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What happened to that downtown cornfield? L.A. State Historic Park finally opens




Sean Woods, Superintendent of California State Parks stands on a bridge in the L.A. State Historic Park. Once a river, the new park aims to recreate native waterways. The river would return during a rainy season.
Sean Woods, Superintendent of California State Parks stands on a bridge in the L.A. State Historic Park. Once a river, the new park aims to recreate native waterways. The river would return during a rainy season.
KPCC/John Rabe

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It's an atypical success story for Los Angeles, but it's an effort desperately owed to its residents. The L.A. State Historic Park is opening downtown this weekend, and after 16 years of stops and starts, Sean Woods, Superintendent of California State Parks, Los Angeles, is breathing a sigh of relief. "Once it opens tomorrow, it'll be open forever." 

In 2001, over 35 community activism groups of all stripes came together and stopped the land from being turned into 32 acres of warehouses, which was the intended plan of real estate developer Ed Roski, Jr. The activists prevailed, but their work had just begun. "The bond funding was only for acquisition dollars," Woods told Offramp's John Rabe. John clarified in laymen's terms,  "You had the money to buy the land you didn't have the money to do something with it." Woods nods with a smile, "Perfect, yes." 

In that time, they opened the space up to ideas from the community. It has hosted a carnival, the FYF Festival, and about 6 years ago, it was cornfield with intention. Artist Lauren Bon erected a living sculpture in the form of a cornfield and named it "Not a Cornfield," a nod to the site's future, and also to its past. The area was nicknamed "The Cornfield" because train cars would spill corn kernels as the went by. A hub for immigrants owed to by the train stop nearby, the site was thought of as the Ellis Island of the West. Plans for turning it into a park were proposed as early as 1930. L.A.'s people would have to wait 87 years. 

Los Angeles doesn't have much park space, just about 10% of our city sprawl is dedicated to open areas. But the wait is over, and the park has a lot to offer in views alone. "You've got manufacturing to the East, a view of City Hall, there's a view of downtown skyline, Gold Line, the river."

Woods agrees. He likes to say that the park is situated in the cradle of Los Angeles "Because we're surrounded by some of the oldest and most historic communities that have deep rooted connections to the beginning of the city." He continues: 

What we like about the park is it gives you a vantage point to point to a particular area like Dodger Stadium, the former location of Chavez Ravine, Chinatown which was Sonoratown before the Chinese were forcibly evicted from Union Station, Solano Canyon, Lincoln Heights, the William Mead Homes the first housing project in Los Angeles, so it really provides us an opportunity to talk about all these communities and cultures that turned this into the second largest metropolis in the United States. 

A number of speakers and performers are lined up for the park's opening Saturday, April 22. But Woods wants folks to remember the deeper lesson amidst all the fun, "I really want Los Angeles to take this park in to look at it as an incredible learning opportunity in terms of how a grass roots organization could stop a million square feet of industrial development and 16 years later open up this magnificent park in the middle of Los Angeles." 

For more information on the L.A. Historic Park, click here