“Playhouse Park” Design Excites Downtown Residents

10,000 residents in Downtown Pasadena live within a half-mile radius of the historic Pasadena Playhouse, and enjoy the shops, theaters, restaurants, and urban amenities of our beautiful downtown, but they lack one thing: a park!  The “Park Now” movement aims to change that by turning a city–owned parking lot behind Vromann’s Bookstore and Laemmle theaters into a beautiful park, built on top of an underground parking garage.

Four public workshops have been conducted in order to allow Pasadena residents to actually design the park, so that it meets our needs and offers the amenities that we want. This past Thursday, the design was unveiled at the final workshop. Amy Korn, the landscape designer who created the design based on our input at the previous three workshops, did a terrific job, and her presentation of the design was greeted with much applause.

Residents at the third workshop had made several critiques of the two design options presented at that time. Specifically, they strongly encouraged a design that maximizes green space––lawns, hedges, gardens, trees, and other landscaping––and reduces hard space––i.e., concrete. Amy responded to this by reducing a planned concrete plaza along El Molino and expanding the oval lawn and the surrounding plantings.


Park design by Amy Korn of KornRandolph Landscape Architects (and us!)

Also, residents had commented that a planned labyrinth to be located on top of the “hill” at the Northeast corner of the lot was not a good use, and so the labyrinth was replaced with more organic, natural elements such as sitting rocks, a bubbling fountain and stone runnel, and a quiet garden with demonstration plantings. This “Vista Garden” sits atop a landscaped terrace with curved seat walls that can also function as an informal performance space. The stone runnel is a cascading water feature that connects the upper fountain to the lower fountain, providing the relaxing sound of falling water.

Another significant change was that the “Discovery Path”––the graded path that gradually slopes upward to the Vista Garden––was expanded and made into a loop, with steps leading down the other side of the hill, which effectively created two walking paths in the park: the flat oval path of decomposed granite, and the graded, seeded aggregate Discovery Path.


Amy describes the design features

Pasadena, of course, is a city that loves its trees, and this park will be no exception, as it is dotted with at least seven large shade trees, and supplemented with about 23 smaller trees that line the oval path and form a pleasant grove. At one of the earlier workshops, a suggestion was made to include a specific type of tree: the Engelmann Oak, otherwise known as the “Pasadena Oak”.

The Engelmann Oak with its sprawling, low-hanging branches, named for Georg Engelmann (1809-1884), a German born St. Louis physician and botanist, who wrote about this tree.

The Engelmann Oak is a tree that is native to our region, and only grows in a very particular climate and altitude, which limits its worldwide range to the foothills and woodlands from Pasadena to San Diego, and Baja California.

Because of its narrow range, the tree is uncommon and somewhat imperiled by suburban sprawl. The Engelmann Oak
is a relative of the Coast Live Oak, but its sprawling, twisted branches form an open, airy canopy, as opposed to the dense, compact canopy of the Coast Live Oak.

Englemann oak at Daley Ranch, Escondido, California.

The design calls for the Engelmann Oak to be used as the large shade trees, although one participant thought that they are deciduous and therefore lose their leaves in the winter.  (A Google search indicates that is incorrect.  The Engelmann Oak is evergreen, except during periods of drought.)

The most contentious part of the meeting––or perhaps I should say the noisiest part of the meeting––was the discussion about what to name the park. The top contenders were “Playhouse Park”, “Playhouse District Park”, “Engelmann Oaks Park”, and “Bogaard Park”, after our mayor, Bill Bogaard. Those who preferred “Playhouse District Park” argued that the park might be thought to be adjacent to the Pasadena Playhouse unless the word “district” was included, although others noted that the word “district” sounded rather clunky. “Engelmann Oaks Park” was my suggestion, but it wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm due to the one participant who preferred a different type of tree. In the end, there wasn’t a whole lot of agreement about the name of the park, but a sufficient number agreed to use “Playhouse Park” as a placeholder, until something better could be found.

After agreeing to disagree about the park name, the sparkling cider flowed, plastic glasses were clinked, and residents happily chatted over slices of strawberry cake, excited about their new park. Hooray!