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104-Acre Park in South LA Getting Huge 18-Year Makeover

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Willowbrook's Magic Johnson Park will get a sports complex, equestrian center, and more, but it'll take a while

Big changes are on the way for Earvin "Magic" Johnson Park, now that the LA County Board of Supervisors has approved an ambitious plan to renovate and expand the already very large park starting in 2018. The six-phase project includes the construction of an amphitheater, event center, reflecting pool, and state-of-the-art sports complex, among many other amenities. It also calls for the annexation of the adjacent sites of the former Ujima Village Apartments and a daycare center, expanding the 104-acre park to a roomy 126 acres.

An announcement from County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas notes that the park improvements are part of a "renaissance of Willowbrook," the unincorporated area of South LA that is also home to the recently revamped MLK Medical Center.

In a series of public outreach hearings, the project planners found that residents of the area had an array of concerns about the current park, ranging from security and safety issues to complaints about duck poop and worries that the park’s central pond may be contaminated.

These latter concerns are not unfounded—the park is situated on the former site of an Exxon Mobil tank farm, and in 2007 the Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the oil company to begin remediating contaminated groundwater on the site. Construction on the first phase of the park redesign will have to wait until after environmental specialists have given the go-ahead.

So far, the most controversial aspect of the plan is the construction of equestrian facilities, along with a 1.75-mile horse path. While area groups like the Compton Junior Posse, a youth equestrian organization, have actively supported the facilities (naturally), some residents are concerned that they may take up too much space, or that they will simply smell bad. Expect this debate to continue for some time, as the equestrian center will not be included in early phases of the project.

Altogether, the redesign is expected to take about 18 years to complete, at a cost of up to $135 million.

Magic Johnson Park

12601-12799 Wadsworth Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90059