Biddy Mason Memorial Park
Many Angelenos have visited downtown’s Bradbury Building, but not everyone knows about the nearby Biddy Mason Memorial Park located on the south side of the building, between Broadway and Spring Streets.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born into slavery in 1818. Not much is known of her early life, but by the time she was a young adult she was enslaved in the household of Robert Smith. In 1847, she traveled, mostly on foot, from Mississippi to Utah with the Smith household. The household lived in Salt Lake City for two years, then resettled in San Bernardino, California in 1851. California was admitted to the Union in 1850 as a free, nonslave state, which meant Smith was holding Mason illegally. Mason fought for her freedom in court, with the trial ruling confirming her freedom in 1856.
As a free woman, Mason settled in Los Angeles with her children and found work as a nurse and midwife. In 1866, she purchased a nearly one-acre site between present-day Broadway (then Fort Street) and Spring Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets. On this, the present location of the park, she built her homestead.
Throughout the years, this pioneering black woman purchased more property, and as the value of her holdings escalated, she eventually became a relatively wealthy woman and an untiring philanthropist.
This mini-park was designed by landscape architects Katherine Spitz and Pamela Burton. The artwork Biddy Mason Time and Place is an 80-foot-long poured concrete wall by artist Sheila Levrant de Bretteville. The wall is a timeline of Biddy Mason’s life, illustrated by impressions of objects such as agave leaves, wagon wheels, and a midwife’s bag, as well as simple text and images such as an early survey map of Los Angeles and Biddy’s freedom papers. The history begins at the right (northernmost) end of the wall with the text “Biddy Mason born a slave,” and progresses in time to the inscription: “Los Angeles mourns and reveres Grandma Mason.”