Johnny Carson Park Upgrade Includes Plans to Restore Natural Streambed

Plans are underway to upgrade Johnny Carson Park, the 17.6-acre green space between Bob Hope Drive off the 134, just a little north of Los Angeles River. All Burbank needs is just a little more funding to proceed with the renovation.

Named after the famed "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson, the green space has been part of the Burbank urban fabric since June 1943. The park, originally named Buena Vista Park, was once part of a 51-acre purchase from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Portions of the large tract were later sold to St. Joseph Hospital and NBC in the '40s and '50s.

What remained became one of Burbank's largest and most utilized neighborhood parks that stretches 17.6 acres, 8.76 of which are city-owned. The park was later renamed in honor of the late night show host in April 1992, to coincide with Carson's retirement. Decades of use naturally led to wear and tear, which prompted the city to explore renovation that would improve energy and water efficiency in the park.

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The centerpiece of their proposal would restore an 885-foot storm water channel into a natural creek, creating eight acres of natural habitat with a one-half mile ADA accessible trail alongside the creek.

"Right now, it's a channel. It's got concrete in there," said Judie Wilke, Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the City of Burbank. "Any water that gets in there goes into L.A. River. By taking out all of that concrete we're trying to create what are called bioswales, which cleans the water by natural filtration."

A view of the new streambed area from the bridge closest to Parkside Avenue | Courtesy of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the City of Burbank

This isn't the first time the city has tried to renovate the drainage channel. During the 1970s the city removed portions of the concrete-lined channel, then added grass turf and decorative boulders, which only made it appear more natural. The channel's main purpose however, was still the diversion of stormwater into the Los Angeles River. During periods of heavy rain, the streambed flows swiftly toward the river, leaving little to be absorbed back into the water table. With this current renovation the city, in cooperation with Burbank Water and Power, hopes to keep and treat more of the urban runoff within Burbank. The recycled water would then be used to irrigate the plants in the park, similar to the arrangement at the Japanese Garden around the Tillman Water Reclamation Park.

Other improvements include replacing the Tonight Show Playground with a new playground that complies with ADA and Certified Playground Safety Guideline requirements. New lighting and upgrades to the two existing pedestrian bridges over the channel are also being discussed.

Before Burbank can move forward however, the city needs to identify additional funds to make this renovation happen. "The bigger issue right now is working with council to identify funding to complete the project," said Wilke.

The city initially set aside money to fund the project through its redevelopment agency. However, the CRA's dissolution endangered those funds. The initial $5 million budget was then scaled down to about $3.7 million. The park currently has about $1.9 milion in funds available -- $1.7 million from California Natural Resources Agency and $ 283,630 in state grants.

The park will be up for City Council consideration sometime at the end of May. Wilke hopes that the Council will help the project find the additional funding it needs to be realized. Keep up with developments at the park here. Supporters may also contact Wilke at

Site plan of the proposed Johnny Carson Park upgrade | Courtesy of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the City of Burbank

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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