On December 11, 1866, Cristobal Aguilar, the Mayor of Los Angeles, a town of about 5000 souls still recovering from the brutal upsets of the Mexican-American War, signed an ordinance concerning a swampy patch of land due South-West of the Plaza:
“Lots from Nos. 1 to 10 in block 15 of Ord’s Survey of said city are hereby set aside for the use of said city and the residents thereof as a public square, and the same is hereby declared to be a public square or plaza for the use and benefit of the citizens in common of said city, remaining under the control of the mayor and council of said city.”
It wasn’t much of a park, just a muddy, ungraded rectangle, 600 x 330 feet. But it belonged to the people of Los Angeles, and in time they would take to it with a passion that occasionally seemed beyond all sense and reason.
The park would become lovelier, too, from the meandering Eaton plan of 1886 to John Parkinson’s classic axial design of 1910/31. And while it is not today such a beautiful thing, we still live in hope that the great park that was will one day exist again. (Sign our petition if you agree.)
So join us today in celebrating the sesquicentennial of Pershing Square, an auspicious anniversary we have not seen many of in this youthful municipality.
We rejoice with all the great departed Angelenos who have loved the place: “Roundhouse George” Lehman, who planted the park’s first trees and carried water to them in oil cans, “Stoolpigeon Mary,” who spoke against a misguided plan to remove benches and trees, “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, who cared for the birds until a wicked unknown person killed her at the Hotel Cecil, Benny the Squirrel, whose antics delighted a generation (his end was violent, too), and uncounted soapbox speakers and Bunker Hill bench sleepers and pretty fellows cruising and children splashing in the fountain and writers who paused in the shade to study their fellow humans and work out some rough bit of plotting.
Long live our Pershing Square!
Because when you love Pershing Square there is always something new to learn, we close with a little gift from the archives: a rare trade card from an early business that faced the park from the 5th Street side. Opened in early 1895, the prominently-situated Pavilion Cyclery and Riding School did much to promote this novel mode of transport.
A bicycling poem from February 1895