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New Recreation Complex Accepts Olympic Torch

Exposition Park project builds on the legacies of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games.

May 04, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Two Olympic legacies are at the heart of a nearly completed, $30-million project in Exposition Park that includes a three-story recreation center, a family pool, a 50-meter competition pool and an outdoor amphitheater.

The project, expected to be finished in late June, is named the Exposition Park Intergenerational Community Center because it also will have centers for children and seniors.

"This particular community has been sorely neglected, and the stadium used to serve as a pivotal point when the pools were open," said Belinda Jackson, executive director of the center and the Department of Recreation and Parks. "People in the neighborhood have nowhere else to go. This will not only be an outlet for the kids but for the entire family."

To preserve the legacy of the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games, the facade of the Los Angeles Swimming Stadium remains the same as it was then, when 18-year-old Eleanor Holm won the 100-meter backstroke and future movie star Clarence "Buster" Crabbe took gold in the 400-meter freestyle.

The second Olympic legacy is the continuing aid from the profits of the 1984 Summer Games in L.A. The Amateur Athletic Foundation, which was created with that money, gave $3 million.

The largest private contribution, $10 million, came from the Weingart Foundation, spearheaded by Roy Anderson, the former chairman of Lockheed. Other private funding totaled about $5 million, and almost $12 million came from public funds.

The old swimming stadium had declined dramatically since its heyday, when Olympic great Johnny Weissmuller jumped over a fence from the front row to watch Crabbe win, and freestyle gold medalist Helene Madison celebrated her victory by going out dancing with Clark Gable.

The pool opened to the public after the games but recently fell into disrepair. It was closed after the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and eventually defaced with graffiti.

Recognizing the need for a suitable pool in the area and additional recreational and educational services for the community, Anderson helped form a nonprofit corporation in 1998, and fund-raising began the next year. Construction started in April 2001.

The new complex is on the site of the old swimming stadium, in the shadow of the Coliseum on South Menlo Avenue. It includes a three-story recreation center with two basketball courts, lockers, weight and fitness rooms, a small stage, a sound studio and a kitchen.

The complex also includes a competition pool and family pool. The competition pool is one lane short of the Olympic standard, but other international meets could be held there.

The senior center will be used for job-transition classes, workshops and computer training and as a meeting place. The child-care center is open for after-school programs; a preschool will open in the fall.

With one of the jewels of the 1932 Games polished and restored, center officials were pleased as they gave a tour of the facilities last week. Anita DeFrantz of the Amateur Athletic Foundation recalled that during the Coliseum's on-again, off-again flirtation with the National Football League, "They wanted to pave this paradise and make it a parking lot."

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