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Sam Hall Kaplan

Threats to Library Open Space

April 21, 1985|SAM HALL KAPLAN

Of all the bits and pieces of the ambitious $1-billion proposal for Library Square, including the 65- and 70-story office towers, perhaps the most critical is the redevelopment of the landmark library's parking lot into a park.

While the towers may lend the downtown skyline distinction and offer some marvelous views, and the renovated and expanded library may attract new users and better serve the public, most people will only experience the complex from the street level.

Vital to that experience will be the open space-- hopefully including light, air, views and places to sit--offered by the park and surrounding streets. It is in the open space created by the buildings, and not in the buildings, that the promised urbanity of the redevelopment project will be tested.

That urbanity had been threatened by a proposal by the city's transportation and planning departments to link the library, park, towers and a monumental stairway by a series of pedestrian bridges. Happily, the proposal was killed.

Street Widening

However, the transportation department has continued to nibble away at the project's promised pedestrian ambiance by proposing various street widenings. If implemented, the widenings will cut into sidewalks, a few of which in turn will cut into the park to be developed on the northwest corner of the library site facing Flower and 5th streets.

The department also is insisting on a turnout lane in front of the proposed office tower on the north side of 5th Street, despite the fact that vehicular access to the tower is planned for another street.

Not only is a turnout not needed on 5th Street, it also is sure to encourage illegal parking as well as create a traffic hazard as vehicles pull in and out. And this on a street which the department says is vital and on which it wants to keep traffic moving.

Worse is the proposal to widen the east side of Flower Street by 11 feet so the left-hand turn lane from northbound Flower to westbound 5th can be doubled. The department seems to have made a deity out of those left-hand turn lanes, even though they have been found to be one of the major causes of traffic confusion and gridlock downtown.

And while the intersection of 5th and Flower can be expected to turn into a disaster area at rush hour, those lost 11 feet needed for the sidewalk will be cut out of the Library Square park, which will be even a worse disaster.

Loss of Space

The park can ill afford losing the space, having already lost enough to commercial developments and concrete recommended in a plan by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, a member of the design team of Maguire/Thomas, the square's principal developer.

While Halprin's design of the monumental stairway, replete with cascading water, promises to be a pedestrian delight, and Maguire/Thomas on various occasions and in past projects has demonstrated concern for pedestrian life, their earlier proposals for the park were lacking. Indeed, it appeared for a time that they were viewing the space more as a festival market/yuppie mall than a park.

It took a valiant effort by a variety of public-spirited groups, including the Los Angeles Conservancy and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, to pressure the developer and the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to amend the plan to stress landscape rather than "hardscape."

Still, more sensitive planning is needed to ensure that the modest 75,000-square-foot area indeed will be a park, consistent with the intentions of the original designer, Bertram G. Goodhue, and offering to all in an increasing dense downtown a desperately needed, softly landscaped, welcoming open space.

After all, it is supposedly the public need for an expanded and renovated landmark library and an adjoining, landscaped park in central downtown that prompted the ambitious and complex redevelopment project, and not the other way around.

Public Need . . . also would be served by the designation of the Highland-Camrose Bungalow Village in Hollywood as a historic cultural monument. The item goes before the City Council Tuesday.

While the 13 modest frame houses that compose the village are not particularly unique and definitely are in need of repair, in a cluster on a lush hillside near the Hollywood Bowl they form a distinctive neighborhood.

Built nearly 50 years ago, the village stands as a reminder to the public of when such developments offered the waves of migrants coming to Los Angeles the single-family homes they yearned for, yet they were combined with the warmth of a small, welcoming community.

The landmark designation will delay for at least a year plans by the owner, the Jan Development Co. of Beverly Hills, to redevelop the site for a 220-unit apartment building, while giving the residents time to explore ways they might purchase the property and preserve its rich heritage.

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