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Why Is Barnsdall Park Still Closed?

One iconic park remains conspicuously shuttered as more and more of Los Angeles re-opens.

The Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Art Park. (PHOTO: Doug Kerr)
The Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Art Park. (PHOTO: Doug Kerr)

Barnsdall Art Park, and its popular grassy lawn with panoramic views of the city, remains closed over a year after it first shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite other outdoor park spaces having long since reopened. 

This City-owned park in East Hollywood, perched between the streets of Vermont Ave, Hollywood Blvd, and Sunset Blvd, also hosts several small indoor museums, the most famous of which is Hollyhock House, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While the City shuttered many public outdoor spaces as a COVID-19 safety precaution early in the pandemic, by the Summer 2020 nearly all had reopened, providing respite and shelter to residents coping with a devastating year.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Knock LA found both gates of Barnsdall Park closed, with no signage explaining the closure. Knock asked a security guard stationed near the gate why the park was closed, and he indicated that he did not know.

Knock LA reached out to City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, whose district the park lies in, and the City of Los Angeles’s Department of Recreation and Parks for an explanation of why the park remains closed, but has yet to receive a response.  

Gates at Barnsdall Park are still closed. (PHOTO: Dan Curry)
One of the closed entrances to Barnsdall Park. (PHOTO: Daniel Curry)

Councilmember O’Farrell has faced significant criticism for his role in closing another park in his district, Echo Park Lake, with fellow Councilmembers requesting an investigation into the violent police response, and some organizations calling for O’Farrell’s resignation. 

On March 27, 2020, Los Angeles County closed all beaches and parks due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the City followed suit shortly thereafter.  However, as experts confirmed the safety of socially-distanced outdoor activities, parks and beaches began re-opening again in May 2020.

However some facilities remained closed for months longer, such as city playgrounds, which did not reopen until October 5, 2020, to the great frustration of many parents.  Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who urged the Governor to re-open playgrounds, previously explained that California “possibly just forgot to open them,” perhaps because the state was so “focused on economic impact that they forget the obvious things.”

Exposure to nature or green space is well-known to have positive physical and mental health benefits, and recent research has confirmed that maintaining access to parks and green space during the COVID-19 pandemic can counteract the poor mental health outcomes associated with life during the pandemic. 

Barnsdall Park is located in an especially park-deprived part of Los Angeles, representing the only public green space in all of East Hollywood. It also boasts easy access to public transit, being one block away from the Sunset & Vermont Metro Red Line (B Line) stop.

A sign welcoming visitors to Barnsdall Park. (PHOTO: Dan Curry)
A sign welcoming visitors to Barnsdall Park. (PHOTO: Daniel Curry)

Prior to the pandemic, the lawn was a popular destination for residents to picnic, exercise, or play with their children.  Los Feliz resident Tom Miller considers the park a “great community gathering spot” and fondly recalls the art shows, farmers market, and outdoor plays that the park formerly hosted.

Barnsdall Park also houses indoor spaces like the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Hollyhock House, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, and Barnsdall Art Center & Junior Arts Center.  The L.A. Municipal Art Gallery showcases local artists from Los Angeles, focusing on “underrepresented artists whose work may not otherwise have found a platform.”  However, indoor museums and cultural attractions around the city remain closed out of safety precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for many, the prime attraction of the park was its grassy expanse, which served as an area for communal activities and rest and relaxation.

As the neighborhood approaches a second summer without their beloved hilltop park, frustration is mounting with Councilmember O’Farrell and why he has let this situation go on so long. An unknown resident has created a webpage titled “Is Barnsdall Park Closed Right Now”, which contains a running clock for how long the park has been closed, down to the second.  This ticking clock currently indicates the park has been closed for 1 year 2 months 1 day 16 hours.

For local residents, that is time enough.