ropes.
Park officials view Saturday’s celebration as just the start of Grand Park’s new role as a downtown centerpiece. Programming will be handled for the first three years by the Music Center, and Park Director Lucas Rivera has predicted the park will soon be home to farmers’ markets, arts festivals, book fairs, and other regional gatherings. McDivitt says she won’t be surprised to see regular movie nights, with outdoor films projected on the Hall of Records. Already, one segment of the park is home to the downtown speakers’ series Zócalo.
Events scheduled for the near term include an October 14 Pooch Party for dogs and the people who love them on the event lawn, an October 27 performance by the AXIS contemporary dance company, a November 2 night time Dia De Los Muertos party and a November 4 arts happening called Flash Fest.
Says McDivitt: “This really is a brand new chapter for downtown L.A.”
September 19, 2012
Los Angeles has plenty of big, famous exports: movies, food trends, celebrity gossip.
And at least one sought-after small one: the pint-sized rescue dog.
While dogs in Los Angeles County’s busy urban animal shelters can range from dachshunds to Saint Bernards, there’s an abundance of the little ones coveted by would-be adopters in other areas.
So a thriving pet transport circuit has sprung up. Since 2009, 3,457 L.A. County shelter dogs have found their way to Utah, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, Virginia and New York. Within California, they’ve hit the road for new homes in San Diego and Santa Cruz, with stops along the way at closer, less-crowded shelters in Irvine and Glendale. With 1,219 dogs transported so far this year, 2012 is the busiest yet for county canine relocations.
To land a quick home in another ZIP code, the transplanted L.A. dogs must be healthy, friendly and (generally) small. “Anything under 30 pounds, they’ll take. We could ship 5 Chihuahuas for every Labrador,” said Marcia Mayeda, the county’s director of Animal Care and Control. “It’s filling a void in their area.”
Because of the sheer size of its shelter population and the popularity of certain petite breeds here, Los Angeles County is able to share its canine wealth with places that have a shortage of adoptable small dogs.
Now the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is getting in on the act. With funding from New York philanthropist Carroll Petrie, ASPCA aims to save 16,600 dogs across the country in the next 8 months by helping to transport them out of crowded shelters. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week approved the county’s participation in the Carroll Petrie Foundation Dog Rescue Project. A subsidy of $50 per dog will allow the transfer of some 50 dogs a month from the county’s Downey Animal Care Center to the Mission Viejo Animal Services Department and, potentially, to other shelters as well.
The Chihuahua popularity boom—fostered by rampant media images of well-heeled pooches traveling around in celebutantes’ purses and stealing scenes in movies like Legally Blonde and Beverly Hills Chihuahua—contributed to overbreeding and a tiny-dog population explosion in L.A. and other California shelters in recent years. (On Tuesday, of the 1,521 dogs in Los Angeles County shelters, nearly a quarter—378—were Chihuahuas or Chihuahua mixes.)
But now some areas are beginning to contend with a Chihuahua boom of their own, and have had to limit the number they accept.
Portland, for example, is “kind of saturated” with Chihuahuas these days, although the Oregon Humane Society still welcomes a twice-a-month shipment of other kinds of dogs from L.A., said Jennifer Barta, the agency’s “second chance” coordinator.
“Everybody here loves the L.A. dogs,” Barta said, marveling at how the transplanted pups endure “an incredibly long journey” yet still manage to come out wagging. “It’s just pretty phenomenal.”
Robin Harmon, “Pup My Ride” coordinator for the Best Friends group, has a good sense of what kinds of dogs are moving where.
A vanload of dogs that traveled from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City this week was “half Chihuahuas and a half what we call ‘fluffies’—poodle and terrier mixes,” Harmon said.
An upcoming shipment to New York, she said, will “probably have at least 30 Chihuahuas.” One of those L.A. expats will be going to the Hamptons, she said: “We’ve been laughing about that.”
An exception to the small dog rule: Billings, Montana, which Harmon said can be counted on to welcome four or five German Shepherds, along with other smaller dogs, from L.A. every couple of months.
Cats, alas, are another matter. “We are pretty well inundated with homeless cats of our own,” said Jessica Almeida of the Humane Society of Utah.
