In the name of urban renewal, Anaheim tore out most of its historic downtown decades ago. Where Orange, a neighboring town, restored its historic town center and parlayed it into a magnet for restaurants, shops, entertainment, and the local creative class, Anaheim replaced its historic center with a bland mix of modern office towers.
But Anaheim is now making amends with Farmers Park, landscape architect Ken Smith’s latest work in the area (Smith also designed the still-developing Orange County Great Park in Irvine). At a little over two acres, it is a compact but tightly crafted design that stitches together the city’s historic fabric, adding retail and open space next to new high-density housing on the edge of downtown. It creates an urban focal point where none existed before.
The park is located in the Anaheim Packing District, a public-private project partnering the remnants of Anaheim’s Redevelopment Agency program, which previously fell victim to California’s defunct Redevelopment Agency program, with LAB Holding, an Orange County developer known for youth/creative class retail-restaurant centers.
Ken Smith’s design mixes landscaping, outdoor gathering places, and shelter structures for dining and a farmers market. A repurposed 1919 Sunkist packing plant on the south and a 1925 Packard dealership on the north, which now houses an Umami Burger and an Anaheim Brewing Company brewpub, flank the central open space.
Smith designed the steel and wood structure that extends and blends the restaurants’ outdoor dining areas into the park. A wood boardwalk along the park’s east side is lined with permanent canopies for farmers market stalls. Smith exposed the metal brackets that anchor the corrugated steel canopies to their tapered glulam pylons for an industrial aesthetic. These pylons and a stand of Aleppo pines screen the alley on the park’s east side, while the alley allows market trucks to back into the parking spaces next to the stalls. The trees also shield the park from the backsides of apartment houses on the alley’s opposite side.
The open space is a composition of lawns, decomposed granite walkways, and areas planted with native grasses and edible vegetation, including olive and citrus trees. In the center is an amphitheater, where irregular concrete blocks rise out of the berm’s grass to form seating. These open spaces, as well as two planned pavilions still to be funded, will be programmed by LAB Holding. Outdoor dining courts feature vegetated walls and outdoor fireplaces—one a giant artificial log piped for gas, the other a lean-to of one-inch-thick metal plate. Another dining terrace on the south side is made up of two railroad flat cars set on a bed of gravel, ties, and rails.
Anaheim Boulevard runs along the park’s west side, tying it into the regional circulation grid. There, the park announces itself to motorists with six-foot-tall steel letters spelling out “Farmer’s Park.” Illuminated at night and rising out of the landscaping, it acts as a screen for the park, as well as a nod to the billboards that are part of Southern California’s dynamic car culture heritage.