The Interpretive Grape Garden
in the Los Angeles State Historic Park
The Interpretive Grape Garden in the Los Angeles State Historic Park will be a site-specific, public-memory installation that focuses on the city's early history (and 'pre-' history) through the grape. Located on the south side of the park, along Spring Street, the Grape Garden will be near the Los Angeles River, which will feed it, and near the site of the Tongva settlement of YangNa. It is in an area of the city where wineries such as Vache et Cie. and the Pelancoli Winery once operated, and where streets named after local winemakers attest to the city's role in early California winemaking. The state's oldest living vine, the 170-year-old Vina Madre at El Pueblo de Los Angeles National Monument is nearby. Winemaking continues to this day in the area, most notably at the historic San Antonio Winery and the more recently established Angeleno Wine Company.
The park is next to Chinatown, which was once called Sonoratown because of the large number of immigrants from the Sonora region of Mexico who settled there. It came to be known as Chinatown when the original Chinatown's residents were displaced by the construction of nearby Union Station in 1939. It was also known for a time as Little Italy because of the number of Italian immigrants who settled there. Many of these immigrants worked in the vineyards of Los Angeles.
The land where the Grape Garden will be planted is also where L.A.’s first train depot and River Station were situated, where immigrants traveling from across the United States arrived, and from where the city’s vast agricultural production, including grapes and wine, was shipped out to the rest of the country.
Layout of the Garden
The Grape Garden will be divided into three vineyards: the Tongva Vineyard, which will feature the native Desert Wild grape; the Spanish Vineyard, which will feature the winemaking Mission grape; and the Hybrid Vineyard, which will be planted with the Hybrid Mission grape. Traditional Tongva fencing, which weaves woody vegetation with tree and brush branches, will be erected to section off the different parts of the Garden.
In 1769, the Junipero Serra expedition arrived in Los Angeles. The man who kept a journal of the expedition, Father Juan Crespi, wrote about observing an abundance of wild grapes that seemed to him "arranged almost as if they had been planted." This statement may reflect a lack of knowledge about the ways in which the Tongva shaped the landscape, and can provide a jumping off point for the design of this part of the Grape Garden. The Tongva Vineyard will be planted with the native Desert Wild grape according to Tongva agricultural processes.
This part of the Grape Garden recalls the vineyard planted here by the Avila family in 1821, as well as the vineyards that characterized the landscape of pre-industrial Los Angeles during it's winemaking heyday. The Spanish Vineyard will be planted with the winemaking Mission grape and be arranged in rows according to winegrowing practice of the era. Through this section of the Interpretive Grape Garden in the Los Angeles State Historic Park, we acknowledge the symbolic weight for the Tongva, whose ancestors, under duress, planted and cared for the early vineyards of L.A.
This part of the Grape Garden will feature a Pergola that replicates a section of the vine-covered walkway built by Jean-Louis Vignes, the father the California wine industry. The walkway stretched a quarter-mile from his winery, which was located where Union Station is today, to the Los Angeles River. Built some time after his arrival in 1831, the Vignes Walkway was the first built tourist attraction in L.A., pre-dating the Hollywood sign by about a century. This Vineyard will be planted to the Hybrid Mission grape, itself a reflection of L.A.'s own unique culture — a hybrid of many.
The Time Garden
Another possibility for the Tongva Vineyard is to create a Time Garden. In this arrangement, a wooden chair, or other Western furniture object, would be placed in the center of the space, and the native vines would then grow up and over it, eventually returning it to nature. A stop-action camera would be bolted to the spot, which would film the growth of the vines through the years, as well as the decomposition of the furniture object. The Time Garden would be a contemplation on time and healing. While specifically referencing the Tongva, it will point to a wider conversation about the history of trauma experienced by diverse communities in Los Angeles.
The Hybridization Lab
The Hybridization Lab would be planted with a number of different hybrids, both those already existing and those in development to help the wine industry adapt to increasing heat and drought conditions. By the creation of the Lab, the Los Angeles State Historic Park would signal a commitment to work with winegrowers and a variety of scientists and researchers as the world faces increasing challenges to the planet's survival.
Grapes have been at the center of labor struggles in California from the time of the missions. It was in the planting and harvesting of grapes that the Tongva lost their freedom in the 1700s, and it was around the grape that Filipino and Chicano migrant farmworkers, led by Larry Itliong, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez formed the United Farm Workers. Cesar Chavez Blvd. runs within a half mile of the Interpretive Grape Garden at the LASHP.
The Willowbrook Vineyard
In 2018, the members of the Willowbrook Community Garden planted the first interpretive vineyard. Willowbrook is a community in South L.A. bordered by Watts, Compton and Athens Park. It too has an interesting grape history. Grape Street itself runs through it, and Vineyard Avenue runs not far to the west. Parmalee Avenue, named after a wine-making family in the area with ties to the Bush political family, runs nearby. French Canadian Remy Nadeau, whose 20-mule teams ran borax from Death Valley to Los Angeles, also had a nearby holding of vineyards growing Mission grapes. Not just a street, but a whole neighborhood is named after him.
Before that, Anastasio Avila, younger brother of Francisco Avila, who in 1818 built the Avila Adobe that still stands near the LASHP, most likely grew grapes on his Rancho La Tajauta, Tongva land that was granted to him in 1843 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena. (The word 'Taujata' actually meant 'Tongva' in the Spanish of the time.)
The Willowbrook Community Garden is within the Compton Creek Watershed. Compton Creek is the last estuary running into the Los Angeles River before it goes out to sea. The Willlowbrook Garden is a member of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.
Rose Pinkney, the organizer
of the Willowbrook Community Garden, and Ned at the garden. Rose doesn't usually wear bunny ears, but it was during one of the Easter parties that she organizes
for the children in the community.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLACE
While working in the wine industry, Ned became interested in the idea of terroir, of wine as a place indicator, reflective not just of terrain and soil, exposure, altitude and annual precipitation, but of traditions of farming and winemaking, of history and local culture. During a hiatus from his job selling wine, Ned turned his attention to his adopted city. He had learned only just recently that L.A. had once been the epicenter of the first California wine industry, with vineyards of Spanish grapes having grown just about everywhere he looked. And it inspired him to wonder what Los Angeles was like in those days. What would life have been like when Los Angeles was known as the City of Vines? Were the people who worked in the vineyards and wineries able to feed their families? How did the social, economic and political environment of Los Angeles back then shape the ideas and aspirations of the people who lived here? In other words, what was the terroir, not just of the wine but of the people?