In its 1910 incarnation, Pershing Square resembled an eastern urban park not only in its design, but also in its horticulture. For nearly two decades, its lawns and walkways were mainly shaded by a variety of eastern trees such as spruces, maples, oaks, beeches and elms. However, as a reflection of changing tastes in Southern California landscape design, the Los Angeles Park Commission embarked on a major overhaul of the park’s planting scheme in 1928, gradually replacing its deciduous trees with tropical palms and shrubs. The 1939 photograph shows the central plaza shrouded by a thick brush of banana plants (compare with this earlier photo).
Ultimately, the tropical plants proved to be a considerable burden for the maintenance of the perennially troubled square. Before long, the thick, unkempt foliage provided easy refuge not only for the park’s notorious petty criminals. In 1948, a sensational article in the Los Angeles Times, “Horror stalks Pershing Square in nightly invasions of rats,” described the voracious hordes of rodents and pests that infested the deserted park after dark. It seems of little surprise then, that when Pershing Square was excavated and rebuilt in the early 1950s, it reemerged with substantially less vegetation.
Somewhat ironically, one of the most common criticisms of today’s park is for insufficient vegetation and shade. The trend towards sparser planting continued into its most recent overhaul, led by Ricardo Legorreta and Laurie Olin. The current incarnation of Pershing Square is mostly paved, with only a small, scattered lawn in the northeast plaza, as pictured above.
1. Dredge, Bill. “Horror stalks Pershing Square in nightly invasions of rats.” Los Angeles Times. 12 Oct. 1948. p. 2.
2. “Oh, weep no more my laddie!” Los Angeles Times. 28 Aug. 1928. A1.
Original photo: Dick Whittington Studio. “A fountain in Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles with a sign prohibiting public speaking, debating, and blocking walks – whit-m2711.” Getty — Faces of LA. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/assetserver/controller/view/DW-B7-7-2-ISLA.