A skater airs out of a ramp at Lincoln Park Tuesday June 21. Photo by Fernando Haro.

From providing space for Bollywood dance classes and dog obedience training to movement and flow yoga, Lincoln Park—Long Beach’s oldest park—has seen some much-needed revitalization over the past few months, thanks to a collaboration among several agencies, including Studio One Eleven, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine, the Long Beach Community Foundation, the Downtown Long Beach Alliance and the Billie Jean King Main Library.

For years, Lincoln Park left “a lot to be desired,” said Marcelle Epley, CEO of the Long Beach Community Foundation. “It didn’t make the best front porch for the library or the Downtown.”

Lincoln Park—which first opened as Pacific Park in 1888—closed in 2016 due to construction efforts around the old City Hall building, and the closure continued through the construction of the new Civic Center. The park officially reopened this past February with several new amenities, including an outdoor gym, a basketball half-court, a skate park, a playground and a dog park.

Now, as the pandemic highlighted just how necessary it is to have a vibrant Downtown park, the groups behind the effort say they hope to push the ongoing revitalization efforts even further.

“During COVID, we were really finding how important our outdoor spaces and parks have proven to be for people who need to get fresh air, and they do happen to meet their neighbors in the parks,” said Brent Dennis, the director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Marine Department. “That’s a really strong trait for a community to be resilient. … There’s nothing better than to know your neighbors.”

The $19.5 million park facility was funded through a public-private partnership with supplemental funding from the Port of Long Beach and a Los Angeles County Measure A grant.

“There was a strong desire for having something different,” said Nancy Villasenor, the city’s manager of park planning and partnerships. “That’s where the idea of having continuous activation to make sure that people were having positive experiences in the park (came from), for people here living in Long Beach as well as people that can visit our city.”

While the new amenities were a welcome upgrade, Studio One Eleven’s marketing director Sinead Finnerty-Pyne and senior urban designer Isha Patel found that the space was still missing a sense of community and an opportunity for daily activities.

Through $322,000 in funds from a Knight Foundation grant managed by the Long Beach Community Foundation, which was distributed to three organizations including Studio One Eleven, Finnerty-Pyne and Patel began to examine the park’s history, in order to determine the park’s future.

For some Long Beach residents, Lincoln Park has become associated with an uptick in crime and homelessness—the park was even vandalized within days of its grand reopening in February. But Finnerty-Pyne and Patel were undeterred by the challenges.

“How do you take some of the great history of the park and bring it into this day and age, knowing that the park has some challenges in the past?” said Finnerty-Pyne.

The park clearly has great potential, Finnerty-Pyne said. After all, for most of its history—from the early 1900s onward—the area was a very active space.

But work on the new master plan, which involved the demolition if the old City Hall and a rebuild of the Main Library, led to other changes. New fencing changed the park and library’s orientation, making the area more hidden from view and less desirable, she said. Although the library, now known as the Billie Jean King Main Library, opened in September 2019, the site of the park and old city hall remained fenced off as economic issues, some which were exacerbated by the pandemic, slowed completion of the new Civic Center.

“Long Beach has so many great cultural activities and events … but in terms of the Downtown area, it felt like the kind of energy was beginning to dissipate,” Finnerty-Pyne said. “This is a way to kind of bring it back and make it feel like a very central location right in the heart of Downtown.”

With a focus on building momentum in the space, Finnerty-Pyne and Patel began to introduce events and daily classes. Over the past few months, they’ve continued to grow.

Charlie DiBono, for example, has taught dog obedience classes in Lincoln Park since the end of August. During the first month, it was just DiBono and one person attending.

“Now we’ve got this huge class that’s, like, a regular eight people every single time I have a class, which is three days a week,” DiBono said. “And then from there, it’s like three or four extra people every class that just kind of come in as they want, and it’s been amazing.”

While word of mouth has largely contributed to the organic growth of DiBono’s classes, as well as Lincoln Park’s other regular classes, Lincoln Park now has its own website and Instagram page to keep people informed, said Patel, who hopes to begin connecting more with local businesses as well.

Inclusion is at the forefront of Lincoln Park’s programming, and this includes the city’s unhoused population, who do have a presence in the park, which is a fully public space, Patel said.

Safety is also key. Through partnerships with the DLBA and its safety ambassador team, as well as with the Public Works and the Parks, Recreation, and Marine departments, conversations regarding improving the sense of safety while remaining welcoming to all are ongoing, Finnerty-Pyne said.

Currently, there are still some parts of the day without regular programming to keep the park active, particularly in the morning. But the DLBA plans to increase its security presence in the area.

“We’re having conversations together, collectively, and we have a community that’s dealing with those issues as well, so I think initially it was like, ‘How do we all work together in a successful way?’” Finnerty-Pyne said. “And I think I think we’re getting there.”

While the Lincoln Park activation is meant to draw locals out, it has the potential to also serve as a space for events such as concerts and film festivals, making Long Beach a destination for tourists, Finnerty-Pyne said.

For the Community Foundation, which reached out to groups including Studio One Eleven to get involved with the project, it was important to involve creative partners who could serve as allies in bringing people to Lincoln Park, Epley said.

“In all my 25 years working in and around Downtown Long Beach, I’ve never seen a group work more collaboratively, creatively and seriously to prioritize making Lincoln Park the best it could be—not only now but also thinking about what Lincoln Park can be in the future,” Epley said.

With inspiration from Bryant Park in New York City, along with other cities such as Chicago and San Francisco, Finnerty-Pyne and Patel have set out to transform Lincoln Park into a true community hub—with hopes of ensuring the park’s long-term success and building sustainability, while serving as a model for other city parks and urban spaces to follow.

Part of the effort includes rekindling the Friends of Lincoln Park group, which was active prior to the Civic Center construction and consisted of local residents and business owners. The group is now dormant, but Epley said work is underway to get prior members involved with Lincoln Park once more.

“We’re in the process of reaching out to those individuals that tried to activate the previous Lincoln Park,” she said.

For anyone interested in joining a new iteration of Friends of Lincoln Park, Epley encourages them to reach out to City Fabrick, a nonprofit involved in the efforts. The Friends of Lincoln Park group would ideally continue working with city partners while fundraising and maintaining the area, ensuring that it remains activated, Epley said.

While all the current groups “have a vested and continual interest, (and) the effort won’t go away completely,” Epley said, the current program will likely continue into the next year, and from that point, the Friends of Lincoln Park group would step in, Epley said.

“It’s become a little community,” Finnerty-Pyne said. “Friendships have been made. People are connecting, and that’s the whole point, to bring people together and create synergy.”

Follow Lincoln Park on Instagram for updates on upcoming classes and events.

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