One of Los Angeles’s Best Kept Secrets – The Exposition Park Rose Garden

May 29, 2009 by Lisa Newton

The Exposition Park Rose Garden, a 7-acre urban oasis, is the largest public garden in the County of Los Angeles. Home to over 20,000 rose bushes and over 190 varieties of roses, the Rose Garden is visited by thousands of Angelinos and tourists each year. However, the history behind the Rose Garden is as beautiful as the roses that grow there.

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden’s Early History

From 1871 to 1911, the site of the now present Rose garden was part of Los Angeles’ “Agricultural Park,” where farmers came to sell their wares. On the seedier side, on the adjunct property, there was a racetrack featuring horses, dogs, bicycles, camels, and later cars; which invariably led to gambling, drinking at the city’s longest bar, and home to its more “stylish brothels.”

Across the street at the University Methodist Church, a devout Methodist and attorney named William Miller Bowen, taught Sunday school. Because absenteeism was becoming more prevalent at his church, Bowen turned his ire toward the dog and horse racing.

Pushing his way through the jostling crowds of spectators, Bowen found a track where horses raced and a separate course where greyhounds chased rabbits. At times rabbits were torn apart by the dogs as delighted spectators looked on. Between the races and dismemberments, Bowen saw open drinking, gambling and prostitution.

“It became clear in a very short time that the vicious influences here were more than undoing the work we were trying to do in our Sunday school class. . . . This is a plague spot, infecting the entire community, and if left alone it will bring us all into ill repute,” Bowen said. Source: LA Times

Over the next decade, William Miller Bowen launched a campaign to stop what he viewed as criminal activity operating heart and center in the civic community. His direct efforts eventually led to the establishment of the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”.

Pink Roses

By 1906, the race track was featuring non-stop car racing and demolition derbies, and Bowen, who was also the President of the Los Angeles City Council, was equally as outraged. At his own expense, he launched a lawsuit to make the Agricultural Park, public property. With the successful outcome of his campaign, the permanent destruction of the saloons and brothels wasn’t too far behind.


In 1914, the city announced plans to construct a wildflower garden at the park, but the rose garden was not completed until 1927. Now, the Rose Garden is operated by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.

In 1986, plans to dig up the garden to build an underground parking garage led to protests in the media. To add injury to insult, the Los Angeles Raiders NFL professional football team, wanted to uproot the garden to create a practice field.

They all failed, and to protect our national treasures from wanton and willful destruction, and other improper and imprudent considerations, the Exposition’s Rose Garden Park, was added to the in 1991.

Inner Beauty

While I was at the Rose Garden, there was an interesting national exhibition,

Cool Globes, whose mission is to raise awareness of global warming and inspire individuals and community leaders to embrace solutions. Currently traveling to various US cities, of which LA is number 5, this exhibit is well worth taking the time to view. It’s on display in Los Angeles until July 23, 2009.

Cool Globes

Children at different schools–and from different cities across the world–chose an important environmental topic to decorate the globe with, using unique, everyday, and interesting materials.

Cool Globes is a project by school children to encourage even more individuals, businesses and governments to adopt simple solutions to fight global warming. The Cool Globes exhibition has been held throughout the nation and has gathered substantial media and news coverage resulting in thousands of people learning about the project, visiting the globes and adopting solutions they can put to action in their daily lives to help stop global warming.

We Are What We Eat

If you haven’t seen the Cool Globes exhibit yet, well you’re just not cool. Just joking, but when used in terms such as public art, education, children, and creativity, it’s a must see. So far, it’s been in Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, and San Diego. And for the residents of Houston, mark your calendar, Cool Globes will be there starting in October.

As I’m Travelin’ Local more and more, I get to travel the world, and stay at one place at the same time. Who would have thought?

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5 Responses to “One of Los Angeles’s Best Kept Secrets – The Exposition Park Rose Garden”

  1. Diane C. says:

    Another one of Los Angeles’ treasures that I missed while I lived there. Thank you for the fascinating tour, I loved it! I recently found a rose garden at a park in the heart of Tucson. Unbelievable that roses can grow in the desert.

    Diane C.’s last blog post..Desert Spiny Lizards


  2. David says:

    I’m not much of a “flower guy” but your story and gorgeous photos sucked me in.

    As usual, excellent research for your story. It’s definitely on my [sigh] next go-to place.

    Lisa, you’re providing me so many new and interesting places to go here, how will I ever get any work done?


  3. Barbara Swafford says:

    Hi Lisa,

    What a gorgeous place. I’m a big fan of roses so if I was in your neck of the woods, I’d definitely visit it.

    I love the idea of the globes, too. What a great way to teach children (and others, too) about global warming and saving the planet. We’re all in this together.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..Liar, Liar


  4. I see London, I see France…in photos « The Native L.A. Tourist says:

    [...] Make use of L.A.’s public parks, where you can literally smell some roses, such as at Exposition Park’s rose garden. #gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; [...]

  5. 10 Fun Free Activities to Do in Los Angeles | Travelin' Local says:

    [...] Exposition Park:  Here, they have the Rose Garden, the LA Colisium, and the LA Swim Stadium, plus many more attractions. There’s nothing not to [...]

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