Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving 1970: The Vietnam War comes to Pershing Square

When San Diego writer Joe McCain was looking for a place to hold a consciousness raising performance to draw attention to the plight of prisoners of war like his brother John, he chose Pershing Square, the historic heart of Los Angeles.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1970, throngs gathered around the rough bamboo cage in the center of the park. Inside, the bearded, ragged McCain sat hunched over, his ankles shackled to the floor. As the curious peered in, he used chopsticks to slurp a sad holiday supper of pig fat, soupy rice and pumpkin.

"Is that how my daddy has to eat?" asked a little child, peering between the bars.

Joe McCain's meal in Pershing Square resulted in front page stories nationwide. Then with Pete Nasmyth and Don Rehmann, two other California men with captive brothers, he set out by truck on a cross-country, 12-city tour, carrying a petition seeking improved conditions for all POWs in Vietnam. They arrived in New York on New Years Eve, with 6.5 million signatures, quite a few of them gathered in Pershing Square. The group continued on to Paris, where six tons of mail intended for the POWs was stacked in front of the North Vietnamese delegation offices.

John McCain was captured on October 26, 1967 and released on March 14, 1973. John Nasmyth was captured on September 4, 1966 and released in February 1973. David Rehmann was captured on December 2, 1966 and released on February 12, 1973.   

Thursday, November 10, 2016

In Honored Memory: Ross Snyder Comes Home to Pershing Square

Many people today are unaware that Veterans Day was once Armistice Day and commemorated the end of the First World War. Likewise as residents of Los Angeles take in events at Pershing Square, few realize it is in fact a memorial to that war. As mentioned in a previous blog post, although the park dates back to the 1870s, it was the first memorial to the Great War in the City of Angels and was arguably the center for civic events to honor Angelenos who served. As time passes and developers and preservationists alike make cases for their version of the park space, I think it's once again important to highlight this connection as the centenary of WWI is upon us.

Mayor Meredith "Pinky" Snyder was a colorful man. He moved to California when he was 22 with five bucks in his pocket. He soon got involved in real estate, started a shoe company, and promoted a menagerie of other businesses over the decades. Snyder at times dipped his toes into public service, as Los Angeles Police Commissioner and on the State Industrial Accident Commission. He would be elected mayor of Los Angeles three separate times. In between one of these periods, he was arrested when his chauffeur broke the 12 MPH downtown speed limit. Snyder happily paid the fine, commending the officers for their "brilliant execution of duty." He seems to have been a beloved public servant, and was laid in state at City Hall after his death in 1937.

One might guess that much of Meredith Snyder's public service in the last two decades of his life was done to take his mind off the loss of his son, Ross. The younger Snyder was a Captain and a war hero who died in France. He received the Silver Star posthumously.

His citation read in part:

“Captain Snyder distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with the 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, A.E.F., in action near Sergy, France, 29-30 July 1918. Captain Snyder commanded the 3d Battalion under heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire after three of the battalion commanders had become casualties. He reorganized this battalion and directed its movements in the attack, constantly exposing himself until he was killed by enemy machine gun fire.”

Ross Snyder, courtesy Harvard-Westlake School
Like thousands of American families, Meredith and May Snyder had to decide whether to ask for their son's remains to be brought home. Initially, Ross was left overseas (because of where he fell, it is likely he was interred at what is now Oise-Aisne American Cemetery). His name was also inscribed on the D.A.R. tablet in Victory Memorial Grove in Elysian Park and given to the park in South Los Angeles that bears his name to this day.

In 1923, the Snyder family asked for their son to be exhumed and returned stateside. Immediately, the city decided to spare no expense in honoring its son. Like Morris Lynchik's service two years previous, this one would be held in Pershing Square.

Arrangements began in late September. Ross Snyder lay in state in the park for 24 hours from September 27-28 for mourners to pay their respects. The Los Angeles Times did not estimate the size of the crowd that viewed the body, but it was unquestionably large. Reverend W. E. Edmondson, a former State Chaplain of the American Legion, led the afternoon service on the 28th honoring Captain Snyder. In what was described as "one of the most impressive and one of the largest ever held in Los Angeles," the funeral cortege made its way from downtown to Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever).

Among the procession would be commanders of multiple American Legion and VFW posts (as well as the members themselves), students of the Harvard Military School (Ross Snyder was an alum), former soldiers from the 4th Division veterans of the Spanish American and Civil wars, numerous veterans of allied countries, as well as friends and family. As the sun descended over the city, three volleys were fired, and “Taps” was played by a war buddy.
 photograph by AJ Marik, Find A Grave
To my knowledge, only two US servicemen, Ross Snyder and Morris Lynchik, were ever given the honor of having part of their funeral services open to the entire city. Both services were held in our beloved Pershing Square.

