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Long-awaited park opens in Wilmington

Residents opposed plans for a giant sound wall and fought to get a natural barrier from the Port of L.A. The $55-million park spans nine blocks with a fountain, lawn, promenade, barbecues and playground.

June 05, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times
  • Wilmington Waterfront Park opened Saturday, providing a natural buffer to protect homes from the noise of the bustling Port of Los Angeles.
Wilmington Waterfront Park opened Saturday, providing a natural buffer… (Port of Los Angeles )

A grassy 30-acre park opened in the port community of Wilmington on Saturday, prompting cheers from residents who had successfully blocked the construction of a gigantic sound wall that they feared would hem them in from the sea.

Instead of building a mile-long, 20-foot-high barrier to serve as a buffer between homes and the rows of cargo containers and cranes at the Port of Los Angeles, port officials ended up constructing the $55-million Wilmington Waterfront Park, which offers a brilliant belt of greenery on the neighborhood's southern edge and stretches nine city blocks.

The park, built on previously vacant land east of the 110 Freeway and south of C Street, includes a splash fountain, a "great lawn" that can double as seating for performances, a promenade for walkers and bicyclists, restrooms, a playground and barbecues.

"The people of Wilmington now have exactly what they've wanted and deserve," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a prepared statement. "This is an incredible park."

Wilmington has long had a tense relationship with the Port of Los Angeles and City Hall. That difficult relationship dates back to the 1920s, when area residents first complained that they were given little say in port operations.

The fight that led to the creation of the park began in the late 1980s. During that time, the port, in planning to accommodate more truck traffic, considered building a sound wall along C Street to block noise from reaching Wilmington.

While some residents supported the barrier, others in the low-income, heavily Latino neighborhood argued that it would isolate Wilmington. They likened it to the Berlin Wall and said it would be a target for graffiti and would cut off fresh sea breezes from San Pedro Bay.

"We might as well put up barbed wire and machine guns on top and tell the community to stay out," Wilmington activist Gertrude Schwab said in 1994. Wilmington has long endured air pollution, industrial blight and truck traffic from operations at the port, a gateway of imported goods into the United States.

By 2001, residents were urging the port to consider building a park as a buffer, an idea that gained traction as the Harbor area considered seceding from Los Angeles. The port began public planning workshops three years later, committed to building a park in 2007 and began construction in 2009.

"We are thrilled to see it come to fruition," said Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

A 16-foot-high hill along the southern border of the park serves as a sound barrier, according to the port. The park will be open 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. every day.

ron.lin@latimes.com

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