Environment & Science

Frank Gehry's touch felt on LA River revitalization

Architect Frank Gehry in his Marina Del Rey studio.
Architect Frank Gehry in his Marina Del Rey studio.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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Frank Gehry has already left an indelible mark on the look of Los Angeles. His architectural gems include the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Loyola Law School and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

Now his mark could be made on the L.A. River. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the famed architect has been working pro bono to produce "a master plan" to revitalize the river, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the story Friday.

Most of the river was converted into a concrete water channel by the Army Corps of Engineers after destructive flooding in the 1930s. Plans to restore natural areas and recreational amenities to the river have been in the works for years.

In a written statement released on Friday, Garcetti expressed excitement at Gehry's involvement but did not elucidate how the architect's vision would mesh with existing plans:

"I am excited Frank Gehry is interested in bringing his talent and expertise to the Los Angeles River. The river is 51 miles long and runs through 14 cities, so it's important to have a regional and integrated approach that will complement and advance existing plans, such as the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration project.  I look forward to seeing how this new effort will help us engage with the public, explore opportunities, and expand upon decades of work dedicated to revitalizing our river."

Groups involved with revitalization plans are concerned a project from Gehry could complicate existing efforts. Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers approved a roughly $1.3 billion plan known as Alternative 20, which would renovate an 11-mile stretch of the river near Elysian Park. 

"You’ve got real challenges to cause something that costs this much money to be adopted," said Lewis Macadams, co-founder and president of Friends of the Los Angeles River. "I don’t think it’s helpful to us to have a different plan being nosed about, noised about, at the same time we’re trying to — we just got the Corps of Engineers to sign off on support of Alternative 20."

Little is currently known about the project outlined by Gehry and his team. Neither Gehry's office nor the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation responded directly to requests for interviews from KPCC.

Barbara Romero, deputy mayor for city services, said Gehry's work would "build on" existing plans, not interfere with them, according to the Times.

Mia Lehrer, owner of Mia Lehrer and Associates, which has been heavily involved in developing the current river plan, said she has seen some maps of the proposed project but awaits further details of scope and cost estimate.

"I really think it’s up to them to justify their objective, and I look forward to knowing more in the future," Lehrer said.