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Beverly Hills Considers Renovation of La Cienega Facilities : New Recreation Needs Figure in Plans for Old Park

April 24, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV, Times Staff Writer

Plans are under way for a major renovation at sprawling La Cienega Park, one of Beverly Hills' biggest recreation areas.

"What we're doing is taking a look at today's needs," said Rick Putnam, director of recreation and parks. "We will attempt to reconstruct or renovate the park to meet those needs."

City officials met recently with about 75 residents to discuss a major make-over of the facility, which remains virtually unchanged from its original 1925 design.

sh Drainage Problems

Although the city has maintained the park, several drainage problems must be repaired and other major work needs to be done.

"It's like a house. The longer you wait to fix it, the more it's going to cost," Putnam said. "Rather than come through and make piecemeal adjustments like we normally do, it's time to look at the whole thing."

Sprawling on both sides of La Cienega Boulevard just north of Olympic Boulevard, the 14-acre park includes baseball diamonds, picnic tables, tennis and basketball courts, a new community center and an abandoned water treatment plant built in the style of an old Mexican ranch house.

On a busy summer day it attracts up to 3,000 users, some of whom occasionally have caused problems for neighbors.

At the community meeting, residents suggested higher fences to keep baseballs, Frisbees and children out of their backyards.

They asked that steps be taken to reduce noise from portable radios and glare from the lighting at night baseball games.

They also suggested a parking lot, a new children's playground, more benches and planters and a new location for the putting green, now on busy La Cienega Boulevard.

The suggestions will be taken up as plans are prepared, Putnam said. He also said the existing uses will be reconsidered, because demands put on the park have far exceeded the limits for which it was designed.

Landscape architect Pat Hirsch, who is expected to return with preliminary design suggestions within a few months, said the philosophy of park planning has changed in the more than 60 years since La Cienega Park was built.

Parks then were basically wide open spaces where people could throw a football around or hold picnics, he said.

Now, he said, the demand for organized sports and other activities is stronger.

sh Change in Activities

"Basically there has been a change from a passive to more of an active park," he said. He said La Cienega Park has "a lot of nice big trees and we'll have to take that into consideration."

As for the sports facilities, however, the park "is in dire need of being rearranged," he said.

Hirsch said he was encouraged by resident participation in the planning process, since in many cases organized sports groups are the only ones that make their voices heard.

"We had 65 different suggestions at that meeting, and that's really creative," he said.

The residents expressed great interest in the fate of the water treatment plant, which was designed in the shape of a Mexican hacienda complete with chapel, main house and granary. It was damaged in the 1971 earthquake and has not been used since.

Some neighbors said that it should be refurbished for use as an art gallery and music hall, while others suggested that it be converted into a gymnasium or racquetball and handball courts.

Another suggestion was to tear it down and replace it with tennis courts, a major source of revenue for the parks department.

sh Completed in 1928

Designed by Arthur Taylor, a leading civil engineer of the time, the structure was completed in 1928.

A report prepared by a committee of the local section of the American Society of Civil Engineers described it as "an outstanding architectural and engineering achievement" because it combined advanced water treatment facilities with public recreation.

Although the plant was the first on the West Coast to provide municipally softened water, Beverly Hills now gets its water from the Metropolitan Water District, a regional agency, and plans are under way to replace the 6-million-gallon reservoir under La Cienega Park with a new reservoir in Franklin Canyon.

The building has been listed as a local historic civil engineering landmark, according to Irv Sherman, chairman of the history and heritage committee of the civil engineers' society.

He said the site is noteworthy for the design of its underground reservoir and because pioneering research in water purification was carried out there.

"It's perhaps the prettiest water treatment plant I know of in this part of the country," Sherman said.

"We'd hate to see something like that go, but we recognize that times have changed. If the plant is not being used, it's hard to tell the city that owns it that it's got to keep maintaining the building," he said.

sh Preliminary Stage

Although Putnam declined to discuss a timetable for the park renovation, he said the preliminary planning should be complete in a few months.

The renovation will be funded from the proceeds of the city's recreation and parks tax, which requires a payment of $3 a square foot on all redevelopment and new construction.

The tax has resulted in a $7-million fund for the parks, Putnam said, but La Cienega is not the only project being contemplated.

Landscape and irrigation is expected to start in September at Greystone Park, in the hills above Doheny Drive, and the City Council is expected to approve renovation of Santa Monica Gardens this summer.

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