MacArthur Park (originally Westlake Park) is a park dating back to the late nineteenth century in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. In the early 1940s, it was renamed after General Douglas MacArthur, and later designated City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #100.
The park is divided in two by Wilshire Boulevard. The southern portion primarily consists of a lake, while the northern half includes an amphitheatre, bandshell, soccer fields, and children's playground, along with a recreation center operated by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The bandshell was once home to many organizations and events, such as Jugaremos en Familia (a live event hosted by Memo Flores for the Hispanic community). MacArthur Park's bandshell has been recently renovated as the Levitt Pavilion and is once again the host of jazz, big band, salsa music, beat music, and world music concerts. Since reopening, it hosts at least 50 free concerts each summer between June and September.
The lake in MacArthur Park is fed by natural springs (although an artificial bottom to the lake was laid during the construction of the Metro Red Line, opened in 1993). In the past, a fountain with a reflecting pool on the northern end was also fed by the springs. The Westlake/MacArthur Park Red Line station sits across the street.
The park, originally named Westlake Park, was built in the 1880s, along with a similar Eastlake Park, whose lake is artificial, in Los Angeles. Westlake Park was renamed May 7, 1942; Eastlake Park was renamed Lincoln Park. Both Westlake and Eastlake (as well as Echo Park) were built as drinking water reservoirs connected to the city's systems of zanjas (small conveyance channels or trenches). When the city abandoned the non-pressurized zanja system for a pressurized pipe system, these smaller, shallow reservoirs located at low points no longer provided much benefit and were converted into parks.
The park was named for Henricus Wallace Westlake, a Canadian physician who had moved to Los Angeles around 1888, settled in the area and donated a portion of his property to the city for a park.
In the mid-19th century the area was a swampland; by the 1890s, it was a vacation destination, surrounded by luxury hotels. In the early part of the 20th century, the Westlake neighborhood became known as the Champs-Élysées of Los Angeles.
Wilshire Boulevard formerly ended at the lake, but in 1934 a berm was built for it to cross and link up with the existing Orange Street (which ran from Alvarado to Figueroa Streets) into downtown Los Angeles. Orange Street was renamed Wilshire and extended east of Figueroa Street to Grand Avenue. This divided the lake into two halves; the northern one was subsequently drained. During the 1950s the lake featured the rental of electric boats, with the names of comic book animal characters.
According to a Los Angeles Times news story from 1956, two swans, named Rudie and Susie, hatched their five new cygnets on the island in MacArthur Park Lake, and according to the park superintendent, these were the first swans born in the park in over a decade.
For many years, Filipino World War II veterans protested in the park named after their former commander regarding promises made when they enlisted that the United States had reneged on. In 2009 as part of the stimulus package, Congress awarded lump-sum payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans who are American citizens and $9,000 to those who are noncitizens.
Despite the rather poetic homage paid to it in the 1968 song, MacArthur Park became known for violence after 1985 when prostitution, drug dealing, shoot-outs, and the occasional rumored drowning became commonplace, with as many as 30 murders in 1990. The Westlake area has also become notable for the sale of false identification cards, especially those allowing non-US citizens (principally from Mexico and other Central American countries) to work in the United States. When the lake was drained in 1973 and 1978, hundreds of handguns and other firearms were found to have been disposed of in the lake.
Gang-on-gang violence still occurs occasionally in and around the park, as in the following cases:
In 1995, a small, local gang in the Westlake and Downtown area, the Burlington Street Locos, got into an argument with a man who was believed to be in a rival gang, called the Crazy Town Locos. A few days before, a member of the Crazy Town Locos had struck a man from Burlington Street Locos across the face. Seeking revenge, members of the Burlington Street Locos went looking for members of the rival gang and thought that a man who looked like the target was him. Mistakenly, they fired a couple of rounds into his chest, killing him. They put the body in a garbage bag and threw it in the lake.
In 2002, members of the 18th Street gang saw a member of a rival gang and beat the victim until he was in critical condition. A day later, members of the victim's gang approached members of the 18th Street gang and started firing with semi-automatic pistols. This event led to the death of two 18th Street gang members and an injury to an innocent bystander.
In 2008, a shooting occurred while a birthday party was being held. Members of the 18th Street gang started firing toward a crowd filled with rival gang members. This led to the death of three people: a rival gang member and a mother and child.
On May Day, May 1, 2007, a rally calling for US citizenship for illegal immigrants took place in MacArthur Park. The incident has been dubbed the May Day Mêlée.
That evening, police commanders declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and gave the order to disperse. The police then cleared the park, using what some thought was excessive force against those who disobeyed the order. Sanjukta Paul, an observer with the National Lawyer's Guild, was beaten repeatedly by a Los Angeles Police officer, including a blow to the kidneys, as she attempted to impede the police's progress.
Another police officer was seen throwing a news camera from a cameraman and beating news reporters attempting to access their news vans. Protestors clashed with members of the LAPD, reportedly suffering excessive force and property damage, with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters being used on a mostly peaceful crowd by police officers in full riot gear. At a subsequent press conference, LAPD Chief William Bratton said that an investigation was underway to "determine if the use of force was appropriate" and that "the vast majority of people who were at MacArthur Park were behaving appropriately."
Beginning in 2002 the Los Angeles Police Department and business and community leaders led a revitalization effort that has led to the installation of surveillance cameras, the opening of a recreation center, increased business, early-morning drink vendors, a new Metro station, the return of the paddle boats and the fountain, and large community festivals attracting thousands. In 2005 the park was celebrated for having the highest reduction of crime statistics per resident in the United States.
In 2007, Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park opened, offering over 50 free concerts each summer and attracting families from around the city. In the same year, the paddle boats returned. They were available for rent on the weekends in 2009. By early 2010, the boathouse was closed. Eventually, the paddle boats were removed. The boathouse was torn down in 2014.