When you see white people toting their lawn chairs to MacArthur Park at dusk and settling in with Hollywood Bowl-worthy picnics, you know things have changed.
For years, MacArthur Park, in LA's Westlake area, was not the kind of park for picnicking or lawn chairs. Not even close. As LAPD Officer Covington, who has patrolled the park since 1996, said to me, the park used to be known as a scary place where murder, drugs and fake document sales reigned. "I've made arrests here," he said. But as the strains of Belgistan, a Belgian horn troupe, played in the background, the officer said that "now MacArthur Park will be known for music."
With an influx of state and private money, the park has been restored. Playgrounds have been added and grass planted. Landscaping and refurbishing turned the meadow lush. Instead of riffraff, families are now hanging out. Free music is the icing on the cake.
At the west end of the park is one of five bandshells restored around the country by Mortimer Levitt, who was a successful businessman. He remembered how much he loved hearing music outside when he was growing up. For his 90th birthday in 2006, he sold his business and decided to create his Levitt Pavilions. Two of them are in the Los Angeles area, one in MacArthur Park and one in Pasadena. The others are in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The bandshell, which has existed since the park's creation in the 1880's, has been beautifully restored, and the acoustics are stellar. Belgistan serenaded a gloriously diverse crowd of about 300 on a balmy summer night. The concert was one of 50 scheduled over the summer, every Wednesday through Sunday. The mood was light even as dusk turned to darkness. Spontaneous dancing ensued. It was a delightful night, and Mortimer would be proud.
The concert calendar can be found at www.levittpavilionlosangeles.org/en/calendar.html
Slide slow by Iris Schneider. See it in higher resolution at her website.