Grand Avenue Park: A Haven for the Arts
Submitted by Brady Westwater, L.A. Cowboy, Los Angeles
If you spend enough time with a piece of land ? it tells you what it wants to be.
First, though, let?s see what this park can not be, and what it should not be.
It can not be our Central Park; it is not surrounded by millions of people easily able to reach the park by walking or by subway. It needs to be a regional destination in itself.
It is not a place large enough for sports fields.
It is not a place where nature?s wildness can be savored.
It should be, however, a place that is unlike any other place in this city. To do otherwise would waste a rare opportunity to create a unique heart within our city.
It also needs to be a green space that is also equally an intensely urban place. It needs to be totally itself, fully different than all other spaces in this city. It also needs to be the single place where people from all over the city will want to meet and discover and learn about and from each other.
So how do we do all this? What can we do along Grand Avenue that will make us return, again, and again, both as children and again as adults and thus make this place the true heart of our city? And what is there now that we can use and build upon to accomplish this? What is it that now makes Grand Avenue unique?
Well, Grand Avenue today stands alone among the streets of Los Angeles in its allegiance to the cultures of this city. It is home to our symphony, our largest theater complex (pictured below), our opera company, our contemporary art museum, the main venue for classical and modern dance, the Neon Museum, the soon to reopen Trinity Theater, the central branch of the Public Library, a historical museum, the Colburn School of Performing Arts, the Wells Fargo Museum, a fashion school ? and, shortly, a high school for all the arts.
Within walking distance (or a short DASH bus ride) are even more museums and theaters devoted to more diverse cultures than in any other part of Los Angeles. There are also countless venues of every kind ? from botanicas to art galleries to dance studios to clubs ? that represent both the most rarefied and the most vernacular aspects of L.A.’s cultural life.
But with all these venues so nearby ? what is it that this park can uniquely offer to complement these institutions? What is it about this park that can offer the citizens of L.A. something that no other place can? What is that will make this park not just an active part of the cultural and civic life of this city, but an absolutely essential part?
Simple. This park needs to become the single door that opens up all the mysteries and joys and challenges of L.A.?s cultural entities and helps in the creation of the essential audiences for all those arts to thrive.
We shall begin with nature ? and landscaping; there should be as little paved material as possible and as much greenery as possible. Next, using the current mall?s magnificent specimen trees as a start, it can become the focal point for the world?s first urban botanical garden extending from the 1880?s botanical garden in Elysian Park, along the L.A. River (pictured below), down Grand Avenue and clear to the Adams District, USC and Exposition Park. A celebration of the diversity of species that can thrive in Los Angeles.
Now to deal with the ceremonial and civic uses of the park, Spring Street needs to be dropped 10 or 15 feet so a bridge can be extended from the middle of the stairs from City Hall over Spring and landing on the park on the other side. The lowering of Spring Street would take place at the same time an underground garage is placed under the park on the block due west of City Hall, greatly reducing the cost.
This way, civic events can be held without disrupting traffic patterns or compromising the bus system, which even today creates nightmares with the now-minimal downtown population.
Then at the other end of the park, another bridge needs to extend from the Plaza of the Music Center over Grand; this will allow people to walk straight from the theaters to a plaza elevated above the below park. From that terrace, a waterfall can flow down into the pool below into of the basin of the existing fountain. Escalators (as well as steps) would bring pedestrians down to that level.
In addition, if the Music Center still wants to have a reception pavilion, the bridge over Grand can widen between the Mark Taper and the park and the Pavilion can be built over that without obstructing the vista from the DWP (pictured below) to City Hall.
Then along the park will be multiple small cafés ? each of which will have a cross between a tasting menu and a regular menu ? to demonstrate each of the many cuisines of Los Angeles thus allowing people to try foods they have never tried before, sampling three or four different cuisines at a time.
But that all is only the infrastructure we will use to create the heart of the park.
To begin with, Los Angeles has many of the world?s finest artists. Unfortunately, Los Angeles does not have audiences commensurate with other major art centers to properly support those artists ? or our city?s cultural institutions.
New York has two major and a dozen smaller opera companies while London has seven major orchestras. We only have one of each. A single art museum in each city draws far more visitors than attend every single art museum in the city of Los Angeles put together. And the same disparity of cultural venues and attractions is true in every other field of cultural endeavor.
The simple reason why New York and London have far more active and vibrant cultural institutions is that they have created the audiences necessary to support their institutions. And that is what we need to do in L.A.; we need to develop the necessary audiences to keep our varied cultural activities healthy.
And that is what Grand Avenue Park will do.
In both freestanding pavilions and underneath the terraces created to reduce the slope of the hill, 20 different mini-auditoriums and galleries need to be built to allow Angelenos to experience all the different cultures and arts of our city.
For one example, Los Angeles has commercial galleries and art museums, but not enough collectors to properly support either. That is partially because no existing institution has art shows designed to educate people on how to look at and understand art. Additionally, there is no place in L.A. where the wide of range of all the artists working in this city can be seen at any one time on a regular basis.
Here we can do both. Show people how to look at art and use examples of L.A.?s best artists to do that.
Next consider live theater. Most people in L.A. have limited exposure to legitimate theater, but within this park ? day and night ? indoors and outdoors ? small casts from each of the L.A. theater companies can perform and educate new audiences about what is being done in theaters throughout L.A. In addition, films can be shown of the great plays to introduce audiences to the classics.
The same is possible with music. Outdoor performances by regional symphony orchestras and quartets can intermingle with jazz groups, zarzuela singers and music from around the world. More importantly, though, listening rooms could be programmed so that people who have never been properly exposed to classical music (and all other kinds of music) before can both hear lectures with explanations and then also hear the music uninterrupted using the highest quality of sound systems.
In this casual, no-special-clothes-required environment, people can begin to understand both classical and contemporary classical music, and all other kinds of music. The same can also be done with opera. Music students can perform live scenes from operas plus both recordings and films would be available to be listened to or viewed day and night.
The same kind of programming will be done with all the arts ? from poetry readings, literary readings, architecture exhibits and every imaginable kind of the performance, written, designed and visual arts ? all available on a rotating basis.
Enough would be going on that people could just come and select from an ever-changing menu every day ? or night.
Additionally, by having this infrastructure used by all the arts equally, rather than each arts group having to build and develop and maintain their own educational facilities, there would be a considerable economy of scale.
This will also take advantage of the synergy only a great urban center can provide. Anyone who comes to sample the cuisine of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or Ecuador ? or to just to enjoy the park ? will then also be able to learn about the Beethoven, contemporary art, the poetry of Blake, Noh drama (pictured right) and Jazz. And you will not have to make a special trip to see a Charlie Chaplin silent film, a Mexican folk dance, a Brahms Quartet, the hottest new L.A. painter or the coolest new poet.
All that ? and more will just … be there … nestled in a botanical garden. And located within walking distance of dozens of other cultural venues where audiences can learn more about and experience what they have just been exposed to.