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Politics and Government Archival Collections in USC Libraries Special Collections: Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park

Guide to the collections of political papers and records held by USC Libraries Department of Special Collections


The Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park had its beginnings in 1965 when a woman named Grace E. Simons organized a group of Los Angeles citizens to successfully prevent the development of a convention center in Elysian Park-- Los Angeles's first and oldest park.  Since that time, the Committee has maintained its mission to raise public and official support to preserve the park land as public open space, and to develop it for recreational activities.

Historical Background

Elysian Park is Los Angeles's first and oldest park.  It was part of the original 1781 land grant to the pueblo of Los Angeles from King Carlos III of Spain.  The initial 550 acres of Elysian Park were "...forever dedicated to the public..."  in 1886, and by 1937 had grown to a little over 600 acres.  The park is the site of the first Botanical Garden in Southern California.  In the 1880s about 37,000 eucalyptus trees were planted on park land, and in the 1890s the Los Angeles Horticultural Society began planting many specimens of rare trees including the double row of wild date palms north of Stadium Way.  About 67 species remain of the original plantings. 

Elysian Park serves as an enormous backyard for the families who live in nearby neighborhoods such as Echo Park, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, and Elysian Heights.  Notable sites and buildings at or near Elysian Park include the Portola/ Fremont Gate, Victory Memorial Grove, the Chavez Ravine Arboretum, the Avenue of the Palms, the rock garden at the Police Academy, the Recreation Center in the Solano Canyon section of the park, Barlow Hospital, tunnels on the Pasadena Freeway, Arroyo Seco Parkway, and the Buena Vista Reservoir.  Trees are regularly purchased and planted in Elysian Park by CCSEP members and friends as loving memorials to the living and the dead.

Before the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park was formed in 1965, the Pasadena Freeway had already split the park, and Dodger Stadium had been built on part of Chavez Ravine and Elysian Park.  When a group of promoters presented a plan to the the Avenue of the Palms for the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Committee organized itself with Grace E. Simons as its first president.  They successfully stopped the development and continued to fight many more battles over the years in an effort to preserve Elysian Park as a pulic park and oasis in the heart of Los Angeles.  The CCSEP felt that Elysian Park was essentially Los Angeles's Central Park or Golden Gate Park, but had historically not been given the same status or protection as its more famous parks.  It was their opinion that the greatest danger to park survival was combined public indifference and special interest pressures to take park land for non-park purposes.  All of the Citizens Committee's volunteer energies were aimed at arousing public and official awareness of the value of saving public park land and in preserving the section of the Los Angeles City Charter which reads, "All lands heretofore or hereafter set apart or dedicated as a public park shall forever remain to the use of the public inviolate..."

Annual tree planting and dedication at Elysian Park, 1987

Annual tree planting and dedication at Elysian Park, 1987

Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park Records

The Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park records document the activities of a citizens' group from the 1960s to the early 2000s.  The CCSEP was founded by Grace E. Simons in 1965 after two City Council committees had voted to back a proposal to build a new Los Angeles Convention Center in the heart of Elysian Park, L.A.'s oldest park, and seond-largest after Griffith Park.  The ten million dollar plan would have set aside 63 of the park's 575 acres for the Convention Center, a plan supported by then-mayor Sam Yorty.  The Citizens Committee, organized specially for the Convention Center fight, rallied public support and ultimately won the battle in August of 1966 when the City selected 31 acres of Pico and Figueroa as the Center's new home.  But for the CCSEP, the war was not over, as over the years they fought to restore the park's beauty and fought a series of proposals to use Elysian Park for, among other things, a short take-off and landing airpot (STOL), oil drilling by Occidental Petroleum, an Asian cultural center, temporary classrooms, a child care facility, several condominium projects, and expanded Police Academy.  They fought the Department of Water and Power over a proposal to cover up the Elysian Reservoir with an aluminum roof and possibly solar panels as part of a water quality improvemnt project.  The Committee also fought for causes, such as improved irrigation facilities for the park's trees, many of which were destroyed in a disastrous 1981 fire.  When necessary, the CCSEP went to court to obtain compliance with state environmental and park protection law.

The collection contains many of the court documents and environmental impact reports surrounding the myriads of cases with which the Committee dealt.  The collection also contains correspondence between members of the Committee and city officials (among other correspondents), documents related to all the issues CCSEP handled over the years, newspaper and magazine articles, CCSEP administrative files and rosters, ephemera relating to CCSEP events and fundraisers, and photographs.

The records were donated to USC Libraries in 2004 by the Board of Directors of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park.

Research Resources

Diri, Phyl, California History, "Where the Brake Fern and Willow Find a Home," 62:162 (Fall 1983)

Kaplan, Sam, "The Saving Grace of Elysian Park," Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1980

Lilliston, Lynn, "The Fight to Keep Elysian Park a Park,"  Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1972