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Looking at Pershing Square's History

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, October 30, 2008, at 07:18PM
Pershing Square, 1925 California Historical Society: TICOR/Pierce [digarc.usc.edu]

Pershing Square as it looked in 1925, via a shot found in the USC Digital Archives.

The Times' Cara Mia DiMassa takes a look at the history and current condition of Pershing Square in a story for tomorrow's paper.

When looked at from above, Pershing Square resembles a kind of village, with a 125-foot, bright purple bell tower at its center and "streets" emanating from there.

But it's at ground level that the park's problems become clear. Low walls surrounding the park separate it from the busy downtown streets -- and the division isolates rather than insulates. Inside the walls, areas of the park are divided by steps, grades and other low barriers. And under a noonday sun, the glare off an expansive stretch of hardscape makes it taxing to linger anywhere -- even next to a shallow, circular pool.

It's a good overview of the park's story. Most Downtown residents will be familiar with the evolution (or de-evolution, if you wish) the story presents, but the photo gallery accompanying the piece shouldn't be missed.

The gallery's 5th photo shows the park lit up for Christmas in 1956. It's a striking image, and made even more so when one notes that the square had already been torn up for the creation of its underground parking garage. Even after it sat atop a roof instead of on solid ground, Pershing Square still offered plenty of green -- the root of what Downtowners keep asking for today.

Mentioned are the recently approved Palm Court improvements and the possible dog park, as well as the potential for a major overhaul if the neighboring Park Fifth project is ever able to break ground.

The story opens and closes with Arthur Ballard, a man who has been visiting Pershing Square for 60 years. He likes what he sees Downtown today.

Long ago, "downtown was a place to come to," Ballard said. Then, for a long time, it wasn't. Now, he said, "there are restaurants around, and shops, and people walking dogs. It's good . . . the people living here want to see changes."

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