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The San Pedro Promenade,
Port of Los Angeles

by Todd Bronk, Landscape Architect, Associate, LEED AP, CSBA, Design + Planning, AECOM
& Editor, Stephen Kelly

Above & Below: The fountain at Gateway Plaza is a grand water show syncopated to music and lights, designed by WET Design in collaboration with EDAW/AECOM to become a major choreographed attraction and gateway to the waterfront promenade.
Above Photo: Brian Boecking
Below Photo: Todd Kohli
Cost of Wisconsin
Backyard X-Scapes Valmont

For some residents of San Pedro, Calif., living on the rim of the Pacific Ocean has not been a lifetime at the beach. Many people in the lower income community have rarely had the opportunity to access the water's edge. Once a small fishing village, San Pedro grew up in the shadow of the Port of Los Angeles against a backdrop of container ships and cranes and a constant flow of diesel trucks and trains. Over time, shipping activity blocked access to the water and local beaches. (Editor's note: The POLA is the number one port by container volume and cargo value in the U.S.) Now an ongoing waterfront renovation is changing that in dramatic fashion.

Custom "angel wing" lights, sprinkled throughout the plaza and other gathering areas along the waterfront, recreate the old cruise facility lighting at the time of the 1950's Hawaiian cruises. The "winged" lights, fabricated by the original lighting manufacturer (Cole Lighting), are a favorite with locals and a direct outcome of the extensive community outreach by the design team. The inset shows one of the maritime touches on one of the angel wings--seahorses.
AECOM 2008 / Top Photo: Dixie Carrillo
Bottom Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

The completion of the Gateway Plaza and fountain marks a milestone in the Los Angeles waterfront regeneration project for AECOM (formerly EDAW) and the Port of Los Angeles. The fountain site connects the initial phases of work at the Cruise Ship Promenade and the Harbor Boulevard Parkway. The Promenade provides up-close views of working cranes, tugs, and cruise ships and has created much-needed space for civic celebrations on and around the water. The Tall Ships Festival, the Christmas Lighting, the Children's Halloween Parade and the new "Cars & Stripes" July 4th event make use of this space.

The Harbor Boulevard Parkway connects the Gateway Plaza and fountain to downtown San Pedro though a pedestrian walkway, class-one bike trail and several plazas. Design details, such as the "story rope" along the parkway, provide rich historic tales of the site from pre-settlement through industry and even San Pedro's role in Hollywood.

Descending from the 2.2 mile-Vincent Thomas suspension bridge (left) you arrive at the Port of Los Angeles' Main Channel in San Pedro where the cruise ships park and embark. The fountain site was the initial phase of work for the Cruise Ship Promenade and Harbor Boulevard Parkway. The promenade continues north (right) to connect with Ports O' Call, a New England-styled "fishing village" of cobblestone walkways with shops and restaurants from which you can view the container ships.
Rendering: Design + Planning, AECOM

Project Design

The Gateway Plaza and fountain are prominent visual markers from the adjacent boulevard and offer a memorable up-close experience that welcomes locals and arriving cruise ship passengers with a grand water show syncopated to music and lights. Set against a sweeping backdrop of Canary Island palms, the fountain rises from a black-granite infinity pool, bisected by a granite walking path that literally invites the public into the water, providing a cool, misty respite on hot Southern California days. The pedestrian walk features an infinity edge, moving visitors into the main basin and water displays, while cantilevered ironwood seating along the exterior walls provides for additional public interaction and observation. The fountain's form and site design is largely the work of AECOM, while Wet Design contributed the fountain's jets, choreography, and lighting.

The attractive granite seat walls set in the plaza and along the promenade provide large seating areas and reflect the historical color of the red car line.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

Fountain Design

Fanare, the name given to the fountain, is programmed to music. The designers worked closely with community members to develop a meaningful musical selection for San Pedro, a town rich in cultural diversity and history, international connectivity and frequent movie-location site. (Editor's note: At least 58 movies included scenes shot in San Pedro, from the original King Kong (1933) and Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) to Chinatown (1974), Raging Bull (1980), The Big Lebowski (1998) and Fight Club (1999).

