civic center, downtown los angeles

Downtown LA Grand Park Now Open, But Remains Hidden Behind County Buildings

The newly open Grand Park in Downtown LA is well executed but the removal of the county buildings (seen above) is necessary to truly make this a great park

Yesterday was another step in the right direction toward urban maturity for Los Angeles. The largest portion of the 16-acre Grand Park opened to the public for the first time since access to the area was closed off two years ago for construction. Many Angelenos gathered to celebrate this milestone in Downtown LA as we continue to embrace urbanism. Two other sections of the park leading up to City Hall remain closed off for now — so that the vegetation/landscaping have time to grow in — with opening dates scheduled for August and October of this year.

High quality public spaces such as parks are so important to the fabric of urban environments. In fact, they are absolutely mandatory if we want to create a livable city that our residents will love and enjoy. A park that is well executed will allow people to gather as a community and feel connected with the city as a result. In addition, a great park can also be an economic development catalyst since businesses and property values do well when there are lots of people attracted to an area.

That is why I was so happy to see Grand Park finally open, especially since it was this park, in particular, that got me involved with Downtown LA development when I first graduated from college in 2004: a goal to remove the twin county buildings.

It was a bittersweet moment for me to be inside the new Grand Park. Although it is definitely the beginning of great change for Downtown LA when it comes to adding more high quality public space, the twin county buildings that flank Grand Park were a constant reminder how much more work is needed to make this a truly great park.

There are a lot of things done right inside the park such as the abundance of grass and seating made available. The hot pink chairs and benches are a refreshing fun change from the usual “metallic silver” used liberally for public furniture. The refurbished fountain is also just spectacular. Aesthetically, the park is pleasing to the eye, which is a big plus for a suburban-dominated city that has very few aesthetically-inclined urban spaces. We actually did something right.

However, all the wonderful activity generated inside the park is trapped and not allowed to connect or interact with the city “outside” because the monolithic county buildings restrict access into and out of the park both visually and physically. As a result, First and Temple Streets — that border the park on its northern and southern boundaries — continue to be ignored, remaining dull, bland, and lifeless as opposed to streets that would breathe life and energy into the city activated by pedestrians going in and out of the park.

But there is good news! LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky made a reference about the removal of the county buildings during his speech inaugurating the park. “One day these county buildings will be removed and we will triple the size of this park!”

The County Buildings Block Grand Park

All the beauty and wonderful activity of Grand Park are hidden behind this ugly county courthouse, preventing any beneficial interaction to take place with the city outside the park

First Street (as well as Temple Street) continue to be IGNORED and does not interact with the park blocked by the county buildings

Grand Park Hidden Behind the County Buildings

The Grand Park sign on Grand Ave written in multiple languages greets pedestrians

The beautiful refurbished Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain with City Hall in the background

The steps leading down into the park with the DWP headquarters in the back

A child plays in the fountain immediately after the inauguration from civic leaders ended

Plenty of seating areas are scattered throughout the entire park

I really love these new hot pink tables and chairs placed throughout the park

People enjoying their lunch and conversation

Benches along pathways allow for relaxation and people watching

Again, more seating along pathways allow for more spontaneous interaction and people watching

This section of Grand Park has a large lawn with lots of green grass to play and relax on

Benches are placed around the lawn allowing for people watching

Lots of people brought out their food for picnics

Some businesses within a park like this new Starbucks helps add another dynamic layer to the park’s available activities

Wayfinding signs are placed throughout the park to help direct pedestrians

Trash and recycling receptacles will help keep the park clean

The Red and Purple Line Civic Center metro station (with new portal canopy being installed) provides direct and convenient transit access to Grand Park


  1. Clark says

    Let’s all say a little prayer that this get maintained better than the LAPD headquarters property. You know the one, where they just removed every tree because they were not planted right in the first place.

  2. That canopy looks different than the ones going on other Red Line stops… is it?

    Also, I’m so glad there is a large lawn here. I’m constantly amazed at how many “urban parks” are designed to be nearly functionless with small spots of grass, lots of landscaping and plants that take up space people can’t actually use (though they do look nice), and paths with a few benches. In my opinion this large lawn is the best part of the park, because it gives people a place to get out and be active. Sure, we won’t play a full game of sports here, but we could toss a football or frisbee for some fun!