Even though the transport system can’t solve all the problems of homeless pets, redistributing the adoptable dog population makes it easier for conscientious consumers around the country to do the right thing when it comes to bringing home an animal.
“People want to go to a shelter,” said Mayeda, the county’s Animal Care and Control director. “They want to save a life.”
September 6, 2012
The next shiny, new section of Grand Park debuts Tuesday, but its centerpiece has been around for decades—although odds are you’ve never heard of it. Called “The Historic Court of American Flags,” it’s long been flying under the radar.
When the court was first completed in 1971, it featured 18 replica flags dating back to 1774, with plaques describing each one. The minimal landscaping surrounding the display served mostly as a cover for a four-level parking garage below. As far as public visibility, you’d be lucky to see more than a few stars and stripes from the neighboring streets.
Now, as the Grand Park Project gives the 12-acre space between the Music Center and City Hall a dramatic makeover, the flags have been uprooted from their original spot in the center of the park space and arranged parallel to Hill Street and Broadway. This not only vastly opened up the middle of the park’s third block but also gave the flags a more showy location.
Dawn McDivitt, the county’s project manager for Grand Park, said the flag court provides the community with “a space to reflect” on the nation’s—and the county’s—history. She said the county’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs was consulted on the flags’ relocation and were “very, very pleased” with the results.
The flag court represents an effort by the designers to incorporate the area’s history with its future. A signature feature of the park, in fact, is the renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, which, like the flags, was largely invisible to the public until two parking lot ramps were demolished and relocated.
The newest touch was the design of the concrete pedestals in which the poles and plaques have been mounted. Before, everything was cemented at ground level. Architects from Rios Clementi Hale Studios, which designed Grand Park, created the blockish pedestals so that the flags and plaques could be seen more easily, by more people.
The latest section scheduled for opening this week has been dubbed “Community Terrace.” Besides the court of flags, it boasts plants and flowers from all six floristic regions of the world, 24 cherry blossom trees from the Japanese Consulate, and, of course, the park’s movable magenta benches, chairs and tables. Terraced ramps will improve access to the area while offering extra seating capacity for large events once the final segment of the park near City Hall opens on October 6, just in time for the hugely popular CicLAvia to roll through the next day.
The Community Terrace is also home to theVietnam Memorial Monument, which features a bronzed Army helmet from the war’s era. The helmet had been sawed off and stolen twice over the years, so designers upgraded the monument with a threaded steel rod and other security measures to keep any would-be thieves at bay.
The terrace will open with a short ceremony on Tuesday, September 11 at 9 a.m. Bea Cohen, a 102-year-old World War II veteran recently honored by the Board of Supervisors, is expected to be on hand for the event. During the ceremony, the historic flags will be hoisted by veterans from all branches of the military, as well as by fire and law enforcement officials.
July 25, 2012
The 6,200-square-foot pool in front of the restored Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain has only a quarter-inch of water, but it’s likely to be a huge crowd magnet, says Jim Garland, president of Fluidity Design Consultants, which oversaw the fountain’s restoration and expansion.
“It’s going to be awesome,” says Garland. “There’s a similar pool around the Millennium Park Fountain in Chicago, and kids roll around in it, and people just love it, and it’s probably the most popular fountain today in the United States.”
But under the sleek, nonslip surface and its inviting jets of water, an elaborate system of machinery and maintenance workers will be hustling around the clock to keep that expanse—technically known as a “membrane pool”—clean. The pool’s filtration system was kept separate from the one used for the fountain itself, Garland says, because health codes set a higher standard of cleanliness for interactive water elements.
Every drop will circulate every half-hour through an underground filtration and disinfection system that will kill bacteria with ultraviolet light and chlorinate the water. Security guards will patrol to ensure that no one abuses the pool area or mistakes it for a bathtub. And the crews that monitor the fountain at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion will manually test for cleanliness at least three times daily.
“It’s about a 10 minute test—we just take a water sample and drop in a tablet,” says Keith McTague, director of building services and chief engineer at the Music Center. “We’re mainly doing it as a check and balance on the filtration system, which is automatic, and so that the readings are documented. But if we have to do it more often, we will.”
These safeguards are crucial because, while the historic Will Memorial Fountain was designed to keep people out of its waters, the adjacent membrane pool was conceived as a way to entice kids and grown-ups alike into getting wet.
