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Pershing Square Could Get A Major Overhaul

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Pershing Square, downtown's own concrete-heavy, fortress-like park, could get a major overhaul.

AEG has agreed to give $700,000 to an effort to "re-envision" the park, according to the Downtown News (h/t Curbed LA).

Councilman Jose Huizar told the newspaper that the new task force created earlier this year could tinker with the park's plan or totally overhaul it: "Everything is on the table. If that task force comes back and says we want to scratch the thing and start anew, so be it, or we just want to change a few parts. Everything is on the table."

The task force was created this fall in response to complaints from merchants in the area, who complained about drug use, graffiti and human waste at the park. (And maaaaybe it could have somethingeverything to do with the breathtaking pace of gentrification in downtown.)

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The square has seen its fair share of makeovers since Los Angeles' earliest days. It started as a tent camp in the 1850s and became a traditional Spanish plaza in the 1860s. The city grew up around it. It was renovated in 1911 by John Parkinson, who added a fountain. The park changed names over the years—at different points it was Sixth Street, Los Angeles or Central Park—but in 1918 it was named after military hero John Pershing. In 1952, the park took a typical midcentury Angeleno turn: the park was eviscerated to make way for an underground parking lot, and the square fell into disrepair. An L.A. Times article from 1988 notes an effort by police to push drug dealers, drunks and drifters out of the park to make the park safe for brown-bagging employees from nearby offices—today's gripes seem to echo the concerns from decades ago.

Ricardo Legorreta redesigned the park in 1993. It might be one of the nicer parking garage roofs in town, but it's not really a beloved park. It has its moments as an ice rink, outdoor movie theater, pillow fight venue and protest site. But it feels detached from the city—it's walled off and raised above grade.

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne moderated an ALOUD panel on Pershing Square in 2009 that discussed ways to improve the space. He had this to say:

"In many ways, Pershing Square is emblematic of the kinds of planning obstacles we face in Downtown Los Angeles and the city. It is a piece of the public sphere that in many ways used to work quite well as a gathering spot and shared space. If we didn't ruin it, we at least severely compromised it over the years by making a series of decisions that gave leeway to cars and a parking garage at the expense of pedestrians and the free flow of people from the streets and sidewalks into the park and vice versa..."

So far there are no plans about how this $700,000 will be used to "re-envision" the square, Huizar said.