Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica Celebrates New Parks with Traditional Ceremony
By Jason Islas
October 21, 2013 -- Smoke from burning sage mingled with the fog as it rolled in off the Pacific Ocean early Saturday afternoon in Santa Monica's new $46 million park.
A crowd of residents, visitors and city officials stood quietly at attention, watching as members of the Gabrieleño Tongva tribe chanted a blessing for the six-acre Tongva Park, named after the people who lived in the area before the days of European exploration.
“We are dancing with our hearts today for you,” Chief Red Blood Anthony Morales told the crowd, which included Assemblymember Richard Bloom, Mayor Pam O'Connor and nearly all the members of the City Council.
Though fences came down in early September, Santa Monica celebrated Saturday the official opening of Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square -- City Hall's redesigned front lawn, named for a former mayor and long-time councilmember -- designed by the renowned architect James Corner. ("Tongva Park is a Unique Experience in Santa Monica," September 10)
The rhythmic chanting and steady beating of feet as the Gabrieleño Tongva dancers moved through the grass at Gathering Hill underscored what Corner said when he called Tongva Park “the new beating heart” of Santa Monica.
Bloom, who was mayor when the project was approved, agreed.
“I think the ceremony was very fitting for the opening of the park. It seemed to hit precisely the right note,” said Bloom.
“As I was sitting there, watching the proceedings, there were children splashing in the fountains, people walking around, enjoying the park,” he said.
Bloom and O'Connor, along with former mayor Mike Feinstein joined in the festivities when a throng of residents crowded onto the grassy knoll to participate in a Gabrieleño Tongva dance honoring children.
With the smell of sage lingering in the air and the cool marine layer washing over the park, O'Connor said the atmosphere “brought home the relationship of us humans to nature.”
Councilmember Kevin McKeown was also moved by the ceremony.
“One of the very first things I did within six months of being elected as a councilmember was to help begin negotiations to buy this land,” he said.
The City purchased the parcel more than 10 years ago from the RAND Corporation in the hopes of eventually turning it into a park.
“It's been 15 years and I can say today that it was worth it,” McKeown said.
As the dancing wound down, music wafted from the park's western end. A performance by String Theory “using invented instruments and sonic sculpture” was underway.
The group, sponsored by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's office, entertained those park visitors that weren't already taking one of the six guided tours.
Each of the tours -- led by various project leaders -- explored different facets of designing and building the park.
There was a tour devoted entirely to the trees and shrubs of the park and another tour for those interested in learning more about the park's “ornamental grasses.”
Another tour focused entirely on the parks' water features, among which is included a cascading fountain Ken Geneser Square, directly in front of City Hall.
Though Bloom had stepped down as mayor before the City Council voted to name the six-acre parcel Tongva Park, he said the decision showed great wisdom, because “it reflects the purpose of the park to serve not just the Santa Monica public but people everywhere.”
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