Though some would like to remake the place and ignore its bones, this park has a history like no otherif one only seeks to look. Today, Pershing Square is many things to many, many people. It is widely criticized by most. To some, it is a place for civil discourse with their friends. To others, a place to eat lunch away from work, watch a movie in the summer, or to ice skate during the winter.

Some, like myself, hope for the day its lost history and memories are rediscovered by everyone.
Ross Snyder (bottom center), courtesy Harvard-Westlake School

COURTLAND JINDRA is an amateur historian and volunteer for the United States World War I Centennial Commission.  His "Great War" interest is largely focused on America's contribution to and remembrance of it.  Delving into Los Angeles Times' archives, Jindra has located numerous memorials to the war in L.A. County, the first of which being the renaming of "Central Park" as "Pershing Square" in November 1918. He is a passionate advocate for highlighting their importance, and through them the war effort writ large. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Ongoing Destruction of Ricardo Legorreta's Pershing Square

What are they doing to Ricardo Legorreta's Pershing Square design? First two main seating areas were torn out and replaced with children's playgrounds. Now the central water feature between the playgrounds is being covered with some kind of plywood floor.

This raises a number of questions. What will they do if rain runoff clogs the fountain drain below? What happens when the wood gets wet and buckles? And why is the 1994 park design, which cost nearly $15 Million and still has not been fully paid off, being chipped away piece by piece?

confused observers

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A new series from Los Angeles public art historian Michael Several on the On Bunker Hill blog tracks how Pershing Square came to get its Spanish-American War Memorial. Here's part one. And Michael should know: he's the dedicated Angeleno who landmarked the memorial when it was in danger during the last Pershing Square redesign!

Stay tuned for the rest of the story of the oldest piece of public art in the city.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Progress in our Save The Pershing Square Monuments campaign: Pershing Square Renew's Facebook post

Eighteen days ago, we launched the Save the Pershing Square Monuments petition, seeking a commitment to retain the park's historic monuments on site and return them to their traditional locations within the park from several civic and private entities involved in Pershing Square's present management, and the proposed privatization under the non-profit Pershing Square Renew.

More than 240 people have signed and shared eloquent messages in support of keeping Pershing Square's monumental history right in the park where it belongs.

And our message is getting through. This morning on Facebook, Pershing Square Renew made this post:

We ❤️ Pershing Square’s history & that includes its monuments! Design plans currently include sculpture garden, which could be great home for them. Final placement within the park will be decided in public hearings for design plans, so please stay involved! Where would you like to see them in current plan?

We are encouraged to see Pershing Square Renew making a social media statement in support of the Pershing Square monuments, and look forward to this commitment being formally expressed as part of its policies and printed statements moving forward.

We're also interested to hear that public hearings will be how the proposed park redesign will be presented to the community. This is the first we've heard of any planned hearings, and we'll certainly keep you posted as we learn more.

Please feel free to stop by Pershing Square Renew's Facebook page to thank them for supporting Pershing Square history and remind them that the monuments need to return to their historic locations in the park.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

In Honored Memory: Morris Lynchik Comes Home to Pershing Square

The Destruction of Ypres, where Morris Lynchik fell
As we approach Memorial Day, I thought it would be appropriate to tell the story of the first burial of a World War I soldier in our city and how it intersects with the history of Pershing Square.

What is now Pershing Square was no stranger to tributes to the military a century ago. The Spanish American War was heavily memorialized at the park in the early 1900s. Not only was a trophy cannon from Santiago, Cuba displayed, but the city's first piece of public art, a monument to the 7th California Infantry volunteers who died in training, dominated the southeast entrance. Memorial Day services, run by veterans of the regiment, were held in the park into the 1950s.

Just after World War I ended, Los Angeles looked to honor General John J. Pershing, the hero who had led the "boys" who had tipped the balance to the allies. On the morning of November 15, 1918 the City Council renamed "Central Park" "Pershing Square," over the objections of some who thought he deserved a grander honor. At the same time, a committee was formed to place a monument in the park "in honor of General Pershing and the American soldiers and sailors who participated in the war." That tribute would have to wait a few more years.

Meanwhile, all across the country, families of the war dead were demanding to know when their loved ones would be brought home. To process tens of thousands of scattered bodies housed in makeshift graves all over Europe and arrange their coffins for trans-Atlantic shipping presented an enormous challenge.

The other allies were mortified we would seek to bring our dead home. Due to expense, the British didn't want their own citizens demanding repatriation of their war dead. Meanwhile, the French were concerned that mortuary trains would be rolling toward their port towns for years as temporary battlefield cemeteries were exhumed, and were offended at the notion that Americans thought French soil wasn't a suitable resting place for their fallen. 

