Pershing Square is overdue for a facelift. Will it get attention?

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City Councilman Jose Huizar held a press conference on Monday about his 4-year-old plan to revamp downtown’s Pershing Square . The open space sits across from the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. 

Many people have criticized this park as hideous, dated, and unwelcoming. That’s because it’s cut off from the sidewalks around it, and it’s raised up. 

In 2016, Councilman Jose Huizar, civic leaders, nonprofits, and architecture firm Gensler initiated the Pershing Square Renew project. It was a competition to see who was going to get the job of redesigning Pershing Square. Seed funding came from MacFarlane Partners.

The competition winners were Agence TER (a Paris-based firm of landscape architects, architects and engineers) and the LA firm SALT Landscape Architects.

Agence TER proposed what they called “radical flatness” -- to make the park sit at the street level, and make it feel more open and accessible. They wanted to add a long gazebo and more shade.

On Monday, Huizar announced that the redesign project would roll out in phases. 

Phase 1: Remove the barrier walls along Olive St. to open the park to the street, and replace the dark, dingy escalators from the parking garage with day-lit elevators and stairs. 

Phase 2: Remove barrier walls along Hill St. and turn the concrete fountain area into grass.

A sign at Huizar’s Monday press conference: phased  implementation of Pershing Square. Photo by Avishay Artsy/KCRW. 

A sign at Huizar’s Monday press conference: proposed final build-out of Pershing Square. Photo by Avishay Artsy/KCRW. 

Councilman Huizar said the redesign would be completed this year. It stalled because of money. 

The scheme was estimated to cost $50 million, and there was never enough money nor civic leadership. Mayor Eric Garcetti never got behind it. 

Then Huizar got into political trouble. The FBI raided his office in late 2018 in a pay-to-play probe. He lost his chairmanship at the Planning and Land Use Management committee. Fifteen months later, no charges have been filed.

Huizar has not secured federal, state, or private funding for the park. LA’s Department of Parks and Recreation collected $25 million from developer fees.

Fees also derived from the Quimby Act, a levy that Huizar expanded in 2016. The law mandates that developers pay the city thousands of dollars per residential unit if said unit does not have enough green space.

Pershing Square did get a big redesign in the early 90s, but that was never very popular

The original park was built in 1886. It was redesigned in 1910 by John Parkinson, who designed City Hall and Bullocks Wilshire. 

Then it was destroyed through urban renewal in the early 1950s, when a parking garage was created underneath the square. 

In 1994, Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta was brought in to do the redesign. There was a lot of hope attached to that project -- that it could evoke a Latin spirit with its bright color and shapes inspired by the famed Mexican architect Luis Barragan.

But the public didn’t love this redesign. It had too much concrete, and was inaccessible and ill-suited to the needs of a burgeoning downtown.