Born in El Salvador, Lehrer first became interested in landscape architecture as a young student when she visited an exhibition of the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York's Central Park and is widely regarded as the father of American landscape architecture.
Lehrer eventually left El Salvador and studied at the Harvard School of Design. After marrying, she moved to Southern California in the late '70s because at the time "there was a lot of work for architects on the West Coast and not so much on the East Coast."
Her firm, which she opened in 1999 and currently employs 25 people, focuses on municipal infrastructure projects, the kind that are often invisible (or at least easy to miss) to the casual observer.
"We started when everyone was beginning to go to Asia and the Middle East, but we hunkered down and saw the opportunity to build in our community and support local groups and nonprofits," she explained. The firm's current projects include L.A. River improvements in Studio City, a refurbishment of the San Pedro waterfront, and a co-commission for a huge public park at the El Toro Marine base in Orange County. She said the Silver Lake project -- which she began working on in 1999 -- has taught her patience above all.
"As a city, we're kind of conventional when it comes to public projects like this. It's hard to get great ideas and to veer off from the status quo," she said. "We have to get some of the community groups and maybe take them on trips to other cities." Over the years, Lehrer has come to believe that simplicity is the key to lasting landscape architecture design. "I have colleagues across the country, and they're building sexy multimillion-dollar projects. But the tools I use are low-tech, simple and straightforward," she said. "You don't end up with a lot of sexy images to show the public. But the city is better off in the end." So far, public reaction to the jogging path seems to be generally positive.
"They did a really nice job," said Bill Hamm, a Silver Lake resident. "I've had a couple of close calls jogging on the street and this is a lot safer."
Ana Fishman, an Atwater Village resident who comes to the reservoir to exercise, said she doesn't understand why people would get upset over the idea of outsiders using the path and meadow. "There are people who live with drive-by shootings, so this is a small price to pay for living in a beautiful neighborhood," she said.
City Council members Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge, who share jurisdiction over the reservoir, both praised the design. "But I would like to see more path lighting," said LaBonge. (The east-side path currently has no lighting even though joggers use it well after dusk.) Lehrer said she plans to introduce improvements gradually.
Future enhancements include replacing the ugly, functional chain-link fence along the path (a choice dictated by budget considerations) with an attractive wrought-iron fence. And when the DWP stops using the reservoir for drinking water in the next three to five years, a new set of possibilities opens up for more recreational space -- and community conversations.