“Nobody was sure there would be money for an interactive area like that,” Garland says. “But…we all fought to keep it in.”
Much of the inspection and testing of the system will rest with the Department of Public Health environmental health unit which, among other duties, acts as the county’s “fountain police.”
Chief Environmental Health Specialist Bernard Franklin says the Grand Park membrane pool is different from the roughly two dozen other interactive fountains throughout the county. Most of those, he says, are “splash pads” in which water spurts from a dry deck surface—not like Grand Park, where jets are placed in an ever-present layer of water.
In fact, Franklin says, the Grand Park pool will be the last of its kind in the county after September, when revisions to the California Building Code and the California Code of Regulations will prohibit pools of standing water in fountains that encourage public interaction with the water.
Franklin, who helped author the new rules, says that while the Grand Park pool will be well maintained, others with a lesser design or oversight could generate potentially unhealthy conditions. “Pools like these can be big collectors if you’re not careful,” he says. “Dirt gets in them, pigeons and ducks come around them, people try to use them in ways they aren’t supposed to.”
To that end, camera monitors and round-the-clock security will be in place to discourage mischief and enforce rules that will, among other things, ban camping and skateboarding in the park.
The results promise to be well worth it.
As the designer Garland puts it: “At night, you’ve never seen anything like it. It’s going to be magical.”
July 12, 2012
When Grand Park opens in the downtown Civic Center later this month, it won’t just be the show-stopping fountain and collection of internationally-inspired garden plantings that will have eyes popping—and tongues wagging.
Check out those benches.
Perhaps not since “festive federalism” stamped its exuberant, mid-‘80s color palette on the 1984 Olympics has such a comment-worthy color explosion rolled into L.A.
While most of the park itself remains out of view behind temporary chain-link fencing swathed in green mesh, a pair of its vibrantly-hued benches recently popped up outside the 2nd floor entrance to the Hall of Administration, where they’re visible to everyone passing by on the busy pedestrian corridor to and from Starbucks.
And everyone, it seems, has an opinion.
“Awesome. It’s fun. Different,” said Adrian Taghdiri, who’s interning in the County Counsel’s office.
“They’re cute, but it’s a little bright,” said Frances Espinosa of the Assessor’s Office.
“Beautiful!” said Zella Scott of the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s office.
“A little bit too loud for me. It’s like something out of the 1960s,” said Jesse (Jay) Luna of Public Health.
“Generally, with pink you think of breast cancer awareness. It’s different, I guess,” said MacKenzie Smith of the D.A.’s office.
“Will the boys not sit at the girls’ benches?” wondered Renee Rose, also of the D.A.’s office. “You’ll have to be very in touch with your masculine side not to be intimidated.”
“I like them, especially on a bright, warm, sunny day like today,” said attorney Ludlow Creary, passing through after an appearance in Federal Court. “They’re very inviting. I think it’s very L.A., but that’s not a bad thing. Something like this works in L.A.”
So what color are those benches, anyway? Officially termed magenta, the after-lunch crowd passing by this week offered its own interpretations, ranging from “kind of like a fuchsia, but with a little deep purple in it” to “hot pink!”
Technically a variation on the color known as Pantone 219C, the hue was toned down and “richened” by the park’s designer, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, and by JANUS et Cie, the firm hired to produce the custom-designed furniture that will adorn the 12-acre expanse. (In its original form, the color is also associated with Pantone Barbie and is a dead-ringer for “Lights” in Essie’s “Poppy-razzi” nail polish line. In other words, Elle Woods would love it.)
Even though it exudes an unmistakable sense of Southern California fun, the color choice has a far-from-frivolous role. It’s a key factor in establishing the new park’s identity, taking inspiration from a variety of influences around the world, including the green seating at Paris’ Tuileries Gardens.
“We obviously wanted to really create something iconic with the furniture,” said Tony Paradowski of Rios Clementi Hale. “Our idea was to have a floral quality throughout the year.” No matter what plants were in season, “the furniture would always be this kind of bloom-like color sensation throughout the garden.”
