Despite its long and interesting history, Pershing Square has long been considered by many to be an eyesore in downtown Los Angeles. Thanks to a new push backed by the organization Pershing Square Renew, the once glorious park will soon be experiencing a much needed facelift.

The History of Pershing Square

The history of Pershing Square dates back to the late 1850’s, at which time the location was used by settlers as a camp. At that time, surveyors drew the site as 10 individual plots of land despite the fact that it was really just a single 5-acre parcel. The same parcel was dedicated as a public square in 1866 and given the name La Plaza Abaja, meaning “The Lower Plaza.” Cypress trees, fruit trees and flowering shrubs were later added to the park.

The park underwent many name changes after being dedicated, including a name change to Los Angeles Park in 1870, to 6th Street Park in 1886 and Central Park in the early 1890’s. During this period, a bandstand pavilion and additional plantings were added. In 1894, the park served as the staging area for the crowning of the queen of La Fiesta de Los Angeles. The annual event continues today and is known as Fiesta Broadway.

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In 1900, Pershing Square underwent additional changes as a monument to the 20 Californians killed in the Spanish-American War was erected. The monument, which is believed to be the oldest work of public art in the city, was declared a historic-cultural monument in 1990. A three-tier fountain braced by four life-size concrete cherubs was later added in 1910, while the park underwent another name change in 1918. At this time, it received its current name of Pershing Square in honor of General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing.

Other additions to the park soon followed. In addition to adding tropical plants in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a life-size bronze of a World War I doughboy was added in 1924. A statue of Ludwig van Beethoven was erected in 1932, while a bronze cannon from the USS Constitution was added in 1935. By 1952, however, the entire park was demolished and excavated to build a 3 level underground parking garage. The area fell into decline and became a serious eyesore during the 1984 Summer Olympics, prompting the city to spend $1 million toward a temporary renovation.

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The park underwent an additional $14.5 million redesign and renovation in 1992. When it reopened in 1994, it featured a 10-story purple bell tower, numerous public artworks, fountains, a seasonal ice rink, a concrete stage and small plazas with seating. Today, the park consists primarily of paved expanses and obtrusive features that make the park feel uninviting.

Improving Pershing Square

In an effort to improve the beauty of Pershing Square, the Pershing Square Renew organization has announced a design competition to makeover the park. The competition has been approved by the LA City Council, with LA City Councilmember Jose Huizer leading the way. During the first phase of the competition, all interested design teams are invited to submit their qualifications and a portfolio. Ten to 12 semifinalists will be announced in November, with each being asked to “prepare a vision idea for Pershing Square to demonstrate their understanding of project aspirations and their innovative approach in creating the desired experience.” Four teams will then receive a stipend to create the actual design in February, with a winner being selected later in the month.

Once the design is selected, work can begin on the park. Currently, plans call for completing the redesign process in 2020, with LA’s Department of Rec and Parks contributing $1 million toward the project.

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(all data current as of 7/24/2017)

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