The layout of Downtown Los Angeles needs a word of explanation: the area is basically split into two – the “old” and the “new” one. The new part is the one with the banks, the museums, the courts, the Civic Center; it is polished and quite impressive. It is also quite empty after 8 PM and on weekends, apart from the visitors to the museums and the Disney Concert Hall.
The city tried for years to re-enliven this side of Downtown. Sure, people live there; the apartments in the high-rises downtown are very nice and very modern, as they should be, being quite, quite expensive. But until two years ago there was not one single supermarket in the area. Not one! Then a Ralph’s moved in, a fact so spectacular that it was even mentioned in the local newspapers. So one gets the idea – this side of Downtown is more for the affluent, sans kids.
The divide between the “new” and the “old” is Hill Street, where one also finds Pershing Square. One can see the difference when one stands on a Saturday or Sunday on the corner of Hill and 5th Street (with Pershing Square to the left). Looking left – empty streets; looking right – teeming life.
What is happening down there will be shown later. Today – Pershing Square.
This park, covering exactly one square block, has changed names so often since the middle of the 19th century that one loses count. Finally, in 1918, the city named it in honor of General Pershing. When Downtown declined during the ‘50s due to the move out to the suburbs, the park followed suit and became such an eyesore that by 1984 – in time for the Summer Olympics – the city finally coughed up $1 million to fix the place at least temporarily.
Then, at the beginning of the ‘90s, the movement to re-enliven Downtown began. In 1992 Pershing Square was closed down and over the next two years the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and landscape architect Laurie Olin gave the park a complete overhaul. This time the budget was over $14 million. The idea behind the renovation was to celebrate the roots of Los Angeles (which are Hispanic, as is well known); therefore Legorreta and Olin came up with a very, very modern take on a Spanish plaza. There are trees, there is water, there is art, places to rest, a concert stage plus a seasonal skating-rink; and as no decent Spanish plaza is without a church and a tower, there is also a tower. A purple one. Ten stories high.
The orange ball at the top of the tower is not a sign that this quite striking monument was sponsored by a certain bank. These orange balls are popping up at other places in Pershing Square. Why? How should I know? I assume that they were put there just to make people smile. Which certainly works for me.