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The lotus, the lake and the people are back at Echo Park Lake (Photos)

No one expected the floating lotus plants to bloom Saturday on the grand re-opening of Echo Park Lake, but their pink and white petals surprised the crowd.

The lotus flowers weren’t due for another six months.

“We’ve been really missing watching the artists and photographers taking pictures and painting the lotus every year,” said Echo Park resident Candice Cain.

Echo Park Lake reopened Saturday after a two year habitat restoration that cost $45 million. It which included draining the lake, planting 376 new lotus plants, primping walking paths with native plants and restoring the fountains, boat house and the Lady of the Lake statue

Echo Park Lake was first dug in the 1860s as a drinking water reservoir. It eventually turned into a detention basin for storm water drainage.

Bacteria, trash and urban runoff polluted Echo Park Lake. Fish died, the lotus died. Grime and crime grew, recalled Alex Mesa, who lives across the street from the park.  

“It was dirty. It wasn’t well kept. It smelled,” Mesa said. “It was what it was. It’s our park and we need to take care of it.” 

In 2004, voters passed Proposition O to pay for the renovations, which were projected at $64. 7 million. Conservationists relocated waterfowl, turtles and fish to other city parks to prepare for the renovation. Even the park’s beloved and famous brown goose “Maria” (or “Mario”) was moved to the L.A. Zoo.

Construction began in 2011.

Neighbors, especially those who live closest to the park, said the construction noise and parking pained them. For them, the renovation felt much longer than two years, but said the wait was well worth it.

“For two years you were in waiting to see what would happen,” said Jon Kirk Mukri, the general manager for L.A.'s recreation and parks department. “And when you look at it, you’re not going to see a lot, because what was done was under the water.”

Mukri said most of the rehabilitation was focused on the lake. New clay lining was added to keep the water from seeping out. Underground storm water diversion pipes and screening devices were installed to keep trash from flowing into the lake.

But to the hundreds of people who poured into the park through a small fence opening Saturday after the ribbon-cutting, it was a whole new site for them.

“It looks way more modern and exciting,” said young Echo Park resident Hannah Lee Cain.

People bent over to take close-up pictures of the blooming lotus on the water. Kids passed a soccer park in the open grass. Families laid out blankets in front of the fountains shooting water straight up toward the high-rise palm trees.

Many were glad to see the lotus, a long-time loved characteristic of Echo Park Lake return and more than there ever were before.

“It’s a re-makeover,” said Echo Park native Ivan Guzman “Echo Park really got hooked up.”