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Vacant Lot Is a Field of Dreams : Highland Park: Proponents will consider an artists' village, preschool and cultural enrichment center for the city-owned site.


A graffiti-stained no-trespassing sign and a chain-link fence guard the large patch of bulldozed dirt at York Boulevard and Avenue 53 in Highland Park.

But the warning and the fence haven't kept the community's more imaginative minds at bay. Where others see an ugly vacant lot, they see a field of dreams.

Some envision an artists' village on the site. Others see a preschool; still others favor an after-school cultural enrichment center. With great enthusiasm and in rich detail, they described these dreams last week at a meeting organized by Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre.

The councilman told about 45 community leaders that he wants them to help decide what will be built on the 30,000-square-foot parcel, which is owned by the city. With three apparently competing proposals on the table, the meeting ended on a conciliatory note as proponents of each agreed to talk about combining their ideas into a single project.

Supporters of the plans are expected to report the results of this merger attempt at another community meeting next month.

"I think they can all be incorporated," said Tammy Metcalf, an Eagle Rock resident who lobbied for the after-school enrichment program. "That parcel is large enough, and I think we could accommodate all the needs. . . . This is such a win-win proposal in my mind. I don't see how you could get anybody against it."

Nevertheless, it remained uncertain this week whether all three dreams can become reality on the same site. And a crucial issue--how to finance any of the projects--has not been addressed. City officials said the community must first get behind a single project.

"The proposal will determine where we go for the money," said Rosa Martinez, a spokeswoman for Alatorre.

Ralph Esparza, a Los Angeles housing official who attended the meeting, said the final plan could involve a partnership between the city and a private developer. The city could also lease or sell the property at less than market value, with a requirement that part of the project be reserved for subsidized housing or community use.

Esparza said he believes that City Council members "want to see a public purpose received" from any project developed on the York site. "What we're trying to do is identify some innovative uses and then see if we can find resources to match those ideas," he said.

Martinez said Alatorre wants to see a showpiece project that, along with the proposed police museum a few blocks away, could trigger a commercial and cultural boom along a stretch of York Boulevard that is dominated by auto repair shops and fast-food restaurants.

"The interest is to get an anchor, to look at the future of York," she said. "There's a sense that there needs to be some revitalization."

The city bought the land, which once housed a commercial building and small houses, about a dozen years ago as the site for a fire station. That plan was dropped, however, because of funding constraints. More recently, a proposal for a 60-unit apartment complex on the corner also fell through amid community protests concerning its design.

Alatorre asked community leaders who had other ideas to attend last week's meeting at Occidental College in Eagle Rock. The college has been trying to establish closer ties to the community. Campus officials at the meeting said students and faculty members could become involved in whichever project is chosen.

The most ambitious proposal, called the York Boulevard Arts Village, is backed by the Arroyo Arts Collective, a group that is promoting cultural development and art programs in Northeast Los Angeles.

The arts village would include apartments, some with subsidized rents, and studio space for visual artists, dancers, writers and filmmakers. Proponents say it could also house public galleries, a screening room and small commercial businesses such as a coffeehouse and an art supply shop.

The village is needed because many artists who have moved to the Highland Park area in recent years have few local outlets for their work, said Hendrik Stooker, director of the Occidental College art gallery and a co-founder of the Arroyo Arts Collective. He said the college might also operate a satellite gallery in the complex.

Arts village proponents said they will consider incorporating the other projects suggested at Alatorre's meeting.

Metcalf, who proposed the youth enrichment center, said that ideally, residents of the village could teach after-school classes in art, music, dance and other subjects to children from the area's elementary and junior high schools. "These are the very programs that have been cut and I think will continue to be cut in the public schools," she said.

Stooker believes that her idea has merit. "That fits totally," he said. "We really want interaction with the community. We don't want to be an isolated ivory tower."

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