[Editors’ Note: Last week, a number of sharp-eyed readers noticed a short post in the UrbanizeLA blog, mentioning that City Council Member David Ryu had introduced a motion to the City Council requesting that management of the city-owned surface parking lot at 209 N. Larchmont Blvd. be transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Recreation and Parks, so that a portion of the property could be turned into a small park/playground for the community. Ryu’s motion also explained that “residents, visitors and businesses alike…have voiced their strong support for the park, and have collected funds to support the installation and management of the site.”
The Buzz has learned that the park proposal originated with the Windsor Square Association (WSA), the neighborhood association representing the area that surrounds the Larchmont Village shopping district, between First Street and Beverly Boulevard. WSA President Larry Guzin, Vice President for Planning and Land Use John Welborne, and the Association’s board of directors report that they have been studying the idea and are now proposing that six parking spaces along the southern end of the parking lot (not, as some rumors have circulated, the whole parking lot) be replaced with a playground, which could also serve as a pilot project for potential further green space development.
Welborne, who is also the publisher of the Larchmont Chronicle, provided this description of the project exclusively for the Buzz.]
By John Welborne
Larchmont Village merchants and shoppers always welcome more parking for the street. It has been this way since the Los Angeles Railway Company’s Yellow Car trolley “3 Line” stopped running up the Boulevard from Third Street to Melrose Avenue in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The contemporary desire for additional parking notwithstanding, there usually are 20 to 30 empty parking spaces at all times in the city’s underground lot next to Rite-Aid.
Parks and open space
Larchmont-area neighbors also like the idea of having more park-like open space in their community. And spaces for children to play outdoors. Decades ago, long before Rick Caruso started building outdoor shopping malls with parks in the center, Windsor Square residents wondered if the 33-space city parking lot with the flagpole and Wilshire Rotary clock, between what is now Burger Lounge and Bella Cures, might someday be converted to a park — a “Larchmont Village Green” — with vehicle parking being relocated underneath. That idea has been revived. This revival seeks the construction of a small playground as a precursor, or pilot project, that could help lead to construction of a Village Green.
“Out-of- the-box thinking and neighborhood effort to establish playground and park space here will add greatly to Larchmont,” says Larry Guzin, president of the Windsor Square Association (WSA).
The state of Windsor Square’s residential and commercial green environment has long been a concern of the WSA, according to Guzin. “Some of the current volunteer work relating to Larchmont began with a significant study of the community’s tree canopy, led by Windsor Square residents Helen Hartung and Scott Goldstein,” he said.
Other local leaders, like Fremont Place resident Patricia Lombard (co-publisher of the “Larchmont Buzz” and author of the popular local history book, “Larchmont,” available at Chevalier’s Books) long have pointed out the importance to the surrounding community of Larchmont Boulevard and its uses and images.
Late last year, Guzin and the WSA board recognized that a project of the size and scope of a full new community park (like the one at The Grove), of from 6,000 to 12,000 square feet and maybe on top of a parking structure, would be a really big undertaking. It would require lengthy study and community outreach and involvement. Funding would be a big issue as well. Therefore, the WSA in the beginning of this year embarked upon researching the possibility of creating a smaller “pilot project” — a small playground with a slide and similar equipment for children ages two to 12, explained Guzin.
Similar playground nearby
A somewhat similar narrow playground is at the Country Club Park Heritage Plaza located on Olympic Boulevard, between Arlington Avenue and Wilton Place. That playground opened in 2011.
Reaching out for feedback from other area associations about creating a similar small play area by removing six parking spaces, the WSA collected letters of support from almost every entity surrounding the envisioned little playground suggested for the southeast corner of the city’s existing surface parking lot.
Support letters came from the merchants (the Larchmont Boulevard Association — LBA), from residents south of Beverly Blvd. (WSA) and north of Beverly Blvd. (Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association), from the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, from the HOPE-NET producers of the Taste of Larchmont and from the LBA producers of the Larchmont Family Fair. The LBA’s liaison with the Sunday Farmers’ Market learned that the market organizers “will not object” to the potential loss of the six parking spaces to be converted into the small playground.
Based upon this almost universally positive response, the hat was passed to make the playground pilot financially possible.
Through leadership gifts from the WSA, the LBA and Larchmont merchants and tenants (with Ahmet Zappa the first to step up with a very generous contribution) plus from other donors, much of the estimated cost of installation of a slide set, fencing, and some benches for parents or chaperones has been raised. Tax-deductible contributions for the playground pilot project, payable to the nonprofit 501(c)3 Los Angeles Parks Foundation, are still being welcomed, and you may contact this writer to inquire further: [email protected].
Ryu takes up the cause
The request to the city was made through Fourth District Councilman David Ryu, who enthusiastically supported the idea and offered to supplement the community’s fundraising if necessary.
Ryu said of the proposal: “Many things are involved in creating a positive quality of urban life. One thing is the number and quality of our City parks.” Recognizing that the community already had come together to offer financial support, the councilman submitted a City Council motion to ask the staff of the Department of Recreation and Parks (Rec and Parks) to move forward with the design and installation of the small playground. The independent Parks Foundation works closely with Rec and Parks on a regular basis.
Green space study
A committee chaired by Windsor Square architect and WSA board member Caroline Labiner Moser has been working on the “look” of the playground pilot, as part of the committee’s larger project titled, “Exploring Green Space Options: Greater Wilshire Community Study of Aesthetic Environmental Maintenance and Improvement with the Windsor Square and Larchmont Boulevard Areas as Prototypes for other Communities.”
Serving on Moser’s committee are Helen Hartung and Angie Szentgyorgyi of Windsor Square and Patricia Lombard of Fremont Place. Moser has been developing detailed drawings of the small, approximately 1,200-square- foot playground to share with Rec and Parks staff and others.
Ryu said of the broad-based community effort, “It is this kind of civic unity that makes the neighborhood such a wonderful place to live, work and visit, and I am delighted to support the efforts of the community to make this small playground a reality. As a pilot project, it ultimately may lead to creation of additional park space in the Larchmont area.”
Moser emphasized that coming up with the details of a future urban mini park, or Larchmont Village Green, “requires extensive community study and input.” She suggested that some possible future features to study for this Larchmont open space that is now 100 percent surface parking might include someday having: an expanded playground, more seating areas, shade trees and benches, and maybe even a fenced-off dog run.
She also noted that having a completed urban mini park on the site (with or without underground parking) would allow for the addition of about seven street parking spaces, maybe more, when the existing curb cuts are removed. But, cautioned Moser, “that is all on the table for future discussion. What is wonderful, here and now, is the widespread support, including financing, already received for
installing the small playground pilot project as soon as possible.” More information and illustrations are on the WSA’s website at: windsorsquare.org/playground-pilot.
About John Welborne
John has been publisher and editor of the 56-year- old Larchmont Chronicle since May of 2015, succeeding the paper’s surviving co-founder, Jane Gilman. A lifelong Angeleno and longtime local land use lawyer, John also serves as vice-president for planning and land use of the Windsor Square Association, among many other volunteer activities.