Pershing Square (Los Angeles)
Pershing Square is a public park in downtown Los Angeles. The park is exactly one square block in size, bounded by 5th Street to the north, 6th Street to the south, Hill Street to the east, and Olive Street to the west. It sits on top of a large underground parking garage. There is a large fountain located in the southern half of the square.
In the 1850s, the location was used as a camp by settlers outside of the Pueblo de Los Angeles, which was to the northeast around the La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles church, the plaza, and present day Olvera Street. 1850s surveyors drew the site as 10 individual plots of land, but in practicality it was a single 5-acre (20,000 m2) parcel. Canals distributing water from the Zanja Madre were adjacent. In 1866 the park site's block of plots was dedicated as a public square by Californio and new Mayor Cristobal Aguilar, and was first called La Plaza Abaja, or "The Lower Plaza." At some point the owner of a nearby beergarden, German immigrant George "Roundhouse" Lehman, planted small native Monterey cypress trees, fruit trees, and flowering shrubs around the park, and maintained them until his death in 1882.
In 1867, St. Vincent's College, present day Loyola Marymount University, located across the street, and the park informally became called St. Vincent's Park. In 1870, it was officially renamed Los Angeles Park. In 1886 it was renamed 6th Street Park, and redesigned with an "official park plan" by Frederick Eaton, later the mayor. In the early 1890s it was renamed Central Park, which it was called for decades. During this period a bandstand pavilion was added for concerts and orators. The plantings became sub-tropically lush, and the park became a shady oasis and an outdoor destination for the city. In 1894 the park was first used as the staging area for the annual crowning of the queen of 'La Fiesta de Los Angeles,' an event which continues now as 'Fiesta Broadway.'
Early 20th Century
A monument to California's 20 Spanish-American War dead was erected in 1900; it is allegedly modeled after a Spanish-American War veteran, 7th California Infantry volunteer Charlie Hammond of San Francisco, and is believed to be the oldest work of public art in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles City Council declared it a historic-cultural monument in 1990.
In 1910 the park was renovated under a design by John Parkinson, who would later design Los Angeles City Hall and Union Station. Parkinson's design featured a three-tier fountain sculpted by Johan Caspar Lachne Gruenfeld, braced by four life-size concrete cherubs supporting a vase of cascading water. In November 1918, a week after Armistice Day ended World War I, the park was renamed Pershing Square, in honor of Gen. John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing; however, a plaque was not added in his honor for over four decades.
In the 1920-30s tropical plants were added to the park. In 1924, a life-size bronze of a World War I doughboy, sculpted by Humberton Pedretti, was unveiled, flanked by old cannons. In 1935, a bronze cannon from the USS Constitution was added. In 1932, a statue of Ludwig van Beethoven was added to honor William Andrews Clark, Jr., founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Latter 20th Century
The park was in heavy use during World War II for rallies and recruitment. Post-war the park began to decline as commercial decentralization and suburbanization took hold in the greater L.A. region, and Downtown lost importance and intensity of use.
The entire park was demolished and excavated in 1952 to build an underground parking garage. In its place was concrete topped by a thin layer of soil with a broad expanse of lawn. Entry and exit ramps cut the square off from the sidewalks around it. In 1954, Kelly Roth, a Hungarian immigrant who had owned a cigar store across from the square, donated $30,000 for twin reflecting pool water features in honor of his late wife and to thank Los Angeles for the opportunities it provided him. The Roth fountains were designed by renowned architect Stiles O. Clements.
The park continued to be neglected for safe uses. Its problems were noted during the 1960 Democratic National Convention, with nominee and future president John F. Kennedy headquartered at the Biltmore Hotel facing the park. By the 1984 Summer Olympics the park had become a serious eyesore, leading the city to spend $1 million for a temporary renovation.
In 1992, the park was closed for a major $14.5-million redesign and renovation by architect—landscape architect Ricardo Legorreta of Mexico, and landscape architect Laurie Olin of the U.S. The new park opened in 1994 with: a 10-story purple bell tower, fountains, numerous public artworks including a walkway representing an earthquake fault line designed and executed by artist Barbara McCarren, a concert stage, a seasonal ice rink, and small plazas with seating. It is now predominantly paved expanses, with small areas of trees in raised planters.
The park faces criticism from what many believe to be a poor design. The walls along the sides and the raised entryway on the corners keep people out rather than invite people in. The arched seating and railings are intended to deter the homeless from lying down and sleeping causing the area to feel uninviting. The locals call the palm tree lined area near the Northeast corner "urinal alley" citing disgust over the frequent urination from the homeless.
The artwork and fountain on the South end created by Ricardo Legorreta often goes misinterpreted even though it was created with good intention. The purple bell tower, aqueduct, and orange concrete spheres are meant to symbolize the water flow from the California mountain ranges to the citrus farmers. However, most visitors misinterpret this as just being ugly without any meaning or significance. Visitors only see orange concrete spheres, uncomfortable seating, a fountain, and an abstract purple triangle-like structure with a bell inside without any further interpretation.
The "Cheese Wedge" structure that houses a closed snack bar also has significance and meaning, none of which is known at the time of posting.
AEG, the corporation currently operating the Staples Center and L.A. Live complex is currently sponsoring a $700,000.00 re-design of the Pershing Square. Efforts are currently underway to re-envision ways to improve the current park.
In popular culture
- Pershing Square is featured in Downtown Los Angeles in the video game L.A. Noire.
- Pershing Square is featured in Downtown Los Angeles in the video game Midnight Club: Los Angeles.
- Pershing Square was used as a model for the "Los Angeles" level in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3.
- The Square was the site of the first challenge of the first season of the reality show, Who Wants to be a Superhero?.
- It was featured as the starting point and exit point of the reality game show Cha$e.
- The Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V renditions of Los Angeles feature their own versions of Pershing Square.
- It was here that Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez met Nathaniel Ayers in 2005. Their story inspired the film The Soloist.
- Pershing Square was also featured in the 1994 action film Speed.
- It was mentioned in Charles Bukowski's novel Ham On Rye as a place for religious debate
- Many of the palm trees that were excavated in the 1950s were sent to be used in the Disneyland ride The Jungle Cruise.
- A Monument in the park honors local veteran Eugene A. Obregon.
- Pershing Square was also featured in the 2010 action film Takers.
- Cecilia Rasmussen, The (d)evolution of a downtown landmark, Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2007.
- http://www.laparks.org/pershingsquare/history.html . accessed 7/27/2010
- Lilian Faderman, Stuart Timmons (2006). Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-0465022885.
- Christopher Hawthorne (March 2, 2013), Los Angeles' major public spaces remain broken works in progress Los Angeles Times.
- "Pershing Square Park". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- http://articles.latimes.com/2000/apr/05/local/me-16107 Veterans Win OK of Statue to Honor Latino War Hero - Los Angeles Times. accessed 7/27/2010
- Official Still 'Under-Construction' Pershing Square website
- L. A. Public Library: Pershing Square photos collection
- Pershing Square: vintage photographs
- History, Los Angeles County: Pershing Square
- "Pershing Square vision? Not so good" by Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2012