One piece of music for the fountain is an obscure Croatian tune tracked down and copied from an old LP to the delight and surprise of San Pedro's large Croatian population. (Editor's note: The Vincent Thomas Bridge, which leads the traveler to and away from the harbor, was named for the Calif. assemblyman who served 19 consecutive terms. His parents were part of the San Pedro Croatian immigrant community.) Recalling San Pedro's history as the embarkation point for Hawaiian cruises in the 1950s, the musical offerings include Hawaiian melodies and Jerry Goldsmith's haunting melody, " Love Theme from Chinatown."

Walking along the promenade from the Maritime Museum in the direction of the large fountain, strolling visitors are pleasantly surprised to come upon a splash pad (Wet Design) of colorful geometric designs. A mandatory stop if kids are in tow. The splash pad area and the portion of Harbor Blvd. behind it may one day be part of the San Pedro waterfront edge if planned future phases of the project are realized.
Photos: Adam Scott Kelly

The fountain operates at three levels during the day. During non-show times, the basin is an infinity pool, stretching across the Cruise Terminal access road and providing a civic entrance to the port and the Cruise Terminal. During daytime shows, the 58 massive jets rise in sequence from the basin to music and dance, keeping visitors cool and providing an active place for children to congregate and play along the water's edge. At night, spectacular water and light shows choreographed to music represent the culture, history and place in San Pedro. WET Design provided custom designed jets that dance and move with the music and showcase over 50 feet of water overhead, matching the scale and grandeur of the working waterfront.

The engraved words "Protectors of the Port" circle the hardscape medallion, set within DG. The core text explains the early concerns of fire. In the 1880s, only volunteer fire fighters protected the port. It wasn't until 1909 that those duties went to the L.A. Fire Dept. The port is the largest in the U.S. by container volume.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

Site Design

Gateway Plaza is a gathering space where visitors enjoy the fountain, board the Red Car (historic light rail), view the Cruise Ships, and learn about San Pedro's history. (Editor's note: The Red Line (1898-1961) ridership peaked in 1944 when U.S. troops stationed in Southern California awaiting shipping orders to the Pacific theater of operations, this editor's father among them.)

The Gateway Plaza Fanfare Fountain, set against a sweeping backdrop of Canary Island palms, rises from a black-granite infinity pool that forms symmetrical falls along its edges. The fountain is bisected by a granite walking path.
AECOM 2008 / Photo: Dixie Carrillo

Gateway Plaza is dotted by Mexican fan palms, which naturally occur in informal clusters around town, giving vertical presence to important civic gathering areas. Granite seat walls set in the plaza provide a large seating area and reflect the historical color of the red car line, while giving place to the scale and shape of the working container terminals visible from the site. Custom "Angel" lights, sprinkled throughout the plaza and other gathering areas along the waterfront re-create the historic lights at the old cruise facility from the time of the 1950s Hawaiian cruises. The original manufacturer fabricated the lights.

These winged lights were a direct outcome of the extensive community outreach by the design team and remain a favorite with locals.

Cantilevered ironwood seating along the fountain's exterior walls provides a good viewpoint for the fountain action. At a distance, the bisected path area where the children are creates a trompe l'oeil effect of people standing in or walking through the water. Those venturing along the water jets side of the bisected path can get significantly wet from the spray.
AECOM 2008 / Photo: Dixie Carrillo

Planting Design

The plaza and fountain are contained within an arc of Canary Island palms. These trees create an instant sense of space and human scale within the context of the surrounding industrial land in transition. Use of palms is limited to the most significant gathering areas within the larger project.

