Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Park Day: Veterans Memorial Park, Culver City

Oy, so today was supposed to be Blanco Park, which is one of the Culver City parks nearest our house. (It's right behind the Babies 'R' Us on Sepulveda if you know L.A.) But as it happens, that's only a part-time public park, it also serves as a schoolyard playground for the kids at the elementary school on that corner. We were trying to visit during school hours, so no go!

Then I thought I'd try looking for this mysterious park I spotted a map while I was figuring out where all our city's elementary schools are. To my surprise, I did manage to find Coombs Park (I have the world's worst sense of direction), but the reason it's not featured on Culver City's parks website is because it's pretty much an oversize traffic circle with about 12 trees and some grass. So, after going zero for two, I decided if we were going to have a park day at all, we should go back to re-explore Veterans Memorial Park.

Veterans Memorial Park is the city's biggest and most prominent park, all the Parks and Recreation offices and special resources are located there, and it shares two blocks with quite a few other notable facilities. We'd visited it once before on a weekend, but we happened to arrive as the Burmese Expatriate Association was having their annual family picnic (no really, that's basically what was happening!) so the playground facilities were overrun and it was hard to see what was what. There were no large gatherings in the playground today, and all the facilities were open because it was a weekday, so we got to poke around a fair amount.

The central feature of Veterans Memorial Park is the Veterans Memorial Building, at the corner of Overland and Culver, which was built in the early 1950s in honor of World War II veterans. The 120-foot tower is closed to the public because it's not structurally sound--and since the elevators are apparently broken, the only access these days is the stairs--but the loudspeakers on the top of the tower play chimes every hour on the hour. (They also decorate the tower during the holidays with a Christmas tree made of lights.)

The building also features a "rotunda room" that's visible from the street, a 1500-seat auditorium and a number of meeting rooms that can be used by the public. The rest of the Veterans Memorial Park complex includes the Culver City Plunge swimming pool (which dates to the 1940s), the Culver City Historical Society archives and visitors center, Culver City Parks and Recreation Department HQ, a teen center, tennis courts, baseball fields and a playground. Across the street heading north on Overland is the gorgeous Culver City Senior Center, and across the street heading west on Washington is a National Guard armory, an Amvets Post, the Culver City Community Garden and a fabulously decrepit old building that is shared by the local Boy Scouts of America troop and, I am not making this up, the Culver City Rock & Mineral Club. (And they really do have rocks and minerals in storage behind the building!)
We poked around the main building for a while, reading the many, many historical markers and dedication plaques, but Jackson insisted that we take a look at the fountain post-hasty. "Foundin! Foundin! Foundin!"
Dedicated in the early 1980s, the sculpture is a film strip, representing Culver City's identity as the "Heart of Screenland." (Fittingly, you can see the corner of the Sony lot, formerly the Columbia Pictures lot, across the street in the background of the picture.) Jackson did his level best to climb in the fountain, but there was no access that didn't involve brain damage. Foiled again!
Created in 1949 and renovated in the 1990s, the Culver City Plunge municipal swimming pool remains incredibly popular with locals. Jackson thought the traffic cone was very interesting.
Here's the playground at Veterans Memorial Park, which shares space with picnic tables and barbecue facilities.
Jackson skipped the toddler play structure in favor of a spinning thing toward the back of the kid zone. (One side of this play structure looks like a house, but on the other side it looks like a car. Good stuff.)
"Down now!" Jackson says "Down now!" as one word, and when he escalates from "Down!" to "Down now!" he really means it. You can see the Plunge building and the ballfield night-game lights in the background.
Jackson makes a friend on the big-kid play structure. Side note: Happy face above aside, this is the second time I haven't felt entirely at home at this playground. Maybe it's because it's on a busy street, may it's because it's pretty crowded and lacking the neighborhood feel of other Culver City parks, or maybe it's just the landscaping, but I remain unimpressed. I felt like J was getting run over by the many rambunctious bigger kids, and I was so busy keeping him out of danger that I didn't have time to chat up other parents like I sometimes do at other parks. I love Veterans Memorial Park overall--there's so much to see and do and it's a wonderful resource (they call it the "Heart of Recreation" because it's the center of public recreation in the "Heart of Screenland")--but this children's play area won't make my top playgrounds list any time soon.
When Jackson lost interest in the playground, we walked down to the Culver City Community Garden, which happened to be unlocked because one of the gardeners was working inside. Jackson enjoyed the piles of dirt and was especially thrilled to find a whole bucket of rocks. I tried to be all "Hey look, a ripening pumpkin! Ooh, Swiss chard!" but Jackson was all, "Lady, I don't know if you are aware, but they have ROCKS here. ROCKS!"


Jenny said...

Wow. That really takes you back to a time when cities had money to build great structures for the public good. Now it seems like we're just scraping up bond and levy money to keep those buildings, pools and playgrounds up and running.

jengod said...

Exactly. Culver seems to be holding its own--the senior center was just built, and the local schools and parks are doing quite well and being expanded in many ways, but by and large it is Rough Out There.