Downtown L.A.'s emergence as a residential neighborhood has focused attention on the area's dearth of green park space and, with it, the perceived shortcomings of the city's oldest park: Pershing Square. In its 163-year journey from open pasture to urban park, Pershing Square has weathered nagging complaints and survived multiple, radical renovations. With its privileged position between the city's historic core and financial district neighborhoods, the five-acre public square remains downtown L.A.'s central park.
Pershing Square was born as a rectangle named Block 15 in 1849, when surveyor E.O. Ord sketched an orthogonal grid of city blocks that extended southwest from the historic heart of Los Angeles. Like the streets -- 5th, 6th, Hill, and Olive -- that bounded it, Block 15 was little more than a cartographic fiction, created to allow the city to auction off some of the original land granted to the pueblo by the Spanish Crown. With no fences to delineate the tracts and few street improvements, much of the land still looked and functioned like open pasture, and for decades travelers ignored Ord's streets, crisscrossing the empty blocks as the terrain dictated.