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The First/Broadway Park site has a wild, unusual history

Two bombings, unofficial underground homeless housing, and so many cats

The dirt lot at the corner of First between Broadway and Spring is the future home of a new, $28-million park designed by Mia Lehrer + Associates, but the property’s past is just as interesting as its future.

KPCC’s Offramp talks local history buff Robert Petersen, producer and host of the podcast The Hidden History of Los Angeles, who goes all the way back to 1910. At that time, the lot held the second home of the Los Angeles Times. That year, two men planted a bomb—a suitcase with 17 sticks of dynamite—at the brick and granite building.

"What the bombers didn’t know is that there were gas lines underneath the building," Petersen says. The resulting fire was enormous, and claimed the lives of 20 people. (Other accounts have said 30 people died.)

The LA Times, firmly anti-union at the time, blamed labor unions for the blaze; later, when the perpetrators were captured in Detroit, is was found that they did have ties to the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers.

When excavating for the park last year, workers unearthed what was believed to be the foundation of this building.

That was just the first time this lot was bombed. In 1932, the California State Building went up on the future park site. In 1974, it, too, was bombed by the Weather Underground. The building stood for another two years, until 1976, when "earthquake damage caused it to be closed and demolished," though the building’s foundation and underground parking facilities remained.

In 1984, the site was the home of a tent city created by a homeless activist; in 1986, another homeless group put up an enormous, 5,000-foot circus tent and housed about 200 homeless people under it. (The project didn’t last long, though.)

Established use of the site by the homeless corresponds with what a homeless man told LA Times columnist Steve Lopez in 2012, that the homeless had lived in the garage since at least the 1980s, as many as 30 people at a time. "People down there divided the space into what [the homeless man] referred to as apartments, saying they used candles and lanterns at night," Lopez wrote.

The underground parking facilities also attracted a colony of feral cats. When demolition began on the lot to clear the way for the construction of the park, the cats had to be removed by workers before anything could be done on the lot. "It was definitely a project to get them out of there," says Petersen. Any homeless people still living in the underground parking also had to leave.

The next chapter for this lot is a lot more tame. The upcoming First and Broadway Park park, scheduled to be complete in 2019, will feature a two-level restaurant, a beer garden, and photovoltaic shade structures that mimic California poppies.