The Bowtie Parcel Offers Inspiring Community Space in Los Angeles

 

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The Bowtie Parcel. Photo by Michelle White

GUEST BLOG BY PARK CHAMPIONS CORE LEADER MICHELLE WHITE

 

In central Los Angeles, adjacent to Rio de Los Angeles State Park, lies a bowtie-shaped piece of land that feels simultaneously scruffy and tranquil. Known as the Bowtie Parcel, these 18 acres of post-industrial land reside within the former Taylor Yard, a Southern Pacific Railroad service facility.

The Bowtie, acquired by California State Parks in 2003, reveals the potential of imagination and transformation, akin to New York’s High Line, a rail line transformed into a landscaped urban paseo with Hudson River and skyscraper views. Within such dense metropolises, the ability to consciously redevelop once-blighted space and bring more nature to city dwellers reflects the substantial impact of space upon social relations. As Luis Rincon, Community Engagement Coordinator for California State Parks, says, “The health and vitality of a community depend on its green space, its open space.”

Setting foot into the Bowtie immediately evokes the immense variety and messy juxtaposition of nature and urbanity that represents Los Angeles as a whole, and the history of its river. White noise from not-too-distant freeways meets the rush of the river. Carefully-designed “earthworks” and interpretive signage meet furtively-scrawled graffiti. Bikers whizz by on land, while ducks cruise by on the water. Non-native fountain grass and Mexican fan palms meet and overtake decomposed asphalt, displaying nature’s uncanny ability to reclaim over time. Fragrant native plants white sage and yerba santa meet the vaguely chlorinated smell of the river. Concrete banks meet soft-bottom riverbed.

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The Bowtie Parcel. Photo by Michelle White

With the July 2015 passage of a $1.3-billion plan to revitalize the LA River, now pending approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress, the Bowtie is already unique in its placement along the soft-bottom Glendale Narrows section of the river. In these 11 miles roughly between the 134 and 110 freeways, cement never set over the high water table, so while channelization severely disrupted the riparian habitat, wildlife returned to this area over time. Concrete still slopes down to the water, but Arundo donax (giant cane), an invasive grass from Southeast Asia, grows along the water in lush abundance, softening the scene – and preventing erosion. Herons, cormorants, egrets, carp and green sunfish call the river home. It’s an unexpected oasis.

Due to placement of the railroad adjacent to the LA River in the 1870s and channelization of the river in the 1930s, LA has remained fundamentally disconnected from its river as a recreational amenity for more than a century. However, groups such as Friends of the LA River, Play LA River, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the arts organization Clockshop have all worked to revitalize sections of the river.

In particular, Clockshop installed land art and interpretive signage at the Bowtie, working with LA-based artists and Woodbury Architecture for Civic Engagement (ACE) students, and facilitated events such as moonlit poetry readings, rain barrel workshops and urban campouts.

This past weekend Clockshop in partnership with California State Parks and the National Park Service, hosted an LA River Campout at the Bowtie. The popular reoccurring event offers Angelenos the opportunity to spend the night at the Bowtie, complete with dinner, campfire programming, and a survey of local flora and fauna. The Bowtie provides a central city setting to learn about LA’s abundant nature coexisting with the concrete, and to connect with community. As Rincon sums up, “The space is there, but when you add the people and the energy, it makes it come alive.”

Find more about the Bowtie, Clockshop and the LA River Campout here.

A Dream for the Bowtie Parcel

Intro: What is the Bowtie?

There is a shared dream in Los Angeles to turn a piece of neglected land — The Bowtie Parcel — into a vibrant space used and loved by the local community. The Bowtie Parcel, located  within Rio de Los Angeles State Park, has been part of the state parks system since 2003, but has not available to the public for over a decade. However, the dream for this space has started to take shape with the help of a collaborative group working together to bring new life to this overlooked piece of land.

