DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - When it came to designing the new playground at Grand Park, architect Tony Paradowski’s directive was clear: nothing off the shelf. 


The instructions came from County Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose First District includes Grand Park and whose office found half the money for the $1 million project on the eastern edge of the park, across from City Hall’s Spring Street entrance. Molina envisioned a green space, with towering sycamore canopies and possibly a tree house. 

“I wanted an opportunity for urban kids to climb trees, to get a little higher view than they’re used to,” she said last week, noting that the creatively designed tree house is the next best thing to actual foliage. 

The 3,700-square-foot playground, with just about everything Molina wanted, and some other elements, will have a grand opening ceremony on Saturday,Nov. 22, at 2 p.m. It marks one of the last official acts for Molina, who will be termed out at the end of November after 23 years as a supervisor.

Grand Park Executive Director Lucas Rivera called the playground “small, but impactful,” and said the goal of the design was to create the feel of more nature in the heart of the city. The 12-acre park, which opened in 2012, boasts a variety of indigenous plants, as well as a fountain that kids frequently splash through. Eventually, leaves from five sycamore trees (two were already in the playground area and three others were brought in), will drape shade across the new recreation zone.

Molina found $500,000 for the project from funds created by Proposition A, a county measure passed by voters for the creation of park space.The remainder came from a $500,000 grant from the nonprofit First 5 LA. Construction on the playground began in July.

The highlight of the playground is a 20-foot-tall structure with two slides. Children climb up three levels to reach a 12-foot landing and the higher slide (the lower slide is accessible off the first level). Rope is cabled across the openings, which kids can climb on or use to pull themselves up.

The fenced-in playground features brightly colored decals atop metal leaves that say “Let’s Play” in 25 languages (the same ones that greet visitors on the park’s entry signs, Rivera said). The playground is designed for kids up to age 12,and shares the same hours as the park, 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m. every day. 

Rubberized mulch has been placed around the base of the trees, which shade several benches. There are also seven berms ranging from one to four feet, some with rock climbing handles and one with a rope. They’re meant to resemble an undulating landscape, said Paradowski, and the idea is for “open play” and to let the kids’ imaginations run wild. 

Sticking with the climbing and nature theme, Paradowski, a senior associate at architecture firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios, which also designed Grand Park, opted to attach a rope to one of the smaller berms. Toddlers can refine their motor skills while pulling themselves up the two-foot “mountain,” he said. 

“It was the desire of everyone involved for this to be a unique playground,” he said. “It’s easy to go and buy [playground equipment], but this is entirely original.”

Take the 10-foot longtunnel, for example. Rather than purchase something from a catalog, Paradowskiacquired an old, 20-foot-long water pipe from a warehouse yard. It was sun-faded and dirty, but the architect saw potential. The three-foot-high pipe was cleaned, cut and polished, and the rough edges were smoothed out. A soft play surface (the same surface material as is used throughout the playground) was installed inside and over the top the pipe. Now it’s a safe place for kids to run through or hide, Paradowski said.

On a recent afternoon, Rivera, dressed in a crisp suit, and Paradowski, wearing a button-down shirt, sweater and jeans, decided to break in the high slide. While the equipment is meant for children, the two thought they should know what the kids will be experiencing. 

Taking turns, Paradowski and Rivera climbed inside the tower, positioned themselves at the mouth of the plastic cylinder and pushed off, gravity propelling them through the tube. Each landed with a thump of their feet onto the padding and an urge to do it one more time.

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