Phase one of Los Angeles’ Grand Park officially opened July 26th, and I was lucky enough to attend the event and see the spectacle. Walking downhill into the park from Grand Avenue is a visceral experience as the unexpected plateau of fountains and trees and green grass rise up to meet you. “Wow” is the only appropriate response.
The sightline from the top of Grand Avenue to Hill Street is a wonder of urban park planning in a city not known for its contribution to public green spaces. This is the best reaction you could hope for from an urban park with the bulky showpiece of the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain restored from the 1960’s. The original fountain looks like a giant bowl-shaped oil lamp. The addition of accessible water features, landscape with colorful information signs, bright pink chairs and tables to be arranged ad hoc, add the much-needed elegance, warmth, playfulness and human element and scale. Architects and landscape architects from Rios Clementi Hale Studios were commissioned to do the park by L.A. County and deserve kudos for navigating the minefields of public works. Environmental graphics firm Sussman/Prejza signs complement the colorful scenery.
Perched over the lower fountain was a platform from which the event officials spoke.
Philanthropist Eli Broad words, “This park was built without tax payer money!” rang out across the plaza. He thought it was so important he said it twice and got the applause he deserved.
California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera had written a poem commemorating the affair. If it wasn’t meant as a parody, then it quickly parodied itself. With its call and response to the attendees, and its mention of “Yiddish” speakers and “Klezmer” music, the poem was a game attempt to rouse a crowd already stunned into submission by the public officials’ speeches and the roasting sun.
Finally, the crowd was treated to an unpredictable and flamboyant ribbon cutting ceremony. Live music poured through the park, stilt walkers in brightly colored costumes led entourages of costumed children and entertainers. Once the gigantic ribbon was cut the real show began. The Music Center was responsible for the extravaganza and it was a fitting display.
No one could have predicted the troupe of head-to-toe blue neoprene-clad dancers that made their way into the fountain and splashed, danced and frolicked for the audience. Water spurted up from the restored fountain like an ocean blowhole and the game dancers climbed in and performed crowd-pleasing choreography inside it. After all, who doesn’t want to dance in a fountain?