Motion underway to rename Pershing Square after pioneer Biddy Mason

Downtown Los Angeles' Pershing Square, which includes one of the city's oldest parks, would get a new name to honor former slave and early founder of the city Bridget "Biddy" Mason under a plan announced Wednesday by Councilman Kevin de León.

In a Juneteenth-related news conference, de León said he planned to introduce a motion Friday to rename Pershing Square to Biddy Mason Park.

According to de León's office, the renaming would serve as a symbolic and overdue recognition of Mason's life. Born into slavery in Georgia in 1818, she became a prominent nurse and co-founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city.

"Biddy Mason's story reminds us that history is not just a collection of dates and events, but a tapestry of lives lived, struggles endured, and triumphs achieved," de León said in a statement. "This is more than a renaming. This is a reclamation of a legacy long overdue. I want to make sure that her legacy is never forgotten, but enshrined into our city permanently."

Pershing Square was originally dedicated in 1866 by then-Mayor Cristóbal Aguilar as La Plaza Abaja, then later dedicated in honor of World War I Gen. John J. Pershing in 1918.

De León -- who represents the 14th District, which includes Pershing Square -- said he will submit a separate motion to raise a street sign on Spring Street, between First and Fifth streets, in honor of Mason.

According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, Mason bought a nearly one-acre site in 1866, between what is now Broadway and Spring streets and Third and Fourth streets, the site of a mini-park in her honor named Biddy Mason Memorial Park.

Joining de León for the announcement were sisters Cheryl and Robynn Cox, fourth-great-granddaughters of Mason.

"We understand that as a Black woman she had not received the ceremonial accolades that many founders and contributors to the city received," Robynn Cox told the Los Angeles Times. "So having something like a park that is historic and was around when she was alive and has been a central part of the city is a great step in the right director for her receiving the recognition for what she has done."

According to de León's office, the councilman's proposal has been at least some years in the making. In 2022, a leaked audio tape featured de León and two former City Council members and another official participating in a conversation in which racial and ethnic insults were uttered.

De León apologized for his role in the conversation but refused calls to resign. He is now running for re-election, and will face challenger Ysabel Jurado, a tenants rights attorney, in the November election.

Last year, de León held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the first phase of a revitalization project for Pershing Square. The revitalization offers several key elements that will transform the park space, which is almost completely cemented, into an open and flat green area.

In 2012, the city initiated a design competition to re-imagine Pershing Square. The winning design, "Radical Flatness," by French architecture firm Agence Ter, envisions removing barriers and walls, opening up the park to the public, and restoring lush greenery to the once-concrete plaza.

To execute the plan, the city enlisted Gruen Architects, with Agence Ter as its sub-consultant, to break the project into phases, ensuring its feasibility and cost-effectiveness. The total project is expected to cost $21 million. It includes the demolition of the existing cafe structure, the revitalization of park edge landscaping, the addition of a new street-level entry plaza, and the installation of two new glass elevators and stairs for improved accessibility and security.