  3. Robert D. says

    You make a great point how tearing down both buildings would animate street life along Temple and First Streets. When I was at the park yesterday evening, though, I had a sense that, by enclosing it on two sides, the buildings give the public space a sense of intimacy — a bit (call me crazy) like the Place des Vosges in Paris or the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Then again, it would be great to see Disney Hall from Grand Park, especially with those wonderful pink benches dotting the view. So I’m of two minds here.

  4. Robert… I agree. Some public parks actually can have the reverse effect when they’re too big… they sort of become like (gasp!) parking lots and create dead zones that are difficult for people to cross. Of course, a park is always a better use of space for pedestrians than a parking lot, but to a lesser degree they can have the same effect.

    Not saying that would be the case here, but it’s something that designers must always keep in mind. Bigger is not ALWAYS better. (Some small, low-rise buildings on the edges or throughout, like the Starbucks can often help.)

  5. raymond3000 says

    I too think this is a step in the right direction for LA urbanity. That comment by the Sup stating a possible County Bldg removal just put the icing on the cake for me wow!! What I would like to see also is a Greenbelt project along Temple or 1st and Grand or Bway to help tie the park area into the proposed “101 cap Park” which I hope is still alive and well! btw nice pics Brigham!!

  6. Rob says

    I love the design of this park. The Starbucks building is very clean looking and the magenta benches and tables are a great contrast to the greenery. Does anyone know what are the plans for the pad of the old building that was torn down and sits there across from City Hall? Why didn’t they incorporate that into the park? Oh well…I love the deodar cedar trees…they look very elegant when they are full grown. The park is a great addition to our evolving Downtown.

    • Alika says

      Unfortunately, I believe the State of California owns that land and seems to have little interest in making our neighborhood a little better by developing that parcel. I’d love to be proven wrong, however!

    • Bryan M. says

      Here, here! I totally believe Grand Park’s success will be a catalyst for Pershing Square’s future makeover. Sorely needed.

  7. Lawrence says

    Looks beautiful! Can’t wait for the second part to open. I’m waiting for the day that the county buildings come down so that we can have an even grand-er park :)

  8. brudy says

    It’s a great step forward and the last part to open has a ton of grass, so that should mollify some naysayers. I hope that some of those buildings can come down and expand the park, it does feel too separate from the rest of the area. But – the view from the Music Center is spectacular, and that entrance will be great for all the tourists that wander around up there or going for a walk before or after a performance. The nighttime view up towards the DWP building will also be amazing.

    I also hope the rest of the Grand ave project can get started soon as well.

  9. Rob says

    Interestingly, a letter in the Times says that the buildings actually buffer the noise from Metro and Dash buses ascending Bunker Hill. I for one have found the bus noise to be one of negatives of living Downtown. If the park is much quieter…that is a good thing especially since there will be a lot of concerts and performances orchestrated by the Music Center. Since those buildings are not coming down anytime soon…you can look at the positive. In the meantime, the city can look for ways to remedy the potential noise problem when they have the money to expand the park in the future.

  10. Went there today with my 5-year-old son and he absolutely loved it, especially the fountain. It was stuffed with kids and I know we’ll probably be there every weekend. Up to now I’ve had to walk from 6th and Spring to Grand Hope Park just to get to a decent park (and no good public transportation options to take a tired kid home). Today, after a couple of hours of fun, we hopped the subway one stop to get home. This is going to dramatically improve our quality of life. The only thing I wish the park had was a playground, but maybe that will come later. And I love the idea of the county buildings coming down but who knows when that will happen.

  11. sebastian says

    Imagine the beautiful skyline view we would get if that courthouse wasn’t there, I can bareley see the top of the buildings.

  12. Frank says

    Actually, the County of Los Angeles owns the land. Relocating the Superior Court and Hall of Administration would be very expensive. I wouldn’t get too excited about Zev’s (whose County Sup term will end soon) comments. I don’t see this happeing in the near future.

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