A true Hollywood story at Fountain Community Gardens
Only a few years ago, the tale of the 20,000-square-foot lot at the corner of Fountain Avenue and St. Andrews Place -- a stone's throw from the 101 Freeway in Hollywood -- was just plain sad.
Since the 1970s, it had been used as a city-owned parking lot for trailers offering temporary housing for the homeless and families in transition, mainly poor single mothers. That program ended in the '80s, but the trailers were left behind, and local gangs and meth cooks moved in, gardeners here say. After a fire that began on the lot burned down a neighboring house, the community demanded that the city take action. A higher fence was built, and the site was slated for a community center.
The recession shelved that project but in 2009 led to another solution: the Fountain Community Gardens, Hollywood's newest and largest collection of community plots.
Artist Alex Alferov, pictured at right, the site's first garden master, grew up in the neighborhood and was an altar boy at the landmark Russian Orthodox church down the street. He has seen the area's population shift from Eastern European and Italian to largely Central American, Mexican, Thai and Armenian, and the community garden, he says, has helped to bring back an invigorating, multicultural energy.
The vibe starts at the distinctive front gate, metal cut in in the Mexican folk-art style of papel picado. The work was done by east L.A. artist Michael Amescua, whose art also adorns Solano Canyon Community Garden.
Fountain Community Gardens has 67 immaculately tended plots, most 5-by-15-foot raised beds. (That's Michael Mapel cleaning up his parsley in the photo at top.) The land is nearly ringed by 25 native species and a few young citrus. Mature pines are scattered around the lot, and though the needles are left as mulch, the cones are gathered up neatly and arranged decoratively here and there.
The plots reflect the mix of gardeners: Chinese greens rise next to Italian basil; sugar cane and chayote grow next to artichoke and asparagus. At $10 a month, a plot here isn't not cheap compared with some other community gardens. Being Hollywood, the location attracts some gardeners who work in entertainment, some are homeless, and still others are in halfway houses.
The garden has a three-year lease and no certainty of renewal. But gardener Luke Vincent, pictured at right, a hunger and homeless activist on the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council, says he's comfortable with the uncertain future.
"When it's over, it's over, and that's fine," he says. "There are always vacant lots somewhere. And they sit there for decades, sometimes."
But as Hollywood stories go, an abandoned lot reborn as a garden is a good one.
"We look like we have been here for far longer than we have been," Alferov says. "We were on the garden tour last summer and had busloads of visitors, and one thing people always commented on was what a clean garden this is."
-- Jeff Spurrier
The garden in early stages of construction in 2009.
Photos: Garden construction, Day of the Dead altar and Luke Vincent portraits by Alex Alferov. All others by Ann Summa.