A Sound Garden in north Long Beach was envisioned in November 2018 as the completion of one project and an enhancement to another.
Next month, that vision will become reality with the opening of the Sound Garden next to the Houghton Park Community Center. The center itself is nearing the end of a $20 million rebuild, and could open next month as well.
Jane Netherton, past president of the Long Beach Community Foundation, is credited with being the spark for the Sound Garden. Designed by City Fabrick, it is a small futuristic playground where equipment is designed to make noise with children instead of children playing on it.
Last week, Community Foundation executive director Marcelle Epley offered a sneak peek. A construction crew, shadowed by and helped by a Long Beach Conservation Corps contingent, was busy pouring concrete and positioning pipe.
"That pipe is actually designed to transmit sound," Epley said. "You make a noise at one end and it comes out the other end sounding differently."
There also are drum-like stations, a stringed instrument and more. Designers at City Fabrick call it "an interactive sonic-art play installation."
Financing for the installation, $148,000, came from the Knight Foundation through the Community Foundation. Netherton has said the Sound Garden is the culmination of the Atlantic Corridor project begun in 2007.
That project, also funded by the Knight Foundation, was designed to connect the many diverse neighborhoods along Atlantic Avenue from north Long Beach to downtown. The Sound Garden is universally accessible and unique in Long Beach, so should attract families from other areas.
Once a construction company was hired and final design was complete, the total cost was higher than the foundation's $148,000. That's when the Conservation Corps stepped in, trading labor for training. The Corps also added a $75,000 grant, bringing the grand total to $223,000.
"I think it's working out for all involved," Epley said. "It's really a win-win project."
Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson nodded his head in agreement. The rebuild of the Houghton Park Community Center, hastened by storm damage in 2017, is a primary component of his North Long Beach Master Plan.
The $20 million project, financed through Measure A revenues, has saved portions of the historic 1939 center as well as the first addition in the 1950s as well as adding an entire new section of meeting rooms. Significant revisions will make all the spaces more usable while taking advantage of state-of-the-art technology.
That work, overseen by the city's Public Works Department, also should be complete some time in March. But that is only the beginning, Richardson said.
"We're working on getting historic designation for the oldest part of the center," he said. "That opens a lot of possibilities. And we'd love to put a gymnasium in to complete the center. It's a matter of money, and where it comes from."
Richardson also wants to rebuild the traditional playground at the north side of the community center — a project with a price tag of more than $1 million. The city has plans to renovate the family center building on Myrtle Avenue, including a new roof and reconfiguring the interior. That likely will be $5 million or more.
"We're transforming North Long Beach," Richardson said. "This is going to make a huge difference to our residents."