The French banned shipping bodies out of country until late 1920, while the US began the lengthy process of identifying the dead and moving them to centralized cemeteries. Our government gave families the option: they could choose to bring remains home, or have them buried in brand new American military cemeteries in Europe, with the promise of meticulous perpetual endowment care. 

Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial
Over 30,000 families chose to leave their loved ones in Europe, but most wanted the bodies repatriated. The first of these mournful reunions would be in the spring of 1921.

Los Angeles had lost over four hundred of her sons in the World War, but the first body to be returned to the city was a stranger. Morris Lynchik was a New Yorker through and through when he joined the 27th Division National Guard unit. He was a diamond cutter by trade when the US entered the war. Although I was unable to find out when he joined the Guard, or if it was as a private, by the time of his death he was a sergeant. Lynchik was killed near Ypres, Belgium on July 23, 1918. Sometime before 1921 his family, including two brothers who survived the war, moved to Los Angeles. 

In a city full of transplants, it seemed somehow fitting that for the ceremonial tribute to sons lost in the conflict, the physical embodiment of her war dead had never set a living foot in Los Angeles.  

Though Sergeant Lynchik's body arrived in the city on May 9, because of the large preparations he was not laid to rest immediately. On May 28, the third anniversary of the first major US engagement in the war, Lynchik's flag-draped coffin was set on the west side of Pershing Square's central fountain Square while an honor guard stood watch. 

Given that the park had been re-named after the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, and was in the center of the city, it was the obvious location for an event of such civic importance. Thousands were said to pay their respects over the next 24 hours. The Los Angeles Times recorded the scene with tragic flair calling it "one of the most somberly dramatic episodes in the history of the city." 

"Mothers came to stand within the circle of silent watchers and to weep for sons, who like Sergt. Lynchik, went bravely forth to find a hero's death in a foreign land. There were many men, too, for whom the flag-draped casket embodied the living memory and the noble sacrifice of a dead brother, son, or comrade."

The following day at 1pm a ceremony was held in Pershing Square. A chaplain and rabbi both gave remarks and then Mayor Snyder, whose own son had died in France, spoke on the sacrifices the fighting men of America had made for their country and for the cause of freedom the world over. A huge escort filled with different veteran's and civic organizations then snaked from the park to Rosedale Cemetery where Sergeant Lynchik was placed in a vault, safely stored for eventual removal to a new American Legion cemetery.

As the idea of remaking Pershing Square once again is in the air, I feel it is important to highlight the military significance of the park's history. Not only is Pershing Square named in honor of a hero of the Great War, but some of the city's most moving memorial services have taken place within its borders. Let's hope this is not forgotten when the time comes to determine the future of the many historic plaques and sculptures that call Pershing Square home.

COURTLAND JINDRA is an amateur historian and volunteer for the United States World War I Centennial Commission.  His "Great War" interest is largely focused on America's contribution to and remembrance of it.  Delving into Los Angeles Times' archives, Jindra has located numerous memorials to the war in L.A. County, the first of which being the renaming of "Central Park" as "Pershing Square" in November 1918. He is a passionate advocate for highlighting their importance, and through them the war effort writ large. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Our Choice for the Winner in the Pershing Square Renew Design Competition: James Corner Field Operations with Fredrick Fischer and Partners

Here at the Pershing Square Restoration Society, we look to the great design of the past to see what is possible for the Pershing Square of the future. We know it is unlikely that John Parkinson's 1910 plan for the park will be recreated exactly as the great Los Angeles architect made itfor even Parkinson himself returned to the park two decades later to refine and improve the space. Los Angeles changes, and our public space does, too.

Four potential Pershing Square redesigns have been presented to the people of Los Angeles, and they were asked to vote on them; 1359 did. A jury then made their own determinations and selected a winner. The announcement will be made at 9 o'clock this morning.

We were encouraged to see that three of the four designs directly referenced John Parkinson's Pershing Square, the design that has inspired 2144 people to sign our restoration petition, and whose comments we shared in our open letter to all semi-finalists.

But there is one design in the competition that stands far above the others: James Corner Field Operations with Fredrick Fischer and Partners.

The design respectfully reflects past iterations of the great park, while tastefully responding to the new commercial demands of the competition. While we would like to see more benches and shade along the walkways and a more traditional central water feature with some height, cascading water levels and places for people to sit around it, and the the restoration of the historic sculptures to their traditional places in the park grounds, this entry shows a park that is worthy of the name Pershing Square.

