Pershing Square (Los Angeles)

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Paved areas and design of the modern Pershing Square

Pershing Square is a public park in downtown Los Angeles. The park is 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.


Pershing Square, looking north, circa 1909

19th century[edit]

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. 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."[1] 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.[1]

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.[2] 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.'[1]

Early 20th century[edit]

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.[1]

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.[1] 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.

Throughout the period the square was a notorious 'cruising' place for homosexuals. Hart Crane said, "The number of faggots cruising around here is legion."[3]

Latter 20th century[edit]

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 a 3 level 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.[4] 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.[1]

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.[1]

Current park[edit]

The current Pershing Square designed by Ricardo Legorreta in 1992, with the fountain and bell tower

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.[1]

One blogger criticized the park for its design.[5] 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 sleeping on them.[citation needed] Locals call the northeast corner "urinal alley" because of frequent urination.[citation needed]

The artwork and fountain on the South end created by Ricardo Legorreta often goes misinterpreted.[citation needed] 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. Without further interpretation, visitors only see orange concrete spheres, uncomfortable seating, a fountain, and an abstract purple structure with a bell inside.[citation needed]

Seasonal events occur in the park such as a temporary Ice rink in the winter time as well as live concert performances in the summer.

AEG, the corporation currently operating the Staples Center and L.A. Live complex is currently sponsoring a $700,000 redesign of the Pershing Square.[6] Efforts are underway to improve the current park.[7]


The area is served by the station of the same name for the Metro Red and Purple lines.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Cecilia Rasmussen, The (d)evolution of a downtown landmark, Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2007.
  2. ^ . accessed 7/27/2010
  3. ^ Lilian Faderman, Stuart Timmons (2006). Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-0-465-02288-5. 
  4. ^ Christopher Hawthorne (March 2, 2013), Los Angeles' major public spaces remain broken works in progress Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Vincent, Roger (October 23, 2014) "Park Fifth development to fill in missing piece in downtown L.A." Los Angeles Times
  8. ^ "Pershing Square Park". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 February 2012. 
  9. ^ Veterans Win OK of Statue to Honor Latino War Hero - Los Angeles Times. accessed 7/27/2010

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°02′54″N 118°15′11″W / 34.04825°N 118.25301°W / 34.04825; -118.25301