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Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park and its offerings draw throngs

The renovated space presents its first public events with a National Dance Day celebration. The park 'has a hip but also family-friendly feeling,' says one downtown resident.

July 29, 2012|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times
  • Isabella Geldbach, 9, enjoys the wading pool at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday.
Isabella Geldbach, 9, enjoys the wading pool at Grand Park in downtown Los… (Christina House, For the…)

Hundreds danced on the large lawn, children splashed in the new wading pool and others posed for photos with City Hall as a backdrop Saturday as the opening weekend festivities continued at downtown's new Grand Park.

"It's beautiful!" said Fernando Morales, a retired machinist from Eagle Rock who was taking in the scene with his wife, Carmen. "I've never seen City Hall so clearly in my life, and I've lived in Los Angeles for 45 years."

The upper half of the 12-acre park, which extends from the top of Bunker Hill down to City Hall, officially opened last week. But Saturday featured its first public events: a National Dance Day celebration, with dance classes and special performances by Cirque du Soleil and contestants from the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance."

PHOTOS: Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park

Planners say one of Grand Park's best assets is its ability to host different events and audiences at the same time. The space is owned by Los Angeles County but will be managed by the Music Center.

The park's flexibility was apparent Saturday, as each "block" of the grounds drew a different crowd.

While hip-hop and salsa tunes blared on the performance lawn, people ate lunch at food trucks and packed into a Starbucks in the central plaza. On the park's top level, families gathered at the renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain and lined up for free T-shirts at a booth just below Grand Avenue.

Officials said more than 4,000 people passed through the park during the 4 1/2-hour event. A series of music performances are planned for Sunday, starting at 11:30 a.m.

The park "has a hip but also family-friendly feeling," said Quia Anderson, a chef who walked her dog up to Grand Park from her loft at 4th and Broadway. "I think it actually has a lot of potential."

As her 6-year-old daughter played in the fountain's new "splash pad," Mellisa Franklin said the park would be perfect for mothers who live downtown.

"When we first moved here she was 2, and there was just nothing like this," Franklin said. "I would have been here every day."

Her husband, Mike Owens, added that he hoped the park would remain as clean as it was Saturday. "I think that's going to be a challenge," he said.

Security staff from both the Music Center and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Departmentpatrolled during the dance events, and signs around the park warned that "aggressive solicitation" and "disturbances" were prohibited, along with drinking, smoking and littering.

Some have feared that homelessness will be a problem at the park, given its proximity to skid row. Others say the park could become a target for activist groups such as Occupy L.A.

But on Saturday, as many Angelenos got their first peek at the space, the atmosphere was mostly exuberant. Officials involved in managing Grand Park were delighted as well.

"Can you believe it?" said Howard Sherman, chief operating officer at the Music Center. "This is just incredible — it's exactly what we were hoping for."

sam.allen@latimes.com

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