We hope the competition judges see this, too.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Public Feedback Time

Dear Friend of Pershing Square,

Last night, we attended an event where the four finalists in the Pershing Square Renew design competition presented their proposals. At the link below you'll find representative images from each proposal, and our thoughts on how the designs reflect the historic integrity of the site.

Click here to learn about the finalists.

While none of the proposals calls for the restoration of John Parkinson's 1910 park design, three of them show clear inspiration from the past, and that's encouraging. Even though it's not possible to vote for a restored Pershing Square, your feedback can still urge Pershing Square Renew and the winning design team to work harder at keeping Pershing Square a space that respects and reflects its 150 year history.

There is LESS THAN ONE WEEK for the public to give feedback. The winning design will be selected in mid-May.

At the bottom of this post, you'll find a public comment link. Please take a moment to take a stand for the restoration of John Parkinson's 1910 park by posting feedback on one or more of the finalist design's entry question #5 ("other comments").

Here are our suggested talking points, and of course you are free to add your own:

• I support the restoration of John Parkinson's 1910 park design. I wish there was an option to vote for that.

• It is important to me that the park's historic sculptures, including the oldest piece of public art in Los Angeles (the landmarked Spanish-American War Memorial) remain in Pershing Square in any redesign. They ought to be returned to their historic locations in the park.

Click here to post your public comment.

We thank you for your continued concern for our great city's oldest public park.

Kim Cooper & Richard Schave
LAVA - The Los Angeles Visionaries Association
& The Pershing Square Restoration Society

Pershing Square Restoration Society reviews the finalists in the Pershing Square Renew competition

The comments below are supplemental material for people who support the restoration of John Parkinson's 1910 Pershing Square design, or more generally the preservation of the park's historic sculptural features. More info is here.

Design #1 - wHY with Civitas: These images present a design that shows inspiration from John Parkinson's 1910 street-level axial pathway plan, with elements of the meandering 1880s Eaton plan and the unjustly unbuilt winner of the last redesign competition, James Wines' "Magic Carpet." This proposal calls for Pershing Square to be renamed Pershing Green. At the April 28 event, the designers said that the artificial hills in the park's center are meant to suggest downtown's lost topography (like Bunker Hill).  This plan calls for some decommissioned parking lot ramps to become cisterns to store and reuse gray water from the park, and black water from nearby sewers. CityLab reports that the historic sculptures (including one that's an historic landmark), which are not visible in any of the other design proposals, will be placed in the garden sections on the long Hill and Olive Street sides.

Design #2 - SWA with Morphosis: These images present a design that scrambles John Parkinson's classical 1910 street-level axial pathway plan as if the paths were pick up sticks tossed by an angry giant. A large lawn is surrounded, but only partly shaded, by trees large enough that there is some question as to if the parking structure below can support them. Instead of Parkinson's central fountain, there is a small wetland pond that has miraculously attracted a great white heron. The main focus of the design is a huge tower containing a hydroponic farm that, it is claimed, will produce 2000 pounds of organic produce daily for an on-site restaurant. Because they say all cars will soon be robotic, this plan proposes to take over a portion of the existing parking garage, which is a major source of civic revenue. At the April 28 event, Morphosis principal Thom Mayne, who was in the preservation hot seat last year when he demolished beloved L.A. author Ray Bradbury's Cheviot Hills home, quipped "It's not about history, that's Philly or Boston. This is Los Angeles, it's the city of the future." 

Design #3 - James Corner Field Operations with Fredrick Fischer and Partners: These images present a design that shows inspiration from John Parkinson's original 1910 street-level axial pathway plan (originally an X-shape, with two additional walkways added later) and central water feature (programmable and interactive here, but apparently a nod to Parkinson's Beaux Arts fountain), with meandering garden sections evoking the 1880s Eaton plan. Much of the park is unshaded terraced lawn, with numerous discrete spaces dedicated to specific uses (dog run, yoga, ping pong, cafe). Contemporary shade and climbing structures distance the park from its historic appearance, and run the risk of soon appearing dated, as has been the case with the 1994 design.

Design #4 - Agence Ter: Curiously, although Agence Ter was the only team to respond to our open letter asking the semi-finalists to acknowledge the great public interest in restoration by making John Parkinson's 1910 park plan central to their proposals, these images present a design that fails to reference any of the iconic elements of the historic park. The proposal seeks to artificially expand the boundaries of the park through an outer ring of digitally-programmed shade terraces straddling the park-facing sidewalk and mature shade trees lining the opposite sides of the busy streets. Much of the park is open lawn surrounded, but only partly shaded, by trees large enough that there is some question as to if the parking structure below can support them. Open spaces are intended for occasional programming, with a film screening and farmer's market illustrated.