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Frank Gruber

Turning Parking into a Park


By Frank Gruber

Normally I wouldn't be happy about the City's spending $29 million to build a parking structure (about $33,000 a space!), but when it comes to the new parking deck with the coat of many colors on Fourth Street, I can barely contain my excitement. 03_28_07_Sustainable_Parking_Structure

No, I'm not all atwitter because I expect the City will pay off the mortgage by charging lawyers making their appearances at the Courthouse for the true cost of parking. I don't expect the City will, in as much as under-priced parking is as sacred a right in Santa Monica as the 2nd Amendment is in Idaho.

Sure I'm happy that I will be able to take out-of-town visitors up to the top for the million-dollar view, but I wouldn't rate that at the giddy-with-delight level.

Nor is my extreme happiness caused by the fact that this parking structure will have a restaurant and other ground floor uses that may liven up our sterile 40's and 50's fantasy of a Civic Center.

I can relish the irony that a parking structure is the public building with the most invigorating architecture the City has come up with during its decade-long capital investment boom, but that does not adequately explain my bliss, either. I mean I am enjoying the irony, but then when I come across the glow of those colored panels at night, I get choked up with emotion. It's the next best thing to seeing the roller coaster on the Pier in the distance when you're driving home at night on PCH.

Don't think I've gone gaga over the possibility Santa Monica has built the first parking structure that gets LEED environmental certification. True, I am happy that the parking structure doubles as a solar power plant, but the technologically-focused LEED standards leave me cold. Technology is okay, but it can't hold a candle -- so to speak -- to the environmental benefits of plain old-fashioned good urbanism -- putting people close to their jobs and everything else.

No, the reason I'm bubbling over with enthusiasm is that by building the parking structure, the City has "unpaved the way" for building a park where what now exists is the Civic Auditorium's sea of surface parking.

It's been almost fifteen years since the City adopted the Civic Center plan, and now another of the big pieces of the plan -- the park at the corner of Fourth and Pico -- is falling into place. What with the land cleared and construction in the offing for the apartments -- the "Village" -- on the other side of the Civic Center, it looks like that in a mere two decades nearly 100% of the plan, somewhat modified, will be a reality.

Obviously, it will be time to start a new plan.

Okay, I'm happy, but I am also concerned. I am worried that it will be many years until the park replaces the parking.

For the next couple of years, at least, the City is going to use the new parking structure to replace parking in the downtown area that will be temporarily unavailable as the City replaces the first of the small downtown structures with larger, seismically up-to-date parking decks. While it's probably quixotic to believe people will park at the Civic Center instead of downtown when they want to see a movie or grab dinner, it's not that delay that is causing anxiety.

What worries me is that the City hasn't started the planning process for the park. What if it takes the ten years it took to plan Virginia Avenue Park? I know that the City's relevant staff have been consumed with getting the public beach club at 415 PCH off the boards, but ideally the groundbreaking for the new park in the Civic Center should be the very day about two years from now when the City no longer needs replacement parking for downtown.

Readers of this column know that at least in this bit of cyberspace, planning for the park has already (virtually?) begun. Awhile back I wrote about how the park will give the City the chance to address one of the great historic injustices in our history -- the destruction, to build the Civic Auditorium, of the African-American neighborhood known as the Belmar Triangle. 2_13_06_Dont_Forget_the_History

I suggested that the City name the park for the old neighborhood -- "Belmar Park" has a nice ring to it. The design of the park will also give us the opportunity to at least refer to, if not restore, some of the old urban ecology that was lost in the name of progress. The lost street grid, for instance, can be laid out with landscaping or markers, and interpretive exhibits can recover and commemorate old memories.

Coincidentally, on Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a ceremony in Manhattan Beach to commemorate a similarly unfortunate event in Southern California history. In its early days -- from about 1914 to 1924 -- Manhattan Beach was a community that was open to all colors. African-Americans, who could not buy property in most of the region, could buy lots in Manhattan Beach.

Two black entrepreneurs, Charles and Willa Bruce, built a small beach resort between 26th and 27th Streets that catered to African-Americans who journeyed from far-off L.A.. In not too many years, whites objected, and in 1924 the City used eminent domain to evict the Bruces. The purported reason was to build a park, but the City didn't build the park for more than 30 years.

A few years ago residents of Manhattan Beach -- including Mitch Ward, MB's first African-American City Council Member (and later, Mayor) -- and others who remembered what happened to the Bruces began to call for renaming the park after them. Not without controversy -- the vote was 3-2 -- the City Council voted last summer to do so.

And so Saturday, with joyful solemnity, before about 250 onlookers, Manhattan Beach unveiled a new monument for "Bruce's Beach" park, with a plaque that commemorates what happened 80 years ago. The guest of honor was Bernard Bruce, the grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, who said that he grew up trying to make people believe that his grandparents once owned a beach.

Now he's got the plaque to prove it.

The monument and plaque at Bruce's Beach park


Mr. Bernard Bruce addresses the crowd at the renaming of Bruce's Beach park.


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