In addition to 26 freestanding benches and 41 wall-mounted benches, the park will offer furnishings that can be moved around by patrons: 120 café tables, 240 café chairs and 40 lounge chairs on the lawn.
Using unsecured furniture is “definitely a different model for Los Angeles, but in other cities this has been around for quite a while,” Paradowski said, citing New York’s Bryant Park and Hyde Park in London, where folding fabric chairs are rented out in nice weather. Grand Park’s around-the-clock security should help keep the chairs from walking away, as will a plan to tether furnishings together after-hours, he said.
As for the color, Paradowski thinks most people will come to love it, although he acknowledges that the benches “definitely ask for opinions.”
“We worked with the construction crew out there, and a lot of them said, ‘Wow, why’d you pick pink for the chairs?’ I think a lot of them are still scratching their heads.”
July 10, 2012
Grand Park promises to be a great place for basking, splashing and even dog-walking in the heart of L.A.’s Civic Center. But don’t count on pitching your tent there.
As the park prepares for the grand opening of its first two phases later this month, a push is on to protect the vibrant urban gathering place that’s expected to be a crowd-magnet in park-hungry downtown.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to amend the County Code to make it clear that any kind of camping—not just overnight sleeping—is prohibited in county parks under most circumstances.
Not that recreational lounging is taboo. The ordinance makes it clear that it’s fine to unfurl an umbrella, canopy, sunshade, bedroll or sleeping bag on park grounds—just as long as those accoutrements aren’t “used for lodging or living accommodation.”
County officials said the ordinance isn’t aimed at any particular group or activity. And they note that it applies to all county parks, not just the new Grand Park, which is situated near Los Angeles City Hall, where long-running Occupy L.A. encampments caused extensive lawn damage last year. City officials responded by recently enacting a new, widespread ban on tents in city parks.
As it approved the county camping measure, the Board of Supervisors also OK’d expanding sections of the County Code dealing with disturbances and aggressive solicitation in county parks—including a new prohibition barring solicitation within 15 feet of an automated teller machine. (A Bank of America ATM is located near the Starbucks in Grand Park.)
The actions approved Tuesday are part of an ordinance, set to come before the board for final approval on July 17, that places the park under management of the county’s Chief Executive Office.
Dawn McDivitt, who is overseeing the project for the CEO’s office, said that in addition to the ordinance, rules are now being drawn up for the new park—including regulations on skateboarding, potentially a big temptation on the signature, ADA-accessible ramps that will connect the park’s various levels.
She said the park, which will be equipped with security cameras, will receive round-the-clock protection from the Sheriff’s Department and private guards.
“We’re just confident we can have a safe and secure atmosphere that welcomes everybody,” McDivitt said.
June 27, 2012
After two years of construction, the first segment of Los Angeles’ new Grand Park is set to open in the final days of July, a milestone in the revitalization of downtown that will be celebrated with a nationally-promoted dance celebration.
The first two blocks of the park—from Grand Avenue to Hill Street—will be dedicated by civic leaders on Thursday, July 26, near the spectacularly restored Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain. But the big coming out party is scheduled for Saturday, July 28, with a public inaugural coinciding with National Dance Day, an event founded by producer Nigel Lythgoe, who co-created the hit TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.” Tonight, Lythgoe is scheduled to promote the Grand Park dance celebration on his Fox network show.
“The park gives us a lovely setting to encourage all members of the community to get up, move and get healthy at the same time,” Lythgoe said in a statement.
The entertainment will be presented by The Music Center, which was recently selected by the Board of Supervisors to oversee park operations during its first three years. “This event will be a great example of the type of fun, interactive and entertaining activities Grand Park will host for years to come,” said Thor Steingraber, vice president of programming at The Music Center.
Also involved in the opening-weekend events will be The Dizzy Feet Foundation, a non-profit group founded by Lythgoe and other dancers and actors to “support, improve, and increase access to dance education” in the U.S. The entertainment is scheduled to include a performance by Cirque du Soleil. (See full L.A. County announcement here.)
When completed, Grand Park will span four blocks—from Grand Avenue near the Music Center to Spring Street, across from City Hall. The final two blocks of the park are scheduled to open in late summer or early fall. Only in recent days has Grand Park come into full public view as work crews removed the dark sheeting from a warren of chain link fences. Besides the fountain, the park will feature an event lawn, gardens and walking paths.
