Downtown LA's Grand Park celebrates its 1st anniversary

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Surrounded by parking structures, courthouses and government buildings, the 12-acre Grand Park is a shot of green among a sea of gray. But park officials want it to be more than an urban oasis, they want it to be a location Los Angeles residents and tourists want to visit.

So over the past year, Grand Park Director Lucas Rivera and his team have been hosting a slew of concerts, farmers markets, yoga sessions and movie nights.

“Programming allows for Grand Park to become a destination," said Rivera. "And people start talking about Grand Park the same way they talk about the Getty, or the same way they talk about the Natural History Museum.”

Programming at the park started out sparse, but picked up speed over the summer. Over the past few months, there have been about three events a week. They've ranged from yoga sessions to a 10,000-person 4th of July party. Rivera said they were caught off guard by the huge turnout, which led to long lines for food trucks and bathrooms. But the park is still new so every event is a learning experience.

On Tuesday, the weekly farmers market that takes place between Spring Street and Broadway is bustling. There's music playing, the smell of gyros in the air and plenty of people making use of the bright pink chairs that accent the park.

Jenna Eyrich, 28, lives in Silver Lake but works Downtown at the District Attorney's office. She visits Grand Park once a week for the farmers market. 

“It’s a good way to build community and kind of run into people, especially working in the legal field," Eyrich said. "You always see other working professionals that you know, that you're friends with or you go to school with."

Many of the people at the farmers market worked within a few block radius, or were serving on jury duty at the nearby courthouse. They came from all over L.A. County and many said they had never been to the park before. But they were pleased to have stumbled upon it on their lunch break.

"I used to work not too far from here and to have a park that looks like this now brings a certain sophistication to downtown L.A.," said Cresie Page, on break from jury duty. 

So although the park is convenient for those seeking an outdoor respite from their workday, there were mixed responses as whether they'd make a special trip just to visit it. 

"Last time I was here three years ago, it used to be a parking lot, and I didn't know that this was here," said Danilo Pena, who was also serving jury duty. "I don't know if I'd come back just to see it. But once you're here, enjoy it."

Julia Diamond is the director of programming at Grand Park. She said that as much as the park enhances L.A. as a whole, it's a key factor in changing its immediate neighborhood. 

"Bunker Hill doesn't have the most positive associations," she said. "It's a place of business. It's a place of administration. It's a place of bureaucracy. And it's all the stuff that has to happen, but doesn't put a smile on people's face."

Which is where the park comes in, she said. The live music, dance performances and bright signage that accents the park, adds a new energy to the area. Programming will begin to taper off through the fall and winter months, but the park has two major events coming up soon: Day of the Dead, and New Year's Eve.

Officials still hope that Angelenos will take ownership of the park and turn it into a public plaza on par with other major cities across the globe.

And it seems to be on the right track: Just this month the American Planning Association named Grand Park one of the Great Places in America. It was accompanied by other public spaces throughout the country, including Grand Central Terminal in New York and Forest Park in St. Louis.

On Thursday, Grand Park will celebrate its first birthday with a concert. The festivities start at 7 p.m. on the Performance Lawn.

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