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Civic Center Plans Through the Years

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, February 09, 2011, at 05:02PM
Civic Center Plans Los Angeles Times

Landscape architect Charles Mulford Robinson was first to propose clustering city and county buildings together in 1907



"The Southland is getting a new jewel to adorn a cluster of beauty that is already world-reknowned," wrote the L.A. Times on February 3, 1957.

"What the Acropolis was to Ancient Greece during her Golden Age, the new Civic Center now being hewn from the shabby slopes of Bunker Hill will be too Los Angeles."

Those are some pretty strong words, and perhaps not the first someone who lives or works Downtown goes to when they think of the cluster of government structures that stretches up Bunker Hill between 1st Street and the 101.

At the time, plans for Los Angeles' "Civic Center" were already 50 years old.

Landscape architect Charles Mulford Robinson was first to propose clustering city and county buildings together in 1907. At the time, Los Angeles' City Hall was on Broadway, between 2nd and 3rd, but other government structures had already started to pop up in the civic center footprint.

Further plans came in 1919, 1921, 1922 and 1924.

And then, in December of 1925, architect William Lee Woollett submitted his first civic center drawings to the city and county. Woollett, who had just completed Sid Grauman's Metropolitan Theatre at 6th and Hill, proposed using the slope of Bunker Hill to create a "magnificent acropolis and terraces in the style of old Athens and Rome."

Woollett's plan went unadopted, but his dreams were unchecked. In 1940, the architect submitted a new, detailed plan that included designs for two dozen civic structures—both those for whom Woollett could identify a purpose and those that he left "unassigned."

The modern Civic Center would take its root a decade later.

In 1954, County Arts Institute director Millard Sheets produced a drawing showing a 400-foot-wide park running from the under-construction County Courthouse at 1st and Grand to City Hall at 1st and Spring.

Five pools allowed water to run down the sloped park space, with pumps intended to return it back to the top.

County Manager Arthur J. Will told the L.A. Times that the park "can become the most magnificent park strip of its kind in the country."

Sheets must have enjoyed the work: later in the year he offered the Riverside City Council that he would draw a plan for their new civic center for free.

County Supervisors, meanwhile, finally approved the "Civic Center Esplanade" project in September of 1956, and the framework of the park plan that most Downtowners knew—though few loved— until work started on the new Civic Center park this summer.

That new design—which preserves the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain—is supposed to be completed in 2012.

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