Downtown Gets a Springtime Surprise, as Cornfield Site Blooms
by Richard Guzm�n
It took about two years for this piece of art to bloom. Now that it has, the blanket of green, purple, pink and gold that dances with the breeze will only live for a few more weeks.
But that’s just long enough to leave an impression on those who walk through the unexpected piece of natural art in Downtown Los Angeles.
“It’s really beautiful, and you don’t really expect to see this here. It almost feels like you’re in a painting,” said 32-year-old Ernesto Mendoza as he and his girlfriend, Ana Maria Torres, strolled through the field of wildflowers at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. The 32-acre plot, which a few years ago was a dead brown patch of earth, is in a largely industrial area at the northern end of Chinatown.
Thanks to this year’s wet winter, more than a dozen types of California wildflowers have sprouted over 19 acres of the long, narrow park, which sits between the Metro Gold Line tracks and North Spring Street. The Downtown skyline, and the community’s hundreds of thousands of workers, are a few minutes south of the unlikely floral display.
Although these flowers grow naturally in California, this particular patch is the creation of members of Farmlab, an artistic think tank that stages cultural performances and events using various forms of agriculture as art. Headquartered across the street from the park, the group founded by artist Lauren Bon is best known for the “Not a Cornfield” project, which in 2005 transformed the area where the park is now into a cornfield for one agricultural cycle.
Bon said the wildflowers, which were planted in the spring of 2006, are a continuation of that project. They are intended, she said, to show people how easy and inexpensive it can be to revitalize otherwise bland and barren areas with natural works of art.
“At the end of the Not a Cornfield project, our agreement with the state park was to leave the site better than how we found it,” she said. “When we found it, it was a brown field with not much growing on it. It did have some seasonal flowers growing so we wanted to put some of those seasonal flowers back…. They’re actually the last action of the Not a Cornfield project.”
After the corn at the $2 million “Not a Cornfield” project was harvested, Bon and her team left lighting and irrigation at the site, providing the opportunity for the State Department of Parks and Recreation to open the park to the public.
The original idea of the project was to reengage the industrial part of L.A. with nature, Bon said. “I hope people all over L.A. can see this, and they can understand that all those brown fields in their backyards can become wildflower fields.”
A team of about five Farmlab artists spent one day and a few hundred dollars bringing in truckloads of soil and planting the seeds. The flowers were supposed to bloom after the rains came in late 2006, but the dry weather prevented that from happening. However, this year was a different story.
“I work here and I’m still surprised by the beauty of it,” said Sean Woods, superintendent for the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation, which operates and maintains the park. “One of the things we’re trying to provide with this park is a place for people from the surrounding urban landscape to come on their lunch break and reflect, experience nature and contemplate the role of nature in the city. I come out here in the morning and find that it really gives me peace of mind to start the day.”
Depending on the rainfall, the wildflowers may return next year, but future plans for the park call for a more interactive use of the space.
The State Parks Department is raising funds for long-term development of the entire park. A team led by San Francisco-based Hargreaves and Associates won a public competition and is now designing a permanent 32-acre park (currently just 12 acres are used). Plans for the project include building a place to hold cultural events, an open meadow for recreation and creating kiosks highlighting the agricultural and cultural history of the city, as well as establishing nine acres of natural habitats and a nature preserve.
In the meantime, people like Mendoza and Torres are discovering a small patch of vivid scenery in the middle of an urban landscape. As they walked through the park, Mendoza picked a small sunflower and placed it in Torres’ hair.
“I’m not sure I’m allowed to do that, but it looks good on you, and they’re not going to be here forever,” he told her.
Contact Richard Guzm�n at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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