Pershing Square

Historic Background

The text below is excerpted from a 1993 brochure by the Los Angeles Conservancy entitled "Pershing Square Landmarks: A walking tour sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy." 1986, revised 1993. The original text was written by Steve Fader, and the publication of the brochure was made possible by a grant from the Community Redevelopment Agency. Do not reproduce information from this site without acknowledgement of the authors of the original document, or of the authors of this site.
For years the square was a dusty vacant parcel known as block number 15 in Ord's Survey of Los Angeles. However, in 1866, an ordinance was signed by Mayor Aguillar declaring the block "...a public square for the use and benefit of the citizens of the common." The square was designed as a formal Spanish plaza and became known as La Plaza Abaja.

By 1887 the area around the square was becoming residential, and the new residents referred to the square as Los Angeles Park. Cypress and citrus trees were planted and a white picket fence was constructed to discourage stray livestock from entering the park.

In the early 1890's, the park was renamed Central Park. It was redesigned by Fred Eaton, then a City Engineer and later Mayor. A serpentine promenade, wooden benches, new plantings, sidewalks, and a bandstand were provided.

In 1911 the park was again redesigned, this time by the noted architect John Parkinson. The design was formal and symmetrical, with European antecedents. There were classic walkways within the square, a beautiful central fountain, lush plantings, and ornamental corner balustrades. The perimeter walkways around the park, which has been an important component of the Central Park in the early 1900's were maintained by Parkinson.

In 1918, "in a fit of Armistice Day fever," Central Park's name was changed to Pershing Square, and a statue of a dough boy was added to the corner of the park.

Most of the buildings on or near the square were built in the 1920's and early 1930'sÉ.During this period the Square was widely known for its colorful orators, military posts, and newsstands. Even the public library set up shop here.

Tropical plantings were added to the park in 1928 by Frank Shearer, the Park Superintendent.

As early as 1928, there were suggestions to put a parking facility under Pershing Square. The intended purpose was to alleviate congestion downtown, and later, to revive the ailing Broadway Theater District.

In 1950-51, after two decades of pressure, the City permitted construction of an 1800-car garage under Pershing Square. The park became a roof of grass. Automobile ramps on each side cut off the park from the surrounding city, making the square into an island, difficult to approach.

[In 1994] world-renown architect Ricardo Legoretta and equally celebrated landscape architect Laurie Olin have designed the square to be a vibrant gathering place and a signature public area for downtown Los Angeles.

The redesign was financed in part through the Pershing Square Property Owners Association together with a matching grant of funds from the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.

The following are landmark buildings around Pershing Square:

Compiled by Ruth Wallach, USC libraries. 10/1999.

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