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State of the Arts District: A new downtown Los Angeles park opens

Downtown Los Angeles is in the midst of a mini-boom in parks (sorry, not parking). On Saturday, the first city park in the Arts District will open. Located at the corner of 5th and Hewitt streets on what was formerly a vacant lot, the park includes tables and benches, umbrellas, a playground and a mural wall.

It's not large — maybe half an acre — but it's part of a push to make downtown more appealing to residents, especially families.

"The demographics of the downtown population is we have a younger population, but once those young couples start having families, they move out because we don't have those amenities," Councilman Jose Huizar tells KPCC.

The L.A. State Historical Park received a major revamp. Another park will go up at 1st and Broadway, and officials want to overhaul Pershing Square.

Ten years ago, downtown L.A. — an area bounded by the 10 Freeway to the south, the 5 to the north, the 110 to the west and the L.A. River to the east — had about 10,000 residents. Huizar estimates that today it has 65,000.

"Downtown L.A. as a whole is becoming more residential. [People] need those public amenities that any other neighborhood would have: libraries, parks, walking areas. So we're trying to create more public and open space," Huizar says.

He helped secure funding for the park after the demise of the Community Redevelopment Agency, which had considered putting a park there since 2011. Quimby fees, which are charged to some new new residential developments, were used to help fund the park.

A final design for the park was chosen in January 2014, but the project hit another snafu. A routine inspection found the soil was contaminated with traces of lead, copper and other potentially harmful metals.

The site also proved to be a repository for artifacts, some dating back to the late 1800s: roller skates, marbles, women's stockings and, in a piquant detail, glass bottles of gonorrhea medicine.

Detoxing the land and excavating the artifacts pushed back the park's opening, but didn't kill its progress.

"We've attempted to keep the character of the neighborhood, the industrial feel, the warehouse feel," Huizar says. "So you feel the history. You feel what this neighborhood was probably once like when it was a booming industrial area."

In the 80s and 90s, the neighborhood was a haven of affordability for artists. Now, increasing gentrification and rents have made it too expensive for many of them to stay there.

Saturday's festivities, which kick off at 1 p.m., will include mural art, music from Mystery Skulls DJ crew, booths from local restaurants and cafes, plus activities for kids.