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Tongva Park is a Unique Experience in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

September 10, 2013 -- Santa Monica's $40 million Tongva Park across the street from City Hall opens to the public Tuesday, and the six-acre park is unlike any of the bayside city's other public spaces.

The sign at the northwestern entrance of Tongva Park, Santa Monica's newest (photos by Jason Islas)

With no soccer fields, baseball diamonds or tennis courts and only a small playground for kids -- with a jungle gym, three slides, a water feature and a sign that explicitly warns kids against climbing on the rocks -- Tongva Park was designed by James Corner Field Operations for a different sort of recreation.

Its meandering paths, careful, drought-resistant landscaping and modern, organic architecture, combine to make it feel like the open space around a contemporary art museum, more suited for a quiet picnic or an afternoon stroll than a strenuous jog or Frisbee game with your dog.

Entering Gathering Hill at the center of the park

Each of the park's four major sections exists as a separate and distinct location -- the topography and flora changes from place to place, marking each section as unique -- tied together by a network of arterial paths.

Despite its central location -- between Main Street and Ocean Avenue just south of Colorado Avenue and north of Related Company's Civic Center Village Project -- venturing away from the park's entrances feels like wandering into a world quite removed from the bustling city.

Visitors crossing into Tongva Park from City Hall are greeted with the "Water Bay"

Entering from the Main Street side, visitors are greeted by a cascading fountain and a water feature that runs along the winding foot path.

It's the same water that flows from the new fountain installed at Ken Genser Square across the street in front of City Hall, providing a symbolic connection between the two parks, explained Community and Cultural Affairs Director Karen Ginsberg.

  As the path snakes deeper into the heart of the park, the space eventually opens.

Gathering Hill, the largest swath of open grass in the park, is located at the park's center. It's also an amphitheater, ideal for small performances.

A collection of 49 telescoping stainless steel poles -- a sculpture by Spanish artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle called "Weather Field No. 1" -- sits at the southeasterly end of Gathering Hill.

At the top of the poles, anemometers and wind vanes dance in the morning breeze.

“I just love watching it,” said Cultural Affairs Manager Jessica Cusick. She likened the sculpture's movements to fire or watching fish school.

The path leads to the Ocean Avenue entrance of the park and loops around to a staircase that takes visitors to Observation Hill, two elevated viewing decks overlooking the Santa Monica Pier.

Each deck, with its wooden flooring, evokes the bow of a ship. They are wrapped in metal sculptures which, Cusick said, residents have dubbed “the nests.”

The pathway descends into the children's area where parents can let their kids play on three slides or the two jungle gyms.

Situated atop a stack of rocks even the most self-restrained child would find hard to resist is a sign that reads “No Climbing On Rocks.”

Crossing back over the center path into the park's northeastern corner, Garden Hill, the illusion of being separate from the urban world is broken by the steady sound of cars rushing along the 10 freeway.

“Morty” -- a towering Morten Bay Fig tree with a canopy that engulfs -- stands near to “The Three Amigos,” a group of large ficus trees that were replanted as a buffer against the freeway.

Morty offers shade and a buffer against the I-10

About 10 feet shy of Morty's trunk, the path dead ends, pointing toward Colorado Avenue, a visual connection to the city's downtown where there cannot yet be a physical connection, not without first building an expensive cap over the freeway.

While the fences come down Tuesday, the City will officially celebrate the park's opening on October 19.

The park's normal hours are from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but visitors will get a chance to stroll though it all night on September 28 for Glow, the City's overnight art festival.

Cusick said that during Glow, a piece of art would be projected from the park's entrance at Colorado and Ocean Avenues against the Wyndham Hotel's southern face.

In the meantime, staff is planning on having weekly events at the park. For more information, visit

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