Photos by Mathew Scott

Ruth Coleman

Building Los Angeles State Historic Park (LASHP)

The 32-acre plot that now houses the Los Angeles State Historic Park (LASHP) is a testament to the power of community activism. Throughout hundreds of “hearing sessions” hosted by California State Parks, nearby residents voiced their wants and needs for the land — and, by doing so, saved it from becoming the “River Station Business Park,” an $80 million manufacturing and warehousing facility.

“There were enough ideas to fill up probably five hundred acres. People wanted a temple, they wanted a junior high…they wanted lots of soccer fields, they wanted just so many different things,” explains Ruth Coleman, former Director of California State Parks.

For a lifelong parks advocate like Ruth, public green space is vital to the health and wellbeing of a neighborhood. “[They’re places] where people go and find themselves, find their families, create communities, all of those things…I think it’s really important to hear people’s voices and then try as best you can to incorporate [their feedback]. It’s always frustrating to people when they tell you what they want and then you don’t do it.”

She remembers in particular one meeting where children were given the opportunity to envision the future of the park.

“I remember going to some of the meetings with little kids and the kids would be given big sheets of paper and then the outline of the park was on the paper. I’ll never forget this one little boy who had covered it all in blue and he said, ‘I want it to be a lake where it’s calm and quiet and there are no dead bodies.’”

Still, even the fiercest warriors can’t please everyone. “They didn’t make a huge lake for the whole park. So that little boy might be a little disappointed.”

Ruth Coleman served as Director of California State Parks under three governors. During her time as director, she oversaw the acquisition of over 115,000 acres of land, the funding of over 1400 construction projects, and $1.6 billion in bond funds that went to grants for local government groups building park facilities. She oversaw the aquisiton, planning, and completion of both Los Angeles State Historic Park and Rio de Los Angeles State Park, two important public green spaces for surrounding communities.