The last time Don Pugh, 47, stood in what is now the state's newest park, he was a teenager dodging trains and frolicking on the tracks.
On Saturday, Pugh returned with his family to the former rail yard as local and state officials opened the Los Angeles State Historic Park, an 18-acre patch of spongy grass adjacent to Chinatown.
About 300 people turned out for the event at the Cornfield, a site earlier envisioned for industrial uses.
There were pony rides and Chinese lion dancers, a Guatemalan band and food booths. Kids sprinted up and down the field trailing balloons, while dogs tugged at leashes.
Pugh grinned as he took in the new view. "This is a nice change," he said. "When I was a kid, we had fun by enjoying open spaces."
"This is going to help kids be kids downtown," added his wife, Alicia, 41. "This is so positive to have this in the middle of all this concrete and steel."
The state will eventually build a permanent park, for which an international design contest is underway, on the entire 32-acre site.
The $1.4-million interim park features four acres of open turf and a natural amphitheater. Officials plan to erect a multiple-use plaza and temporary buildings for meetings and events.
Saturday's opening ceremony drew the curious from across the area.
Chuck Cobb, 71, drove from Inglewood to see if the park might make a good spot for his running group to pass through.
Digital camera in hand, Charles Magnuson, 74, of Westwood was pleased to see grass -- instead of more buildings.
"It's nice to have high-rises; they're good for business. But they don't do much for the soul," he said. "This is a quiet, clean place to think."
The lot was once earmarked for development as an industrial warehouse site.
The proposal prompted a decade-long battle by a coalition called the Chinatown Yard Alliance to turn the area into a park. After vigils, protests and lawsuits, the state intervened in late 2001 and purchased the land for $36 million.
Proposed plans for the park's permanent design will be unveiled Oct. 14 at a public workshop.
Downtown resident Alexandra Leh nodded approvingly as she let Lulu, her 8-year-old Norwegian elkhound corgi, explore the grass on a long leash.
"It's tough to build community when you don't have common areas," she said. "This is a great brick in that foundation."
But if there was anything missing Saturday, 5-year-old Jean-Michel Lerma of Echo Park summed it up best.
Looking at the park's newly planted trees, he said simply, "Shade."