HOLLYWOOD BLVD—Park regulars and advocates are voicing alarm over what they say are steadily deteriorating conditions at Barnsdall Art Park.
A surge in trash, homeless encampments, graffiti and vandalism have been made worse, they say, by the city’s lack of maintenance and lax security. The city’s park stewards, however, insist they’re doing the best they can to care for the grounds with limited resources.
“I’ve been coming to this park all the time, because I only live three or four blocks away. I’ve seen this place go downhill,” said Thai Town resident Carl Percival who has been coming to Barnsdall since the 1980s. Percival said conditions have steadily worsened over the last few years.
“My main concern is that when I come up here, we’ve got a whole crowd of people sleeping and damaging the back there,” referring to areas where homeless congregate.
Los Feliz resident Marlan Warren has organized a Facebook page called “Clean Up Barnsdall Art Park Trash and Spirit,” and she has persistently lobbied the park’s manager to devote more resources to the grounds in recent months. In June, Warren began uploading photos of park problem spots.
“There was a ton of graffiti, it was just awful,” she said. “This place was just a complete wreck. The Schindler house had trash all over and it had been vandalized.”
Warren’s photos caught the attention of Tomas O’Grady, executive director of Enrich L.A. and newly named candidate in next year’s Los Angeles City Council District 4 race. O’Grady helped lead an anti-privatization campaign at Barnsdall several years ago in response to the city’s proposal to partner with a private organization to run it.
“It should be this amazing campus with activity and joy and greenery, and it’s falling apart,” O’Grady said.
Warren, O’Grady and other like-minded allies aren’t the only ones upset by mounting problems at the park, which is crowned by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, recently nominated for UNESCO World Heritage site status.
The Barnsdall Art Park Foundation, a nonprofit that hosts cultural events and park fundraisers, pointed out the homeless issue in a letter dated May 2nd to Los Angeles City Council District 13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and other city leaders.
“I am writing to express our deep concern regarding the growing number of homeless encampments that have taken root at Barnsdall Park during the past few months,” Foundation President Marshall Lewy wrote.
The letter expressed sympathy for the homeless but urged the city to engage in “a near-term effort to remove and prevent the further proliferation of encampments.”
In response, O’Farrell’s office convened a meeting of various city agencies and park stakeholders in June, according to Jeanne Min, O’Farrell’s chief of staff.
“We are actively monitoring the situation and partnering with other agencies such as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to see if we can assist the homeless,” Min said.
According to Foundation President Lewy said there’s been a growing need for more security and maintenance over the past year. While some point to the proximity of medical services as a magnet for the growing homeless population at the site, Lewy also suggested the ongoing gentrification of downtown and Hollywood could be adding to the homeless presence in the park.
The number of city agencies overseeing Barnsdall adds complexity. The Dept. of Cultural Affairs manages the park with help from the Dept. of Recreation and Parks (grounds), Los Angeles Police Dept. (security services) and Dept. of General Services (buildings).
Several observers suggested that post-recession staffing reductions in city departments have made problems at the park worse.
“I think the effect of the cuts that started with the recession are really coming home to roost,” Lewy said.
Currently, there’s one full-time security guard.
“They say there’s 24-hour security. I don’t see it,” said Thai Town’s Percival, who said the unarmed guards are ineffectual when it comes to patrolling and enforcing park rules.
O’Grady of Enrich L.A. echoed those concerns.
“Security is clearly a problem at the park,” he said, a problem compounded by the park’s unsecured borders. “People are coming in at all hours of the park. No one is telling them they’re breaking the law.”
O’Grady suggested launching a fundraiser to raise money to install secure fencing around the park’s perimeter allowing maintenance crews to securely close the park after it closes at 10 p.m.
The homeless have used Barnsdall Park as a resting place for decades. A Los Angeles Times article from 1987 mentions their presence.
An April 19th morning homeless count done by the East Hollywood Los Feliz Homeless Coalition “found a total of 10 individuals: five inside the entrance at the lower parking lot on Hollywood Boulevard, and another three in the upper area,” according to the Foundation’s letter to the city, with additional camps in the back.
On July 19th, about a dozen volunteers pitched in to bag trash and groom the grounds in a service day organized by the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council. By the end of the morning, a pile of trash bags had been stuffed and a half-dozen broken sprinkler heads had been rounded up.
O’Grady was among the crew.
“All of the olive trees are clearly diseased,” he said. “It’s clearly uncared for. There’s nobody minding the store.”
Los Angeles Dept. of Cultural Park Manager Leslie Thomas acknowledged “an increase in tagging, vandalism and other activities in recent months” as well as more homeless and transients. But he also suggested that more staffing help isn’t likely anytime soon.
“In conversation with the three other city of Los Angeles departments responsible for managing and operating Barnsdall Park, [we’ve] been told that without additional [human and financial] resources, any changes to the current levels of park maintenance are not imminent,” he wrote in an email.
O’Grady said he isn’t going to wait for the city’s gears to spring into action.
“We’re going to organize a huge cleanup with 100 volunteers,” he said, citing his newest plans for a one-day volunteer blitz to remove graffiti, tend to trees, and remove trash within a couple of months.
The Northland Village Church in Atwater Village has offered to help “give the park a good old’ scrubbing,” O’Grady said “The only thing [the city has] to do is get out of the way.”
Lewy of the Foundation is still optimistic the city will step up with more park resources and improve conditions. The foundation has offered to make a contribution toward maintenance.
“I think it’s alarming for people who have been coming for a long time,” Lewy said. “We don’t want to see it tip over into a maintenance issue that we can’t recover from. There’s too much good momentum happening.”