Like the much larger Central Park or Golden Gate Park, the 160-acre Exposition Park in South Los Angeles is a Beaux Arts-style park, home to iconic cultural institutions. The park originated as a private agricultural fairground, passed into public ownership in 1885, and was officially dedicated on the day after Mulholland brought Owens Valley water to L.A. in 1913. The Rose Garden – the most recognizable and heavily used space in the park – is surrounded by the “City Beautiful” quad of USC, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center and the former National Guard Armory (now part of a science charter school). With the completion of the massive 101,574-seat Memorial Coliseum in 1923 the Park also became home to L.A.’s major sports facilities, and hosted two Olympics. South of the Coliseum is the ‘32 Olympic Aquatic Center and the late-modern Memorial Sports Arena, as well as a patchwork of parking lots and soccer fields.By the early ‘90s, Exposition Park was divided north-south between culture and sports, and the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership was hired to bring the disparate elements of the park into order. ZGF’s first project was the restoration and reconfiguration of the historic Ahmanson Building on the Rose Garden into the 60,000 square foot California Science Center. The design creatively attempts to unite the Park into a singular entity – a public atrium through the new museum links the Rose Garden to a semi-enclosed rotunda and plaza facing a new IMAX theater and the Coliseum.Additional elements of the ZGF master plan include the restoration of the Aquatic Center for community use, a consistent signage program, and an under-ground parking structure. The most transformative aspect of the master plan, however, has been the phased implementation of a coherent landscape strategy. Pathways within the park are being realigned and replanted according to the new circulation pattern; new soccer fields have been constructed; and important greens have been restored. Each of the park’s four corners is planned as a small neighborhood playground – the northwest corner is complete and plans have been prepared for the southwest playground. On the park’s perimeter a promenade in the form of a triple alleé of trees is being constructed, in addition to streetscape improvements.
Exposition Park was once an allegory of Los Angeles – an open space resource dimished by a disordered landscape of parking lots and randomly placed buildings. Now, just as L.A. is changing course, Exposition Park is headed in a new direction – towards a cultivated garden that balances monumental and civic with the local and personal.