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Hundreds turn out for public events at new downtown park

July 28, 2012 | 12:56 pm

Hundreds danced on the large lawn, children splashed in a new wading pool and others posed for photos with City Hall as a backdrop Saturday as the opening weekend festivities continued at downtown's new Grand Park.

"It's beautiful!" said Fernando Morales, a retired machinist from Eagle Rock who was taking in the scene with his wife, Carmen. "I've never seen City Hall so clearly in my life, and I've lived in Los Angeles for 45 years."

The upper half of the 12-acre park, which slopes from the top of Bunker Hill down to City Hall, officially opened with a ceremony earlier this week. But Saturday featured its first public events: a National Dance Day celebration, with dance classes and special performances from contestants from the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance."

Planners say one of Grand Park's best assets is its ability to cater to a variety of audiences with different types of events. The space is owned by Los Angeles County, but will be managed by the Music Center, a nonprofit that runs the nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

That park’s flexibility was apparent Saturday, as each "block" of the grounds drew a different crowd. Officials estimated attendance at more than 1,500.

While hip hop and salsa tunes blared on the performance lawn, people ate lunch at food trucks and packed into a Starbucks in the central plaza. At the park’s top level, families gathered at the renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial fountain.

The park "has a hip but also family-friendly feeling," said Quia Anderson, a personal chef who had walked her dog to Grand Park from her loft on 4th and Broadway. "I think it actually has a lot of potential."

As her 6-year-old daughter played in the fountain's new "splash pad," Mellisa Franklin said Grand Park would be perfect for mothers downtown.

"When we first moved here she was 2, and there was just nothing like this," Franklin said. "I would have been here every day."

Her husband, Mike Owens, said he hoped the park would remain as clean as it was Saturday. "I think that's going to be a challenge," he said.

Security from both the Music Center and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department patrolled Saturday, and signs around the park announced that "aggressive solicitation" and "disturbances" were prohibited, along with drinking, smoking and littering.

Some have feared that homelessness would be a problem at Grand Park, given its proximity to skid row. Others say the park could become a target for activist groups such as Occupy L.A.

But on Saturday the atmosphere was mostly exuberant as many Angelenos got their first peek at the space. Officials involved in managing Grand Park were enthralled as well.

"Can you believe it?" said Howard Sherman, chief operating officer at the Music Center. "This is just incredible -- it's exactly what we were hoping for."

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-- Sam Allen

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