‘The prettiest park in Los Angeles’ and why a freeway runs through it

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'The prettiest park in Los Angeles' and why a freeway runs through it
Hollenbeck Park in 2015 — with the 5 Freeway running through its western flank
'The prettiest park in Los Angeles' and why a freeway runs through it
Hollenbeck Park in 2015 — with the 5 Freeway running through its western flank

Freeways are brutal structures. And they have been dropped into many communities — especially poor ones — in often indiscriminate ways. Exits from the 101 spill out onto quiet residential streets in Silver Lake. The monumental stacks of the 105 and the 110 lord over single-family homes in South L.A.

And all over town you find homes and businesses tucked into the noisy, inhospitable curves of a freeway access ramp. There is Offramp Gallery, a contemporary art space in Pasadena, which lies within the roar of the 210, and the Psychic Center of Los Angeles, sandwiched between a towering freeway wall and an onramp on the southbound 5. (Freeway noise aside, they do excellent readings.)

But the craziest freeway placement I’ve seen in Los Angeles to date is in Boyle Heights. In this historic Los Angeles community, full of Craftsman bungalows and Victorian homes, city planners saw fit to run a stretch of the 5 Freeway right through Hollenbeck Park in 1960 (despite a petition against it bearing an estimated 15,000 signatures and the dissent of then Councilman Edward Roybal). The result is a dissonant juxtaposition of urban planning elements: a bucolic city park, with fountains and quacking ducks, paired with the grinding gears of stop-and-go traffic on the 5, which runs right overhead. []

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