The Civic Center Field Saga

Many of you may have seen the green fence around the former Civic Center parking lot at the corner of Pico Blvd. and 4th Street. That mundane construction device is the first tangible culmination of almost two decades of community effort to get a multipurpose sports field on that corner. This two-part article will cover the history of how we finally got our field, which will open in about a year.

This saga officially started with the November 18, 2002 publication of the  Draft Civic Center Specific Plan that showed a soccer field there adjacent to a small Early Childcare Center. There had been previous studies and meetings that showed other uses in that corner of the Civic Center including 2 possible sports fields, a theater and a visual arts center (March 29,2002), but groups strongly advocating for the sports field had already coalesced for two principal motives.

First there was an incredible shortage of playing fields in our City. What that meant was that scheduling the limited fields among all the competing recreational users, principally baseball, soccer and football,  was a scheduling nightmare.  This pitted sports groups that should have been aligned, against each other fighting for very limited playing and practice space. Adult leagues were pushed way into the night and children were practicing till 9 pm when they should have been done with their day. The fields themselves were in terrible shape with virtually no grass as they were so intensely used that the grass was scrubbed away by the thousands of cleats even by the middle of the season. If fields were taken out of use to allow the grass to recover (remember this was a time before artificial grass was widely used), this created additional wear and tear and scheduling overload for the remaining fields.

The second motive was that the high school, although its student population was relatively stable (as was the City’s during this time), was incredibly impacted. It simply had too many activities and facilities crammed into too small a space. The same scheduling issues facing our open space park fields was duplicated on the high school campus. Surrounded on three sides by major traffic arteries (Pico, 4th Street and the Freeway) and on the fourth side by a residential neighborhood, the High School had nowhere to grow. In fact to build the Science and Technology building, they had to eliminate the fine baseball field on the northeast corner of the campus. As other sports flourished e.g. rugby and lacrosse, even with the advent of artificial grass on the main field, the scheduling nightmare for the high school got even worse with for example, the marching band practicing at 7 am which you know is not an ideal start time for teenagers.

To address this sports impasse in 2003 Fonda-Bonardi & Hohman Architects proposed an aspirational multiuser sports field called the Santa Monica Commons for the entire corner (see adjacent sketch) that was used to mobilize more public support and try to keep competing interests from gobbling up more of this valuable public land. While this is not what is being built today, as often happens in a multi decade effort: designs evolve, it was a useful concept to unify the needs of otherwise competing sports groups and helped advocates to get City Council support for a sports field in the official Civic Center Plan particularly since the final plan also included a passive park that eventually became Tongva Park.

SMart’s next article will cover what happened to our field after 2003. 

By Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA

For Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Sam Tolkin, Architect; Dan Jansenson Building and Safety Commissioner, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner; Ron Goldman, FAIA;  Thane Roberts, Architect; Bob. Taylor, AIA; Phil Brock, Arts Commissioner. 

Retraction: SMa.r.t. apologizes for an erroneous statement in last week’s article that claimed that Mayor Gleam Davis took a trip to Dubai at the City’s expense. Mayor Davis informed us “The City did not pay for my trip to Dubai. I went to Dubai at the invitation of and at the expense of the United Arab Emirates.  My trip did not cost the City a penny.”  SMa.r.t. regrets the error.