Gumbiner Park in Downtown Long Beach—the One that Replaced the City’s Most Dangerous Intersection—Scores Award

Photos by Brian Addison.

Gumbiner Park in Downtown Long Beach at 7th and MLK hasn’t just been a huge win for the neighborhood it resides in. It not only replaced one of the city’s most dangerous and crash-prone intersections but also provided park space to a park-deprived neighborhood but has also been recognized by the American Planning Association (AMA) for its achievement in Urban Design.

Here’s how AMA described the honor:

Creative vision, strong community and stakeholder engagement, diligent advocacy for open space, and concern for enhanced public safety resulted in the opening of Gumbiner Park in Downtown Long Beach in April 2017. Led by the PRM Department and the Department of Public Works, the project replaced a portion of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue that was previously known as one of the most dangerous intersections in the City, due to traffic collisions, with new recreation and open space resources and increased park access for the community.

The story behind Gumbiner is a purely Long Beach one.

Nearly fifteen years ago, Long Beacher and architect Brian Ulaszewski—the guy who now heads nonprofit design studio City Fabrick—had what was perceived as a crazy idea: get rid of the trisection of 7th Street/MLK/Alamitos, one of the city’s most dangerous intersection, by stripping away car accessibility on MLK and replacing it with green space and enhanced accessibility to the area’s two museums, the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) and the Pacific Island Ethinic Art Museum (PieAM).

First dubbed Armory Park due to the nearby Armory building to the west of Alamitos, the park was re-named to Gumbiner Park after Dr. Robert Gumbiner. (He happens to be a man of Long Beach legend: a tireless advocate for the arts, he was the single thrust that made the vision of Long Beach’s Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA)—across Alamitos to the east of the park’s space—possible. Gumbiner not only scored a 20,000 sq. ft. roller rink but also a 10,000 sq. ft. former silent movie house, combining the massive space together to create what is now MOLAA.)

After years of ups and downs, with hopes of having opened nearly four years ago, Gumbiner Park has now been a thriving reality for a year in DTLB.

“Gumbiner Park was incredible group effort that included hundreds of residents and community members who supported and guided the vision, to the many elected officials who helped steward it through the process to the dozens of city staff that made the vision a reality,” Ulaszewski said.

The AECOM-designed project—largely funded through two non-local resources, Prop 84 funds and CalTrans grants—provides roughly .85 acres of park space in dense residential neighborhood that is entirely devoid of any park space within a 1/2 mile radius.

Design and traffic control-wise, the project faced an interesting dilemma.

The slice that is Alamitos Ave. roughly marks the line where streets become one-ways westerly (minus a handful of streets that were east-and-west connections).

This was one of the many problems of the trisection: the convergence and divergence of one-ways and two-ways caused a massively convoluted transition for commuters. Now, thanks to the project, two-way traffic extends west of Alamitos until Atlantic as people traveling eastbound on 6th now divert to 7th via Atlantic instead of the former option of Alamitos. 

“The first shoe has dropped as the street realignment has made the intersections safer for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians,” Ulaszewski said “The other shoe dropped as the community gets to enjoy this new neighborhood asset on the daily.”

Initially, such proposals—particularly in dense neighborhoods like North Alamitos Beach and DTLB—are met mainly with complaints about the loss of parking spaces. Whenever I discussed my desires for eliminating a lane on Broadway between Junipero and Alamitos in order to expand the sidewalk and slow down traffic, the first question I always receive is: “Will that eliminate any parking?”

However, in addressing Gumbiner Park via community meetings, the public was mainly concerned not about parking spaces—of the 236 spots within the area, the park’s creation only diminished 13 located in the footprint of the proposed park—but rather what the park will provide, both literally and conceptually. And what was ultimately reflected was not a group of citizens concerned about their cars but rather a community in deep need of a space that brings people together.

One mother was frank, asking if there will be a slide and swings because that’s all her children need: a slide and swings — not a conceptual jungle gym-style arrangement. Another wanted to know about restroom access. A third wanted to include skateboarders in the design of the proposed skate area, while another wanted to emphasize the assets that MOLAA and PieAM provide, therefore making pedestrian access most important—not car accessibility.

And in the end, though many things remained unclear, it wasn’t frustration or counter-arguments that were expressed; if there was any unifying aura in the room, it was clear support—largely different than when the project was initially proposed

The result? A new park space that is already filled with skaters, dog walkers, families, kid, bicyclists, walkers, explorers, or those just flat out wanting to take a seat.

And now it’s an award-winning park.

“I can’t be more happy to see the community already using the park so heavily, just a day after the construction fences came down,” Ulaszewski said.  “Hopefully, Gumbiner Park can set a tone for a new type of public space in Long Beach: plazas as shared places that almost force social interaction among friends, family and strangers, because of the confined size of the open space.”

Gumbiner Park is located between 6th and 7th Streets on the west side of Alamitos, directly across from MOLAA and PieAM.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.