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Lawndale Gives Astroturf No Middle-of-Road Praise: It's Bad

October 27, 1994|DAVID SWEET | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

From the entrance of his Lawndale furniture store, Bill Henderson can see what has been lampooned by some as a civic joke and derided by others as a civic tragedy--a swatch of worn, weathered Astroturf.

"It looks crummy," Henderson said of the dreary artificial lawn that carpets the median of Hawthorne Boulevard in front of his store.

Lawndale--called "Astrodale" by some--is a city divided.

On the northern half of Hawthorne Boulevard, the median is landscaped with grass and boulders, Italian cypress and eucalyptus trees. But south of the San Diego Freeway, a different spectacle unfolds: balding, faded plastic grass, littered with cigarette butts, discarded gum, wrappers and other debris.

A year after the United States put a man on the moon, Lawndale carpeted the median of its entire strip of Hawthorne Boulevard--also known as State Highway 107--with Astroturf. The idea was to save the city maintenance costs, the same reason a number of baseball and football stadiums installed the fake grass around the same time.

But once it became obvious the turf served as a magnet for litter, the city had to invest in vacuum cleaners.

Five years ago, the City Council decided to landscape anew the medians at Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Marine Avenue. Now, with the remainder of the Astroturf nearly 25 years old, the council has asked the state to give up control of Lawndale's section of the highway--a decision that may hasten removal of the remaining Astroturf.

Caltrans, which currently is responsible for the road, is agreeable. But before Caltrans can transfer authority over the roadway, state law requires that the agency restore it to a good state of repair.

Would this include removal of the Astroturf?

"It's negotiable," said Russ Snyder, a Caltrans spokesman.

When Lawndale covered the median--which once served as a trolley route, bridle path and drainage ditch--with Astroturf in 1970, the product's manufacturer, Monsanto Co., gave the city a plaque. Below a strip of Astroturf, the citation read: "World's First Astro Grass Traffic Median Installation."

By 1984, the color had faded, so the city tried to paint the Astroturf green in preparation for the carrying of the Olympic torch through the city. Aquamarine ground cover resulted.

Mayor Harold Hofmann can't remember the last time the city--which is paid by Caltrans to maintain the highway--vacuumed the Astroturf. Five years ago, he recalled, workers used fire hoses to wash away the trash that had accumulated on it.

Today, much of the plastic grass has snapped off. All that's left are the circular nubs that once held it. In one spot, the turf has split and a strip of concrete shows.

A Monsanto official said the company stopped manufacturing polyethylene for landscaping 15 years ago and said he was startled that Lawndale's turf is still in place.

"You got 25 years out of it? That's fantastic," he said.

When it is removed, Hofmann has an idea of what the city's reaction will be.

"I think we'll all say 'Glory, hallelujah!' " he said.

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