Grand Park's New 'Membrane Pool,' a Watery Playpen for Kids, Dogs and Billionaires
Sean J. O'Connell
Fountains can be found almost everywhere in downtown Los Angeles. The Department of Water and Power fortress has a sizable moat with eight sparkling, backlit blasts. The pool in front of the Central Library has a lizard skeleton coming up for air. Even the Bunker Hill steps have a trickle of water mocking those attempting to wheeze their way up its six flights.
But one of the best spritzing displays in downtown, the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, had up until this past weekend been largely unknown. Now it is a centerpoint of the newly revamped Grand Park, drawing a healthy dose of children, tourists and thirsty dogs to its thin layer of water. But few have considered what it will take to keep that water crystal clear from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.
The enormous Arthur J. Will Fountain was a highlight of the Civic Center Mall from its inception. The oversized bowl, located just below Grand Avenue, was mostly seen by fans of (500) Days of Summer and the lawyers and homeless wandering the promenade. When the Related Cos., a real estate superpower that is also involved in New York's Hudson Yards and Las Vegas' Cosmopolitan, ponied up more than $50 million several years ago, the redesign of the park was set in motion.
The new design has routed the overflow of the original, more traditional fountain into what the park has deemed its "membrane pool," with a half inch of water thinly spreading across 6,200 square feet into to a narrow drain lining the space.
Sean J. O'Connell
According to the website of L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, there is a lot of machinery at work below the fountain, "hustling around the clock" to maintain cleanliness. Los Angeles has higher standards for fountain water that folks may be unintentionally imbibing and the county has already set in its books a ban on fountains like this starting in September. Those private donations may have paid for the sharp new look, but the cleanliness falls on the shoulders of the Department of Health, which has to manually check the bacteria levels three times a day.
Over a two-hour span last Saturday, amid the pink patio furniture, native gardens and heavy security presence, a half dozen dogs and roughly 100 kids rolled around in the water. The head-high jets sprayed the kids in the face while all of the dogs took an opportunity to enjoy a sip of the water. Even billionaire cultural lightning rod and spearhead of the Grand Park project Eli Broad took a dip during opening ceremonies.
As the seasons and years pass, it will be interesting to see how much the city will invest in the fountain's upkeep. Such a large attraction, not visible from the street, will need a lot of help in getting attention from both visitors and maintenance staff. And visitors probably will need a few more things to do while they dry off. The dog park will open in the fall. Maybe the kids can go roll around in there after the pool and see what the dogs think of that.
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