The Bowtie Project is a collaboration between Clockshop, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, local artists and the community for the revitalization of the Bowtie Parcel. It is bringing together local artists, organizing community events and revitalizing this area of the park. California State Parks Foundation began supporting this emerging partnership with a Park Enrichment Grant in June 2014.

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The Bowtie Parcel’s Roundhouse Shines by Olga Koumoundouros. Photo by Gina Clyne.

Bowtie Project Update

GUEST BLOG BY STEPHANIE CAMPBELL, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION STAFF PARK AND RECREATION SPECIALIST, ON THE NEWLY-FORMED PARTNERSHIP AND HOW THE BOWTIE IS BEING TRANSFORMED AND REVITALIZED

 

Since early 2014, Bowtie Parcel “Outdoor Arts, Nature, and Learning Laboratory at Rio de Los Angeles State Park” has been an active and evolving partnership with Elysian Valley non-­profit Clockshop. So much so, that we’ve settled on calling the collaboration simply “The Bowtie Project,” which better captures the amorphous blend of art, environment, and critical inquiry occurring at the site. Inspired to apply for a California State Parks Foundation grant by the early success of Michael Parker’s “monument making” sculpture workshop atop The Unfinished, we have since partnered with artists Olga Koumoundouros and Rosten Woo on site specific installations and youth workshops. We’ve also hosted a second, wildly popular LA River Campout, shared an art and nature walk with local girl scouts, and  made connections for future projects with art teachers at the nearby Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academy and the non-profit Artworxla (formerly the HeArt Project) aimed at reducing high school dropout rates through arts education.

Olga Koumoundouros engaged local youth from the beginning of her project “Roundhouse Shines” by reaching out to those already using the roundhouse for artistic expression and an informal gathering spot. She encouraged their participation in the creation of her installation as well as in a provocative closing performance questioning the concept of land ownership as it relates to disenfranchised populations who have long used and occupied this fringe space along the Los Angeles River.

Reading the interpretive sign. Photo by Rosten Woo.

The LA River Interpretive Signage Program by Rosten Woo. Photo by Gina Clyne.

Similarly, Rosten Woo’s “Interpretive Signage Program” though seeming to fit the traditional model of State Parks historical and natural interpretive signage, addresses the question on gentrification head on by tracing the connection between public investment and private development, and the resultant effect on longtime neighborhood residents. Rosten presented the first phase of his signage program at the second LA River Campout and it was enthusiastically received by youth groups attending the event. They were particularly interested in his contrast of traditional camping, with the issue of homelessness, and criminalization of “outdoor sleeping” in urban areas.

An upclose view. Photo by Rosten Woo.

The LA River Interpretive Signage Program by Rosten Woo. Photo by Gina Clyne.

Mackenzie Hoffman of Clockshop and Ranger Keleigh Apperson from CSP led the Larchmont Village Girl Scouts Troop 459 on a nature walk, while also taking time to explore and discuss The Unfinished and Roundhouse Shines. The scouts were enthused and engaged with both projects and delighted in the rough‐hewn charm of the undeveloped site. Though, since receiving the California State Parks Foundation Discretionary Grant, we’ve outfitted our mobile classroom with custom made benches and worktables to facilitate more structured, yet still flexible classroom activities.

2015 is shaping up to be another eventful year with the third LA River Campout on the horizon this May and a new group of artists embarking on projects at the site. Currently, Rafael Esparza is presenting Con Safos, a collaboration with Self‐Help Graphics and a rotating roster of local artists. Muralists will transform his adobe wall over the course of several months and Esparza, along with a participating artist who is also a teacher, are currently planning workshops and youth outreach associated with the project. Artists Taisha Paggett and Carolina Caycedo are developing dance and storytelling projects, respectively, and are expected to share their process and disciplines with youth as they contemplate the past, present and future of the site and its connection to the Los Angeles River.

Looking forward. Photo by Gina Clyne.

Looking forward. Photo by Gina Clyne.