The history of MacArthur Park and its lake is a pretty colorful part of Los Angeles lore. At one time an ugly dumping spot, the lake was filled and surrounded with gardens as part of a beautification campaign on what was the west edge of Los Angeles in the 1880s — hence the original name of the park and the district, Westlake. The lake, much bigger until Wilshire Boulevard was extended across the park around 1930, used to host fireworks shows and community celebrations. Interesting detritus has been found when they periodically clean out the pond, but I was surprised to see a photo of a good-sized bass pulled from the lake on the Zocalo Public Square website today.
The photo series is by Steve Hymon, the former LA Times reporter who these days writes for Metro and its transit blog, The Source. His photo gallery is part of the Thinking L.A. feature at Zocalo. Excerpt:
I’ve visited MacArthur Park a handful of times in recent years with my camera. It is an absurdly photogenic place with its mix of people, skyline views, the lake, and whatever other surprises it offers up. On this visit, I went all in and stuck around from sunrise to sunset.
The park is a lot of things, many of them contradictory, and subject to change. It’s scruffy, bucolic, exposed, shady, peaceful, and very busy. By L.A. standards, it’s also very old—it dates to the 1880s but didn’t pick up its current name until after World War II.
The best description of the park I’ve heard came from a guy named Dave whom I met when he was fishing for largemouth shortly after dawn. The bass were spawning in the shallows. These were surprisingly large fish. As he dropped his line into the murky water in search of bass that were surviving and—apparently thriving—in the shadows of downtown, Dave described Macarthur Park as “a diamond in the rough.”