A nearly two-year, $83-million revamp of a large section of Willowbrook's Earvin Magic Johnson Park has come to the close, allowing the 126-acre green space to fully reopen to the surrounding community.
The freshly-completed project - which is only the initial phase of a broader master plan for the park - focused on a roughly 37-acre area in lower section of the park, which sits just northeast of the intersection of Avalon and El Segundo Boulevards. Los Angeles County, which owns and operates the Earvin Magic Johnson Park, worked with landscape architecture firm AHBE|MIG to add new amenities and improve existing features, including:
- a new community event center;
- a ½ mile lakeside community loop trail with picnic areas;
- a children’s play area with a splash pad;
- outdoor classrooms and educational graphics;
- California native coastal sage scrub and freshwater marsh wetland habitats; and
- a wedding lawn.
Besides open space amenities, the revamped park also has an important role in improving water quality in Los Angeles County. A new pump located beneath the park's surface diverts stormwater runoff from a 375-acre watershed that feeds into Compton Creek, which is then channeled into the lake at the park's center. The new landscaping and wetlands area along the perimeter of the manmade lake provides natural filtration of the water, which is then treated, stored, and reused for park irrigation.
“These lakes were originally ‘bathtubs’ – water went in, and water evaporated. That's millions of gallons per year in California,” said Gary Lai, a principal with AHBE|MIG. “And the lakes did not have circulation, so the water quality was not great, and it was treated with chemicals.”
The park's revised plant palette, according to Lai, has also been a boon for sustainability and biodiversity in the Willowbrook community.
“This was originally a grass turf park with trees," said Lai. "What we’re trying to do is bring back mot native plant materials, which uses a lot less water than turf."
Likewise, the cleaner water has attracted new bird species to an artificial island at the center of the lake, which was designed to accommodate nesting.
Another key addition to the park is a new community events center, which was built along the southwest perimeter of the lake. The 20,000-square-foot building, designed by Paul Murdoch Architects, includes space for gatherings and educational courses.
“When we first visited this site, we realized it’s all about the lake,” said Paul Murdoch Architects founder and president Paul Murdoch. “We wanted [the building] to take advantage of being able to not only see the lake, but to also have activities from inside to outside that take advantage of the open space.”
The choice to build an events center to Magic Johnson Park was informed by the needs of the Willowbrook community, according to Chester Kano, the Chief of Development for the Planning and Development Agency at Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation.
“This is an area of high park need,” said Kano. “It’s also an area that’s dense with families – a quarter million youth live within a five-mile radius. Families need a place to go.”
The event center includes a large multipurpose hall – capable of seating up to 300 people – which can host events such as a wedding or a graduation party. Additionally, new classrooms, a computer lab, and a game room were included to provide opportunities for afternoon activities.
The County intends to provide programming for the events center and the surrounding green space, but has seen those plans temporarily stalled due to health concerns regarding large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Magic Johnson Park - which is bounded by El Segundo Boulevard, Avalon Boulevard, 120th Street, and Clovis Avenue - is a legacy of Los Angeles County's once expansive oil industry. From the 1920s through the 1960s, the current site of the park was an expansive oil processing and storage facility. Two decades operations ceased -and following soil remediation - the land was converted into a spartan, but well-used green space centered on a pair of artificial lakes.
The County, in an effort led by former Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, worked to draft a master plan for revamping the large park in 2013. Staff gradually cobbled together different sources of funding in the years that followed, eventually leading to a groundbreaking for the recently-finished project - considered Phase 1A of the park's renovation- in 2019.
Construction is currently in progress for Phase 1B of the master plan, which will expand the park’s footprint by 16.5 acres onto a site previously developed with housing. The $11-million project calls for the addition of a dog park, a walking path, and multipurpose lawn.
The cost of the full master plan for the 126-acre park has been previously estimated at $135 million. An exact schedule for implementing the range of proposed improvements has not been set at this point in time.
- Earvin Magic Johnson Park (Urbanize LA)