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A Little Piece of the Country Comes to the Heart of the Big City

Outdoors: An old pipe storage yard is transformed into a natural landscape of chaparral, oaks and grasslands.

December 17, 2000|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's not much natural about Natural Park.

Three thousand cubic yards of dirt bulldozed from landslides along Malibu's Pacific Coast Highway were trucked in to form its man-made hills and meadows.

Rocks from the headwaters of the Los Angeles River were gathered to create an artificial "wetlands" area fed by pumped-in city water.

Chaparral and sage were transplanted from the mountains around Los Angeles to landscape the carefully shaped hills. Thirty-foot "heritage" oaks were dug up and trucked in from Ramona to shade the flatlands.

No wonder the new 8 1/2-acre park that was dedicated Saturday in South-Central Los Angeles is unlike anything anyone there has ever seen.

There isn't a single playground swing in sight. There is a cactus patch donated by San Marino's Huntington Library instead of the usual sandbox. A mock "valley grasslands" is where a normal park's soccer field would be.

But the new Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park could be a prototype for future urban parks, said Gov. Gray Davis, who showed up to help dedicate the site at Slauson and Compton avenues.

It was the second park ceremony in as many days for the South-Central area.

On Friday, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan dedicated a spruced-up playground and recreation area at tiny Vermont Square Park. Riordan had ordered the $20,000 renovation nine days earlier after a constituent complained about the park's appearance.

Saturday's dedication capped 11 1/2 months of construction that cost $4.5 million.

For 90 years, the site was a water and sewer pipe storage yard used by city utility crews. Last year, the Department of Water and Power agreed to lease it for $1 a year to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy parkland management agency.

The conservancy set out to convert the flat storage yard into a mountain-like setting after Councilwoman Rita Walters complained that central city residents benefited little from the Santa Monica Mountains' parks.

Along with a hillside amphitheater and a fruit orchard, the new park includes a nature center that contains exhibits depicting local mountains' bobcats, coyotes and red-tailed hawks. That's where nature education programs for local children will be conducted by conservancy rangers and naturalists.

"We can re-create nature, even in the heart of South-Central L.A. That's what is nationally significant about what your parks program is doing," conservancy head Joseph T. Edmiston told a crowd of several thousand that turned out for Saturday's opening.

Davis, who promoted this year's Proposition 12 bond measure, which helped pay for the Natural Park, said similar urban parks are planned.

"This is a place to put your worries behind and come out refreshed," he said of the rolling park site. Those in the crowd seemed to agree.

"I can come here and sit and think and have a quiet time," said 15-year-old Sandra Breveard, who lives in the nearby Nickerson Gardens housing complex. "There won't be screaming kids here."

Veronica Ceballos lives across the street from the new park. "This is a good deal for the area. I'll come here every day if I have a chance," she said.

"You can go other places to play soccer."

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