Vista Hermosa Natural Park
Los Angeles, California, 2008

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Vista Hermosa Park. Photo by Tom Lamb.

When the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority of Los Angeles (MRCA) commissioned the landscape architecture firm Mia Lehrer + Associates to design Vista Hermosa Natural Park, it asked the designers to create a “window to the mountains.” The park site was once part of El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles, the original “Town of the Queen of Angels” established by the Spanish during the eighteenth century. In 1892, the discovery of oil in the area stimulated rapid growth and the development of a city characterized by its mild Mediterranean climate and natural beauty. Generations of Angelenos lived in homes with windows to the mountains, but by 2008, this section of downtown had become a sprawling urban area, and although the Santa Monica Mountains were still in the background, residents of the working class neighborhood had little opportunity to notice. With the support of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, MRCA, and the city, Mia Lehrer + Associates created Vista Hermosa Natural Park, a place to relax and admire a restored native landscape.

The first new park in downtown Los Angeles in over a hundred years, Vista Hermosa is both a place for active recreation and an “urban watershed demonstration project” that encourages enjoyment of the outdoors and reinforces this pleasure through education. By sponsoring public meetings and other events, the clients and designers attracted community members interested in helping develop the park’s program; the surprising range of activities resulting from this public involvement is part of what makes Vista Hermosa attractive to so many people of different ages and income levels. The park includes a synthetic turf athletic field, a giant turtle sculpture, a bocce court, a children’s adventure area, and a rock-lined waterfall, while also offering opportunities to explore an oak savannah, meadows, and the chaparral native to the region. Visitors may climb sycamore trees, scale boulders, wander into a grotto, and enjoy picnics in an area surrounded by native habitat landscape. Upon its completion, Vista Hermosa Park was considered a civil rights victory.


Vista Hermosa Park, rock seating. Photo by Tom Lamb.

The sustainable design practices that make Vista Hermosa its own self-contained watershed significantly contribute to its success as an educational place to enjoy. The clients, who worked in partnership with the Los Angeles School District, have illustrated their commitment to environmental stewardship by incorporating state-of-the-art practices such as using permeable materials for hard surfaces and designing buildings with green roofs and solar collection trellis panels. A comprehensive cistern system, with a 20,000 gallon storage tank under the soccer field, collects water from drains, overflow irrigation, and storms for use throughout the year. Mia Leher + Associates chose plantings representing the ecosystems of the Santa Monica Mountains: coastal sage, chaparral, grass land, and oak woodlands. The area is part of the Pacific Fly Way, and riparian plantings in the bioswales and water collection basins attract hundreds of species of birds, as well as insects and small animals.

Vista Hermosa Natural Park is a landscape that demonstrates how environmentally sensitive design is making a difference, and its success has instilled a sense of pride in the local community, as well as hope for the future at time of intense global concern about the environment. In an area that was previously without any open space, the park offers what Mia Lehrer + Associates describes as an alternative vision of natural beauty, a dry native landscape with a view of the mountains.