June 12, 2012
Santos Kreimann, who has led the county’s Department of Beaches and Harbors since 2009, could become the new temporary head of the controversy-plagued Assessor’s Office under a recommendation made to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Kreimann would take over for Assessor John Noguez, who announced he will be taking a voluntary leave of absence as soon as a temporary successor is in place.
Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka recommended Kreimann for the position, citing his professional experience, including a stint in the CEO’s real estate division, as well as his managerial acumen.
“I feel that Santos, with his background in real estate and his very strong, to the point of exceptional, management skills, would be an ideal candidate for this assignment,” Fujioka told supervisors Tuesday.
The board is expected to take up Fujioka’s recommendation next week. If supervisors agree that Kreimann is the best choice, he would be appointed by Noguez to run the department in his absence. While the assessor himself must make that appointment, Noguez has said he preferred to stay out of the selection process to “remove any possible concerns” about his involvement.
Noguez’s leave of absence comes as he and members of his staff are being investigated by the District Attorney’s office on allegations of preferential treatment of some property owners. In announcing his decision to go on leave earlier this month, Noguez urged supervisors to designate “a highly qualified person” he could appoint to manage the office in his absence.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, he asked his staff to support Kreimann while he is on leave, adding: “He will have my full authority to manage and oversee the department.”
Kreimann, who said he was surprised to be tapped for the assessor’s post, said it’s unclear how long the assignment might last.
“It could be a year or three months; it could be all the way into 2014,” he said.
Whatever the timetable, he said, it will be important to review policies and procedures and make adjustments, if necessary, to prevent “bad things happening.” Another top priority: lifting employees’ morale.
“They’ve been beat up. And I would imagine they’ve been embarrassed to a certain extent,” Kreimann said. “I think it’s important for anyone who goes in there, whether it’s myself or someone else that goes in, to give them some confidence that they’re doing the right things.”
It’s all about making sure the public can believe in the integrity of the office, he said.
“Ultimately it all translates into making sure that the public trust is regained, and that people have confidence in the employees and the work we do in the assessor’s office.”
Kreimann, 47, a 22-year county veteran, lives with his wife and three daughters in Whittier. For him, the saying “county family” is more than just an expression—he has a brother in the Chief Executive Office and a sister in the department of Human Resources.
And when the “family” needs help, he said, there’s really one way to respond.
“When Bill approached me, I felt that I had to do it to help the county as a whole,” he said. “We’re all one big family.”
May 29, 2012
The newly named Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles edged closer to reality this week, with the selection of the Music Center as operator of the 12-acre site, now scheduled to begin opening in late July or early August.
The park, which until this week had been called Civic Center Park, promises to dramatically reshape a downtown experience that, for decades, has offered little in the way of outdoor recreation or entertainment. When completed, Grand Park will stretch four blocks—from the Music Center to City Hall—and will feature, among other things, an event lawn, gardens, walking paths and spectacularly renovated fountain (see video here).
Project Manager Dawn McDivitt of the county’s Chief Executive Office said the park’s opening will be phased in throughout the summer. The park’s northern end, which includes the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain below Grand Avenue, should be opened in roughly two months. McDivitt said the strategy of staggered openings will give the event lawn at the park’s southern end time to take root—and for the county to create excitement around the unveiling of each successive stage.
With the first opening only weeks away, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to contract with the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles—more commonly known as the Music Center—to oversee park operations for the first three years. That includes lining up a diverse slate of musical, theatrical and educational programming.
“We look forward to working with the county to create a vibrant and welcoming park in the center of downtown,” Music Center Chief Executive Officer Stephen D. Rountree said after the board’s vote. He said that no firm programming decisions have been made but that he expects year-round activities ranging from music festivals to farmer’s markets.
The supervisors also voted to change the name to Grand Park. Planners were worried that the phrase “civic center” was not sending a clear message. “We didn’t want it to sound too governmental or too institutional,” McDivitt said. “We wanted the name to reflect the park’s aspirations.”
The park is part of the larger Grand Avenue project, a massive commercial and residential development that has stalled with the faltering economy. The developer was required to provide $54 million upfront toward the park, thus ensuring its completion.