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MACARTHUR PARK : Art School, City Try to Fight Crime

March 21, 1993|MARY HELEN BERG

Pixie Carroll left Berlin to study fashion at the Otis School of Art and Design. But in her first five months at Otis, Carroll has been schooled in the style of the street and she has learned more than she cares to about drug dealing, prostitution, gangs and murder.

"I've seen three people die since I came here (last fall)," said Carroll, a 19-year-old freshman who lives in the school's Taper Hall across from MacArthur Park.

Carroll's experience is not particularly unusual for Otis students, who say they've become "munitions experts" able to distinguish between the bang of a revolver and the pop of a semiautomatic weapon.

The art school, which celebrates its 75th anniversary in the city this year, finds itself caught amid the drug and gang warfare that surround MacArthur Park. During the day, drugs are sold openly across from the residence hall and gun battles are fought in the street nearly every week, students say.

George Stigile, a Los Angeles Recreation and Parks superintendent, said that despite regular sweeps by park rangers and police, "the park is a more dangerous area" than it was two years ago.

School officials fear the problems in the neighborhood could threaten Otis' national reputation and they are working with the city to find solutions.

City officials have agreed to erect a six-foot, chain-link fence along part of the park's 6th Street perimeter to make it more difficult for suspects to duck into the park to hide from cruising patrol cars. The $4,700 fence should be up within two months, Stigile said.

Last month, school staff and students submitted 50 letters to the Department of Transportation requesting that a no-parking zone be created along 6th Street between Park View and Alvarado Street to discourage drug exchanges near Taper Hall.

City and police officials will meet with the school's staff, students and community members in a forum at 12:30 p.m. Friday in the Main Gallery, 2401 Wilshire Blvd.

Despite the problems, enrollment at Otis is up 32% from last year, said Roger Workman, school president. However, enrollment in the school's evening continuing education classes has dropped by nearly half, he said.

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