Positioned between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica occupies a unique place in the Southern California landscape. The city recently got another feather in its cap with the “soft” opening of Tongva park, a $42.3 million, 6.2-acre park located between City Hall, Ocean Boulevard, and the western terminus of the 10 Freeway.
James Corner Field Operations —designers of the High Line in New York—created the park. Their plan emerged after more than two years of community outreach and intense research.
“We heard that Santa Monica is a casual place, tuned into environmental issues: their landscape, the ocean, the adjacent mountains,” said Sarah Weidner Astheimer, lead designer and project manager during the design phase of the project. “The community did not want a recreational park, filled with tennis courts and soccer fields. “This is a city-scaled garden for the community.”
Field Operations partnered on the natural palette with local experts Bob Perry and John Greenlee to incorporate lawns and meadows at a large, urban scale. The diverse topography of the site, a radical departure from what was once a parking lot, highlight’s the park’s location on the site of a defunct ravine, where water from the mountains once reached the ocean. All water features run from Santa Monica City Hall, across Main Street, where a stream begins its path through the park. The string of water features—taking on the same earthen hue as all of the park’s hardscapes—culminate in a terraced cascade near Ocean Avenue.
The site’s landforms organize the layout and programming of the park, which comprises five areas: The flat, civic-focused area in front of City Hall; Garden Hills for sitting and strolling; Discovery Hill, with a child play area, water splash area, and garden landscape; Gathering Hill, an amphitheater for 400 people; and Observation Hill, with lookouts to the ocean. The topography also quiets the park from noise impacts from Ocean Avenue, Main Street, and the freeway.
Gardens tend to be walled and insular, but Tongva activates fairly foreboding edges. Observation Hill, for instance connects the park to the Pacific despite the presence of wide and busy Ocean Avenue through basket-shaped, elevated overlooks (already the most Instagram friendly of the park’s features). The Park’s network of footpaths allow easy connections to neighboring Palisades Park, and also anticipate a potential freeway cap park over the 10 Freeway at the park’s northern edge (the proposed cap park would connect to Santa Monica’s city center).
The park opened to the public in mid-September, but will not be officially opened until October 19.