Charles Phoenix’s Slide of the Week: MacArthur Park, 1956

MacArthur Park

Wilshire Boulevard curves like an asphalt rainbow across the lake. Lush greenery and stately buildings reflect in the deep blue water. The vintage band shell on the right is like a space age McDonalds, complete with a “golden arch” framing the stage.

New York’s Central Park may be a zillion times bigger and more talked about than MacArthur Park but it was never the inspiration and subject of a #1 hit song sung to a pounding disco beat. Remember Donna Summer singing? – “MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark – all that sweet green icing is flowing down…” Yes that’s about the little oasis in the middle of the bustling big city. What in the world does MacArthur Park have to do with cake? It rhymes with lake? Lakes are the last thing that comes to mind when I think of Los Angeles. But the City of Angels does have a few. There’s Silver Lake and Echo Park Lake, which were both formed by Mother Nature, and the man-made lake at MacArthur Park. It was created in the mid-1880s on what was then the far outskirts of town.

These days the lake is more like a big free-form swimming pool– it has a cement deck all the way around it. Chaise lounges and a diving board are all that is missing. Visitors (and residents) that populate the park, many clearly in various and altered states of being, seem oblivious to the abundance of historic plaques, colorful murals and important monuments that decorate the lush setting. The oldest and most beautiful sculpture depicts Prometheus bringing fire to earth. It was dedicated in 1934, the year that Wilshire Boulevard finally cut across the lake. Among the other artistic and cultural oddities are a gigantic piece of hard candy and the Garden of Voices where pre-recorded poems are supposed to be recited in several languages from speakers in park benches in the children’s playground. But none are as interesting and arresting as the namesake monument dedicated in memory of General MacArthur in 1955. A big brass sculpture of the fearless leader stands before a shallow pool of water with the Philippine Islands rendered in miniature. This was worth the trip alone. Even if the pool is empty.

After a brisk walk around the park I was hungry. That’s good because cattycorner from the park, on the south east corner of Wilshire and Seventh Street, stands Los Angeles’ other great deli, Langers. Yes, Canter’s is the other! Langer’s very well may serve the best Pastrami on rye on the planet and they have been doing so there since 1948. While I waited for the dream sandwich and pickle to arrive I was mesmerized by three brilliant 1968 paintings of the guys behind the counter making sandwiches, and the décor that doesn’t look like it’s been touched since those paintings were painted.

Here’s to General Macarthur, his park, pastrami on rye and you!
Charles Phoenix

P.S read more about MacArthur Park in Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles by Eric Lynxwiler and Kevin Roderick

Visit Charles’ site, God Bless Americana, or join his Yahoo Group.

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Norris Theatre, Rolling Hills,
Saturday January 14, 2006 @ 2PM & 8PM
Online tickets and info

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Lancaster Performing Arts Center,
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Online tickets and info