Parks comprise more than 14% of Los Angeles’s landscape and the city is home to hundreds of these cherished public spaces. From the largest park within any American city (Topanga State Park) to the smallest pocket parks and parklets, I hope to showcase them one park at a time, in the series Southland Parks.
Yesterday, whilst looking for a public library, I came across the charming, Tudor-style Memorial Branch Library, situated at the back of an equally attractive park, Los Angeles High Memorial Park. Both turned out to have an interesting story worth sharing.
Los Angeles High Memorial Park is a small (one hectare), unstaffed park that hosts a large jungle gym and a nice assortment of stately trees. It’s located across Olympic (at 4625 West Olympic Boulevard) from Los Angeles High School in the southeastern corner of Midtown’s Brookside neighborhood.
The land one which the park is located was annexed by the city in 1915. In 1920, the Rimpau Estate Co. subdivided the land, formerly part of Francisco Avila‘s Rancho Las Cienegas, as Windsor Crest. Housing deeds expressly excluded non-whites but as with so much of Los Angeles, whites now only account for a small minority (15%) whereas most of the residents near the park are either black or Korean.
At some point the neighborhood became known as Brookside, a reference to the Río del Jardín de las Flores, which begins in the Santa Monica Mountains and then flows (mostly underground today) to Ballona Creek which then flows west and empties into Santa Monica Bay.
Across the street from the Los Angeles High Memorial Park is Los Angeles High School. The school was established in Downtown Los Angeles in 1873 and moved to the current site in 1917. The 1971 San Fernando Earthquake caused extensive damage to the beautiful buildings and preservationists mobilized to rehabilitate it until one of those mysterious fires finished it off and it was replaced with the current schoolhouse.
Los Angeles High Memorial Park was born when a group of students from the school purchased a parcel across the street in 1922 to dedicate to the memory of twenty students who’d died during the Great War (1914 – 1918).
In 1923, an adjacent parcel was procured by students and alumni and in 1929 the city granted the Los Angeles Public Library the right to there build a library designed by the architectural firm of Austin & Ashley (John C. Austin and Frederick M. Ashley), who’d previously designed the high school.
Many of the trees are quite mature and seem likely to date back to the time of the park’s dedication. They represent several species and the roots of the one at the library’s southwest corners appear to be pressing quite strongly against its bricks. In the western side of the park is a large jungle gym, dedicated in 2013. This being the Council District 4 of Tom LaBonge, I have little doubt that ribbon was cut and a vociferous speech was made… perhaps even the Blue Angels made an appearance overhead.
When I visited the gym and the rest of the park were being enjoyed by a healthy number of people of all ages and diverse backgrounds. They were engaged in a variety of activities; playing, hop-scotching, engaged in light petting, tic-tac-toeing, reading, picnicking, and lining up for a bite at About Time, a South Park-based taco truck.
In the days of old, Los Angeles High Memorial Park was the last stop on the Los Angeles Railway’s L Line but the last of the yellow cars came this way in 1940, when it was replaced by bus service. Today the nearest train station is Wilshire/Western Station, a not-too-distant/not-too-close 2.75 kilometers to the east, but the park is also served by Metro’s 28 and Rapid 728 lines.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, or listicles and jobs must pay offer reasonable pay. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.