An even grander place to play

August 14, 2014 

The hard hats were pink, like Grand Park's benches, and the groundbreaking was kid-powered.

If you build it, they will play.  At downtown’s Grand Park, that has been the lesson so far when it comes to kids’ amenities.

From the park’s big, cartwheel-friendly lawns to its spouting splash pool, the wildly popular 2-year-old gathering space has been jammed constantly with children. So far, though, it has lacked one of the most fundamental attractions—a place for children to slide, climb and swing.

That’s about to change. This week, the park broke ground on a 3,700-square-foot, $1 million play area that’s intended to make Grand Park even more of a kid magnet.

Designed with a fanciful forest theme by Rios Clementi Hale Studios, the park’s designers, the fenced play area will anchor the park segment known as Block Four, between Broadway and Spring Street, near City Hall and at the opposite end of the park from the splash pool and fountain.

“Grand Park strives to live up to its mission to be the ‘park for everyone’ in ways that engage, surprise and delight,” said Lucas Rivera, the park’s director. “Now with a children’s play area, we hope to exceed the expectations of even our smallest guests.”

The playground is expected to be completed by this November. That’s not a moment too soon for downtown’s residential community, which has become increasingly family-oriented and reliant on Grand Park for green space.

“I’ve been waiting for it,” said artist Lola Gayle, who was knitting in the park on Tuesday with her 9-year-old daughter, Milo Sandgren, as her 3½-year old son, Kian Sandgren, played in the water.

“How many years has Grand Park been open now? Let’s do it!”

In foreground, Lola Gayle relaxes with daughter Milo. Alyssa Ochoa grabs a quiet moment on the bench at left.

Park officials said the play area was in the park plans from the beginning, but had been postponed because of limited funding.

The playground is being jointly funded by First 5 LA, which is providing a grant of $500,000, and by Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is matching that amount with Proposition A/Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District money.

Aimed at children aged 12 and under, the play area will include a 20-foot-high hardwood tree house with platforms and roller and tube slides. The area also will have berms with rock-climbing handles, a rope climber and a tunnel, and curved hardwood benches for parents and caregivers. Mature sycamore trees will frame the space and provide shade.

Though the playground is expected to take up only a small portion of the 12-acre park’s lawns, its supporters predict a big payoff.

“Grand Park serves, in essence, as L.A.’s Central Park, and one big piece that has been missing is a children’s play area,” said Jennifer Pippard, interim director of First 5 LA’s community investments department.

“We want to be about promoting physical health and good mental health and social interaction, and play areas like this provide those kinds of opportunities.”

Artist Gayle said the play area will make life easier for the growing constituency of young families who have populated downtown Los Angeles in recent years. She said that when she moved in 12½ years ago with her husband, also an artist, families with children were few and far between. “It was just dog parks,” she recalled.

Now, she said, at least five families in her building have kids and Grand Park provides an essential downtown gathering place.

“It’s brilliant, it’s a sense of community,” Gayle said. “I’ve met some really cool moms here.”

The park clientele’s diversity—economic, social, racial and otherwise—also is a big draw, she added.

As Gayle spoke, the sound of families chattering—in English and in Spanish—filled the air, along with the universal language of squealing wet kids. Some parents had driven to get to the park, while others, like Alyssa Ochoa, arrived via public transportation.

Ochoa said she first heard about Grand Park when she was staying at the Union Rescue Mission with her daughter, Nylah Green.

At first glance, they were underwhelmed.

“There was no playground, so I was disappointed,” Ochoa said. Then 2-year-old Nylah discovered the splash pad, and the park became one of their favorite attractions.

They have since moved to a women’s shelter in South Central but, whenever they travel downtown to pick up some free diapers, they make it a point to drop by Grand Park as well.

“When you don’t have any money,” Ochoa said, “you have to find something that’s free.”

The playground design features a tree house and tube slide. Image/Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Posted 7/30/14

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