Ishihara Park

After seven years of planning, meetings, debate and construction, the long-awaited Ishihara Park will open to the public on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The new park occupies about 2.35 acres between Dorchester Ave. and Stewart St. The long, narrow strip of land (13,320 feet long and varying between 110 feet and 60 feet wide) differs from traditional park layouts but is not unheard of locally with both Palisades Park and Barnard Way Linear Park offering similar restrictions. For Ishihara Park officials looked to places like Paris, Madrid, Toronto, and San Francisco for inspiration.

The project began in 2010 when the Council, Santa Monica College and the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority entered into a land purchase/swap agreement that created a strip of land adjacent to what would become the Expo maintenance yard.

The park’s official purpose is to shield the nearby homes from the activities at the Expo facility and while many residents did list noise abatement as a primary concern, feedback from several community meetings pointed to a variety of desired uses. Workshop participants told planners they wanted park uses that fostered community, ecology, play and sport. A majority said they’d walk to the facility and 59 percent said they’d be coming with pets.

The end result is a park divided into “rooms” with different experiences available as visitors walk the length of the facility. Areas include The Grove (with large trees and grass for sitting), a Watershed Garden (with a raised path over a sunken area designed to catch storm water), a Bird Garden (with vegetation to encourage birds and exercise stations for people), The Meadow (a grassy open space suitable for children to play), the Community Pavilions are a paved space suitable for many activities, the Rock Garden (featuring rubberized surfaces and sand for young children to play), a Learning Garden (with new community garden spaces and educational offerings) and the Forest (similar to the Grove at the other end with a focus on mature trees and a native demonstration garden).

Mia Lehrer, from Mia Lehrer and Associates, designed Ishihara Park with the help of several designers at her firm and said she enjoys working with the City of Santa Monica because the city has a record of interesting projects.

“This particular project was appealing because it mediates between an interesting community and the results of public transportation growing in Southern California and especially in Santa Monica,” she said. “The Expo Line is arriving and you end up with this sliver for a park for a community that is going to be impacted by the maintenance yard but the end fact is that the community really embraced a park that would feel and perform like an extension of the community.”

She said the Pico community is tight knit and that her goal was to provide a space that allowed residents of all ages to feel the space was an extension of a common living space. Lehrer said the park’s specific spaces have specific functions but the entire space can be walked as a single experience.

“There are distinct places and yet you could, for example, decide that every day you’re going to go on a walk in the evening and afternoon and say hello to your friends and do a mile by going around it a couple of times,” she said. “You can traverse the park at multiple levels.”

Lehrer said the Forest and Grove spaces are something special because most parks do not have large, mature trees when they first open. The City salvaged several large trees during construction of the Expo Line and stored them until they could be replanted at the park. She said the combined experience of the trees, bird towers, edible gardens and planted spaces is a subtle message about nature and nature in a park space.

“We love working with gardens and plant material that allow for certain specific attractions so we end up with surprises for people coming to the parks,” she said.

Ishihara Park will open to the public on Saturday, Feb. 25 as part of Parks Day. The weekend activities will also include the renaming of Stewart St. Park as Gandara Park, the reopening of Los Amigos Park following a water reclamation project and reopening of the redesigned Reed Park.

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Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...