Northeast Los Angeles Placemaking Competition: Descansito Rest Stop


Project submitted by: David Dedlow

Project design for: Elysian Valley

Project Summary and Scale

The bike path along the Elysian Valley stretch of the L.A. River is squeezed into a 12' strip of asphalt paving between the River's steep embankment on one side and the walls and fences of the industrial properties on the other. Speeding bikes and strolling pedestrians find themselves at odds on the shared roadway, and the River is both visually and functionally cut off from the surrounding businesses and neighborhood. Our project proposes a public/private partnership that could help relieve this conflict, encourage River-adjacent property owners to turn their face rather than their back to the River, and create a model for gateways from the public space to the private development along it's edge.

At the industrial site at 1921 Blake Ave., a row of metal storage sheds currently forms an opaque barrier where the the property meets the bike path/L.A.River. Our proposed development would replace these structures, largely on the same footprint, but with two stories of stacked re-purposed shipping containers to create a small development of indoor and outdoor spaces that open up to the River both visually and functionally. We have dubbed this project Elysian Valley "Descansito". Approximately two-thirds of the site would remain privately owned exhibit/workshop space, but approximately one-third would be dedicated by the owner as public space, connecting it directly to the bike path, River embankment and adjacent public land.

Features of the private portion:

"Descansito Exhibit Space/ Workshops": The 1921 Blake Ave. property currently houses a picture frame manufacturing factory in a 12,500 square foot clear span concrete tilt up building erected in 1962. Future plans for the building are to subdivide it into smaller workshops with the hope of creating a co-operative of small artisanal industries. The glass enclosed lower story of the Descansito building would serve as showrooms and exhibit space for the tenants of the cooperative. The upper floor would be additional workspace/ studios.

Features of the public portion:

"Descansito Rest Stop": at grade, an outdoor area with benches and a drinking fountain where pedestrians can step away from bike traffic. There is currently a 3' high asphalt berm between the private property line and the bike path. This rise in elevation would be navigated via a wheelchair accessible ramp bordered by planters designed as LID rain gardens to catch and filter the run-off from the adjacent parking lot before it reaches the L.A. River.

"Descansito Outlook": at the second story, an open viewing platform that shades the Rest Stop below, and is wheelchair accessible via an elevator housed in a tower made from a shipping container turned on end.

"Descansito Bridgeway": Anchored at a landing cantilevered about 7' over the River embankment in order to be out of the bike lane, a dramatic pedestrian bridge spirals upward until it reaches an elevation sufficient to bridge the bike path, then crosses over to the Outlook viewing platform. The Bridgeway is designed to be a signature sculptural presence, marking the the transition from the River to the surrounding community, from the natural world to the built environment.

The "scale" of this project most closely matches the "Site Level" category of the competition.


Why are you committed to this project?

As property owners, businesspeople, and residents of EV, we are personally impacted by development along the River. As artists, designers and architects, we see an opportunity for innovative design to transform the untended interface between the River and the surrounding community into a signature feature of the City of LA.

What are the most relevant characteristics of project site and scale?

The site has long been industrial, and while there has been minimal conscious attention paid to esthetics, the utilitarian purpose of properties adjacent to the River has nevertheless resulted in an interesting visual vocabulary. Stacked shipping containers at the riverside property line are common at the industrial sites along the River. We are quoting that vocabulary directly in our design.

Describe how this project will reinforce a sense of place or enhance the built environment.

This project is designed to show how the interface between the L.A. River and adjacent development, which today has the form of an impregnable wall, can be reimagined as a series of openings-- gateways into the surprising and vibrant surrounding community, revealing the sense of place that already exists in Elysian Valley, and further identifying it with the Los Angeles River.

The project proposes to inspire, and offer a concrete example, of how development along the River's edge can integrate, rather than separate, the Los Angeles River from the City.

Provide a description of the project's necessary planning activities.

The most challenging planning requirements for this project would involve getting the cooperation of the multiple public agencies with jurisdiction over the L.A. River and the bike path. The planning activities would most probably be equivalent to those required for the Taylor Yard Bridge.

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What is a rough estimate of your project budget?

$250,000, not including the cost of building the exhibition space portion of the development, which would be borne exclusively by the private property owner.

How does this project leverage existing resources and efforts?

This project leverages the audience delivered by the attraction of the L.A. River to the benefit of the adjacent private enterprise. In exchange, the public receives needed amenities.

What community need is your project serving?

There is a conflict between bicyclists and pedestrians along Elysian Valley stretch of the bike path. This project offers a "turn out" for some relief.

Development along the river needs to invite passersby to look at the Elysian Valley community as an attraction worthy of their time and money. This project would serve that need.

If your project is realized, what does success look like?

Aside from the satisfaction of having the project built, success would be seeing it inspire others to share our vision for the development of Elysian Valley: low-rise construction; re-purposing of existing buildings; maintaining the "maker" culture; development that minimizes additional car traffic; development that physically, visually and functionally connects the public space to the surrounding community.

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