Pershing Square is a public park in downtown Los Angeles, California, covering the block bounded by 5th Street to the north, 6th Street to the south, Hill Street to the east, and Olive Street to the west.It lies on top of a large underground parking garage.
Like MacArthur Park, it has gone through a period of neglect and was once considered a blight to the city. In 1992, the park underwent a $14.5-million redesign and renovation. It re-opened 1994 with a 10-story purple bell tower and fountains, public art, a concert stage, a seasonal ice rink and small plazas with seating. Unlike most parks, Pershing Square is mostly “hardscaped” rather than landscaped. That is most of the park is concrete with trees in large planters scattered around.
Despite the renovation efforts, Pershing Square has had a difficult time shaking off its reputation as an undesirable park. At this point I would have to say that is due more to the tendency of people to hang on the the negative than any failure on the part of the city or the parks department.
In 2016 the park served as the “canvas” for a large public art installation called Liquid Shard that floated in the air space above the park and drew thousands of people to it to see it. It is frequently used for major public events and rallies. In the summer months it hosts an outdoor concert series and from mid-November to mid-January the park becomes a winter wonderland with a large outdoor public ice skating rink.
The Many Names of Pershing Square
Pershing Square has gone through as many names as it has changes. It was originally dedicated as a public square called La Plaza Abaja, or “The Lower Plaza.” It came to be informally known as St. Vincent’s Park. Then in 1870, it was officially named Los Angeles Park. In 1886 it was renamed 6th Street Park. In the early 1890s it was renamed Central Park. During this period a bandstand pavilion was added. The plantings became sub-tropically lush, and the park became a shady oasis in the city.
In November 1918, a week after Armistice Day ended World War I, the park was renamed Pershing Square, in honor of Gen. John J. Pershing. After WWII, Downtown Los Angeles faded in importance relative to the suburbs and the park began to decline.
The entire park was demolished and excavated in 1952 to build a three-level underground parking garage. Atop the garage, concrete was covered by a thin layer of soil with a broad expanse of lawn. Entry and exit ramps cut the square off from the sidewalks around it. The park continued to be neglected and its problems were noted during the 1960 Democratic National Convention when future president John F. Kennedy was headquartered at the Biltmore Hotel facing the park. By the 1984 Summer Olympics the park had become a serious eyesore, leading the city to spend $1 million for a temporary renovation.
Flash forward to now and the park has returned to its original use… as a public square. The renovations done in the 90s that “hardscaped” the grounds also seemed to cement into place that the park would now be a square rather than a park. It seems better suited for public events such as political rallies, concerts and ice skating rinks than as a place to go and relax in the grass (there really isn’t any). If you are in the area it is worth walking through it to see the art work, but I wouldn’t put it on your your list of places you must see while visiting Los Angeles.