The famously infamous park in Los Angeles bundled by Wilshire Blvd and identified as a spot where the undocumented can become documented with $50 bucks and a passport sized photo. Drugs, crime and gangs. Yup, I’ve heard it and/or read it too. How did a place once known around the country as a vacation destination become the center of illicit activity and negative energy?
The bright lights of downtown eight blocks to the east wears a new face, filled with young professionals, urban sprawl and plenty of entertainment options. Formally known as Westlake Park, MacArthur Park has a storied history. When I lived in a loft downtown, the park was always close enough to see, but just far enough away to avoid. No reason for me to go, until of course, I found a reason to go. What was that reason? Simple, I’d never been there before. Sure, I’ve driven through on my way to more desirable destinations many times. On this day, I didn’t know what to expect and I’m glad I set no expectation for myself. My palate was blank so the park could rise to the occasion of my judgment.
Saturday came and Saturday I arrived. People. Color. Language. Smiles. Community. Song. Dance. Sport. Work. Play. All in constant motion. The park is split into two unequal halves with a short tunnel connecting both sides running below Wilshire Blvd. The tunnel is filled with visual expression. There’s a lot of concrete used as canvas in and around LA, but the tunnel behaves as a reminder that talented visual expressionists surrounds us. I wonder how long those images have remained untouched? I wonder who the artist is? I wonder if anyone’s ever said, “thank you?” – Thank you.
The lake dominates the south side of the park where birds bathe and children find joy in feeding them by hand. I imagine this ritual began a century ago. The rim of the lake provides a path for walking which was in full use. Women talking in Spanish about their husbands walking briskly; runners pacing themselves to their own musical rhythms around a lake serving far fewer functions than it did in its heyday. It’s no longer a source of drinking water for the city but it’s still the center of attention.
To the north you’ll find room to stretch. Families enjoying picnics were sprinkled all around. A playground sits on the shoulder of a fresh soccer field in full use. A league of adolescent kids all in uniform and all excited to run, jump and hear their names called by their audience of support. The soccer field is built like a bowl allowing a great view anywhere you choose to settle and watch. The outdoor amphitheater was in a state of restoration with LA City workers plotting to return the stage to its glory days. Summer concerts are the vision of the future. Having traveled to Paris a few years ago, I experienced the excitement of the main and most famous thoroughfare. As I stood in the middle of Wilshire blvd taking photos, I began to understand why this area was once referred to as the Champs-Élysées of Los Angeles. Many years ago, a vacation near the park was the symbol of privilege. The prestige is long gone but the history of this park remains and continues to write itself.