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SAM HALL KAPLAN

It Takes More Than a Fiesta for 'Miracle'

April 29, 1990|Sam Hall Kaplan

Downtown Los Angeles' Broadway will be the scene today of "L.A. Fiesta," the city's "biggest and best street festival ever," according to its ebullient sponsors.

Featured will be about 60 musical acts on seven stages and an array of speciality foods and arts and crafts booths, in addition to the mix of stores and restaurants that line the street.

To accommodate an expected 300,000 people, Broadway will be closed all day to auto traffic between 1st Street and Olympic Boulevard and will be patrolled by 600 police and security guards. The festival will begin at noon and end at 8 p.m.

L.A. Fiesta promises to be fun, while at the same time focusing attention on Broadway, one of the city's more engaging streets, with its stores spilling out onto crowded sidewalks and fading historic theaters. Hints of the Latino paseo and the city's once-proud main street persevere, barely.

But no matter how big an event L.A. Fiesta is, one day alone, no matter how heralded, will stem Broadway's drift toward deterioration and decay.

To do that, every day must be a street scene. The potential certainly is there.

Broadway has a distinctive architectural and social history, as evidenced by the landmark theaters, the Art Deco-adorned Eastern Columbia building at 9th street, Clifton's colorful cafeteria near 7th, the magnificent turn-of-the-century Bradbury at 3rd and diagonally across the street, the rejuvenated Grand Central Market.

The street also has a rare--for Los Angeles--pedestrian tradition, very much in the spirit of the Spanish plaza, where townspeople would gather and promenade, to see and be seen.

But instead of walking around the plazas, boys one way, girls the other, it is up one side of Broadway and down the other, stopping along the way to perhaps have ice cream or a piece of exotic fruit from Mexico.

At the same time, the population of downtown is growing. Soon to open a block away on Spring Street is the new state office building, along with a variety of other office towers and apartment complexes downtown.

What is needed, of course, is relatively safe and attractive access to, and passage along, Broadway.

This is no easy task in downtown Los Angeles these days. Construction has chopped up many sidewalks, too many buildings present blank walls to the street, drug trade flourishes in the alleys off Broadway and, saddest of all, tragedy prevails in the form of the homeless.

It is not a scene that encourages window shopping, alfresco lunches or strolling on Broadway, no matter how enticing the exotic fruit.

Nevertheless, the Broadway community--merchants, preservationists and real estate interests-- does what it can. The "Miracle on Broadway" association has begun a litter abatement program, increased security, low-cost shopper parking and a plan for streetscape improvements.

The improvements drafted by the landscape architecture firm of Campbell & Campbell are appropriately modest--repairing the sidewalks, restoring the classic street lights, planting stately trees and generally providing a proper urban design backdrop for the pedestrian scene. The street and sidewalk widths are left alone.

It is nice once in a while to see a landscape plan that does not try to overwhelm a site with ornate structures, curving road beds, gushing fountains, extravagant street furniture, fussy paving and hanging flower pots. The Campbell & Campbell plan in effect lets Broadway be the classic downtown street it is.

Unfortunately, the plan is stalled, due in large part to foot-dragging at the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. One would think the agency would appreciate a simple plan with some firm footing after being stuck so long in the Pershing Square morass.

That Mayor Tom Bradley has proclaimed today L.A. Fiesta Broadway Day is great. Just let us hope the proclamation does not turn out to be another piece of litter on the street.

Positioned as Los Angeles is on the Pacific Rim at the beginning of what has been predicted will be the Asian Century, there is a lot of talk these days by the mayor and others about what makes a city great. What combination of office towers, athletic teams, museums, theaters, schools, shopping, architecture and history charges a city with excitement.

While these elements no doubt can distinguish a city, I am convinced that it is the quality of its streets that most people remember. After all, that is where most people experience a city.

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