New Basketball Court, Other Upgrades Made to Skid Row Parks

A pair of Skid Row parks is in the process of receiving a much-needed facelift thanks to efforts by the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation and the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation.

Both Gladys Park and San Julian Park are in the process of a slate of renovations including upgraded permanent bathrooms, improvements to the landscaping, and the inclusion of exercise equipment, new benches, solar-powered charging stations and new water fountains. Gladys Park also received an upgraded basketball court, part of a $10 million citywide effort by the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation to refurbish basketball courts at all of the city’s 350 parks.

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The majority of the improvements at Gladys Park have already been completed with the basketball court open; with San Julian, minor work has started, and the full facelift is expected to come in the near future.

Department of Parks and Recreation Executive Director Belinda Jackson, who oversees both San Julian and Gladys Park said that the upgrades to the basketball courts were separate from the other additions that were already in the pipeline. Department of Parks and Recreation General Manager Mike Shull assigned Jackson to oversee the improvements and establish partnerships with nonprofits to provide free programming at the parks.

“We wanted to do some renovations at both of these parks to bring some pride back into these areas,” Jackson said. “With the magnitude of people who do come to the park, we wanted to at least clean the parks up.”

The improvements are the result of discussions that began in earnest in 2016, when official community meetings were held in the neighborhood to crowd source what the community wanted for the parks.

Gladys Park and San Julian Park are the only two parks in Skid Row and have historically served as a meeting place for members of the Skid Row community. Numerous Skid Row programming are held at the parks, including the Festival for All Skid Row Artists, the Skid Row Job Fair and the Skid Row Carnival of Love.

“General” Jeff Page, a local Skid Row activist who was involved in those early talks and said that chief amongst the community’s wants for the park was permanent bathrooms and positive public programs for the residents.

“These parks are everything,” Page said. “As a Skid Row activist, you realize that both parks are vital. If anything positive is going to happened in Skid Row, it’s going to start with these parks.”

Construction at Gladys Park began in 2018 and wrapped up in May. Jackson said that the department has already spent upwards of $200,000 on the project.

In addition to the physical improvements, Jackson said that the department was able to partner with local nonprofits to provide events like a summer movies in the park and assign additional maintenance crews to the locations to monitor the new bathrooms.

“There were no facilities and the parks were in dire need of maintenance especially,” Jackson said. “We have made some major headways and improvements to the maintenance by just having a dedicated staff.”

Play Ball

While the facilities improvements were highly needed, the upgrades to the basketball court at Gladys Park are also likely to receive plenty of attention thanks to the vibrant Skid Row 3-on-3 Streetball league that calls the park its home.

The league was founded by Manuel “OG Man” Compito in 2006 as a way to teach teambuilding skills and provide an outlet for the Skid Row community.

The renovations include resurfacing the courts and installing glass backboards, as well as the addition of new rims, nets and scoreboards. The Clippers Foundation also added benches for the players, who previously would have to sit at the same bench as the audience in between play.

Talks to renovate the basketball courts began in February of last year, when Mayor Eric Garcetti began looking for partners to help upgrade the city’s roster of aging basketball courts.

According to Carolyn Ramsay, executive director of the L.A. Parks Foundation, the city first started reaching out to multiple partners for the undertaking. Then Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and his wife Connie Ballmer, stepped in and expressed interest in donating funds to renovate all of the city’s indoor and outdoor basketball courts.

In April 2018 the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation announced a $10 million donation to the Los Angeles Parks Foundation to help complete the endeavor.

Ramsay said that having one donor tied to the project allowed the city to begin work on the project at a quicker pace, by skirting the back-and-forth with multiple entities that would often occur with other donor funded projects.

“To have one donor come through with a donation that covers all of one sport citywide is unusual and really demonstrates the Ballmer’s commitment to sports in Los Angeles,” Ramsay said.”

Ramsay said that as of the last week, 60% of the improvements have either been installed, or scheduled for renovations.

Jackson said that the team was able to get Gladys Park near the top of the priority list because of the other upgrades planned by the city. By completing all of the upgrades around the same time, the city was able to avoid a slate of park closures that would have impacted the skid row community.

“I think because we were working on this, we were like, let’s just make it happen,” Jackson said. “With the basketball renovations, it closed half of the park, we didn’t want to have to keep doing that so it made sense.”

Jackson said that they hope to have a ceremony for the parks by the end of June or in July, but that there is still plenty of work to be done, including finding additional funding to bring more services and upgrades to the park, and the completion of work at San Julian Park.

sean@downtownnews.com