The pool's infinity edge (a water fall) creates interesting perspectives when viewed looking toward the plaza. The water seems to meld into the hardscape.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

The ground plane planting surrounding Gateway Plaza and the fountain are equal extensions of the Cruise Ship Promenade and Harbor Boulevard plantings. Mimicking the historical salt marshes that once existing along the water's edge, the natural grasses within the Cruise Ship Promenade serve as a nursery for the LA waterfront regeneration projects. Plants were selected for aesthetics, low water use, low maintenance and availability to divide and transplant into future phases of work. The sweeping natural grass plantings flow under the Canary Island palms and help screen Cruise Terminal operations and industrial activity along the waterfront. Restored natural meadows extend from the Harbor Boulevard site, encapsulating the southern edge of the fountain and providing a low-water, low-maintenance economic alternative for over an acre of landscaping. The meadow plantings offer separation and screening of the four lanes of traffic on Harbor Boulevard and soften the edges of the mechanical and electrical vault that operates the fountain.

This old Red Line train, which runs parallel to the promenade, gives passengers a bit of nostalgia, a little San Pedro history and views of the cruise ships. The old Red Line was viable transportation for Angelinos from 1898 to 1961. Ridership peaked in 1944 when U.S. troops stationed here awaiting their shipping orders to the Pacific theater of operations. A modern Red Line has been reestablished in L.A., along with the six other lines. It's called MetroLink.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

Sustainability & Civic Enhancement

The LA Waterfront Regeneration project applies environmental and economic sustainability principles. The design of the built work uses practices such as drought-tolerant plantings, recycled materials, low impact drainage, permeable paving and a significant greening of the site, thus reducing the heat island effect (the site was previously covered in asphalt).

The low-water plantings along the promenade mimic the salt marshes that once existing along the water's edge. Berkeley sedge, 'Bunny Tales' fountain grass, Mexican feather grass, crown grass, blue wild rye grass and a seed mixture of Festuca ssp. and Koleria were specified.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

Importantly, the project aimed to address social and economic sustainability. The seven-miles of waterfront under development are bookended by two economically disparate communities: one of affluence, the other of relative poverty. Because urban regeneration is among the primary goals of this project and development is intended to attract businesses and new residents to San Pedro, AECOM's designers carefully considered the phasing and execution of the project, kicking off development adjacent to the impoverished areas in order to bring amenities to these neighborhoods early-on. Large-scale features such as the Gateway Plaza and Fountain opened first, providing a much-needed catalyst for new investment and revitalization of adjacent neighborhoods and the downtown business district.

The fairly narrow strip that separates the cruise ship facilities from the tracks and roadway is packed with landscaping. The "turf" (left) is actually all native meadow plantings installed via hydroseededing, bulbs and cuttings, established over a one-year period. The meadow was just mowed for the year! The red-colored hardscape is a bike path (adobe red from Asphacolor). The center strip is granite pavers in Academy Black, Radient Red and Amber Gold (from Cold Springs), designed to match the compass rose and the theme of the parkway historical markers (story ropes). The concrete pavers in a custom color Desert Sand (Ackerstone) comprise the wider promenade proper. Golden rain trees Mexican sycamores and Tipuana (Tipu trees) are attractive additions to the urban setting and help create a buffer for Harbor Boulevard.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

About the Firm

EDAW has evolved! The name is now AECOM. The AECOM Design + Planning professionals work in concert with a wide range of experts to enhance and sustain the world's built, natural and social environments.

Concrete Pavers: Ackerstone Paving Co.
Decomposed granite: Southwest Boulder & Stone
Fountain equipment, specialized: WET Design
Fountain and site granite: Cold Springs Granite

Column lights: Se'Lux
Custom "Angel" lights: Cole Lighting
In-grade trail markers: Tokistar Lighting
Smart Pole series: Holophane
Uplighting: Hydrel

Site Furniture: Hess America and Landscapeforms (Gretchen Series)

Way finding is made easy with the colors of the ocean and markers uplit for nighttime directional needs.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

The maritime touches are everywhere on site. The pole bases along the promenade incorporate a "rope" motif.
Photo: Adam Scott Kelly

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October 17, 2019, 9:02 am PDT

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