La River Center and Gardens is one of such places that can easily host equally successful big and small weddings, an elegant celebration, or a rustic DIY wedding
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Location & History of the Los Angeles River Center and Garden
LA River Center and Gardens is actually an event venue suitable not only for weddings. It has a small Visitor Center with an exhibition for those interested in the history of the L.A. River and the wildlife of the area. It is also an outdoor and indoor space for community events and meetings of any kind.
The venue’s location is ideal for someone who does not plan to leave the city for his event — over the Los Angeles River just in some minutes from downtown Los Angeles.
In the past, LA River Center & Gardens was called Lawry’s California Center, firstly opened in 1953. The company Lawry’s Foods opened a spice plant factory and head office thereafter added three restaurants for thousands of visitors who toured the factory. It became a beloved Los Angeles attraction for three decades and was closed in 1992 due to the recession of those years.
Starting from 2000, the area was reopened and at the moment runs by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). It has retained its original Early California style buildings with bell tower, old-growth gardens, and its charm.
Venue’s Amenities of Los Angeles River Center and Gardens
For your wedding, you will have the full 12 hours at the venue — from 1:00 PM to 2:00 AM.
These 12 hours have to include the whole event with its setup and breakdown. It means that all guests and vendors must leave the property by 2:00 AM, including their cars.
Together with event spots, you will get such facilities as:
- a bridal room,
- a prep room for caterer use,
- a fireplace,
- a large bar and a small cocktail bar,
- free parking up to 150 cars,
- liability insurance included in the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens wedding cost.
You are not allowed to bring caterers from outside, the River Center will provide you with its caterer list from which you can choose. But you’ll need to find a coordinator & your vendors for rentals (tables, chairs, etc.) and other event needs.
There are some restrictions because the concept of the River Center is first and foremost land conservation and ecological functions. The management will provide you with all information about restrictions so that you can decide if it fits your event.
- They are quite severe with decorations: no decorations may be affixed into/ onto the buildings or any trees; no rice; balloons, doves, confetti, or any of the kind is not allowed.
- They may charge a fee for extra work to remove the trash left behind or heavy cleaning of food.
- There are some requirements according to electrical power outlets as well.
- Pets are allowed under special conditions.
Event spaces of Los Angeles River Center and Gardens
For weddings, La River Center and Gardens offer 3 certain areas. All of them can be used for both ceremony & reception.
There are 2 big outdoor areas and an indoor one:
- The Main Courtyard can accommodate 300 guests for the ceremony and up to 600 guests for an outdoor reception. This multi-level patio is surrounded by the arcaded terraces of the River Center & Gardens buildings and is its biggest spot for celebrations.
- San Fernando Courtyard is a smaller side patio with an adjusted green lawn. It has the capacity of 250 guests for a ceremony and 300 guests for a reception. These two areas are the most popular places for weddings.
- If you would like to celebrate indoors, you can use the beautiful Atrium — a spacious room with a skylight — in the main building in front of the central courtyard called the California building. Still, this room with a capacity of 150 guests for a ceremony and 200 for a reception is not for big celebrations.
Other areas of the property also have nice names like San Fernando or the Sierra Madre buildings but they are all offices used by employees and you will not have access to them. Also, keep in mind that the area is not totally private: the public will have access to other areas of the park during working hours.
The couples which I have photographed at the La River Center and Gardens, all have chosen outdoor weddings and further, we will talk mostly about outdoor areas.
Bride & Groom Getting Ready shots at Los Angeles River Center and Gardens
A bridal suite is in the right wing of the California building, on the 2nd floor. It’s a quite cozy, spacious, and functional room. It has all the facilities which a bride may need. However, at the weddings where I photographed, only one bride has chosen this option to make her preparations there. Other brides choose hotels nearby for preparations. It’s also a convenient solution thanks to the venue’s perfect location.
First Look at Ponte Winery Weddings
If you will choose a bridal suite of the La River Center for your preparation, you won’t need to go far for your First Look. The interiors and stairways of the California building in Spanish hacienda-style will be magnificent scenery for it.
Another great place is arcaded terraces that surround the Main courtyard. White columns ringed by greenery create a mesmerizing frame for two loving persons.
If you like a naturally beautiful romantic ambiance in the pictures, tall ivy-covered walls can serve as a nice backdrop. Actually, at the River Center, you find yourself ringed by green walls — from pepper trees to bushes of roses and flower-filled terracotta pots. Use this stunning vista to your best to make your Los Angeles River Center and Gardens wedding photos.
Family & Wedding party portraits at La River Center & Gardens
The majestic arched, wrought-iron gate is a center of attraction at every La River Center and Gardens wedding and an ideal spot for small or big group photos. This gate opens to the first small courtyard with a nice tiny fountain that you can also use as a backdrop for your pictures. At the back, you will see carved wooden doors that can be a nice rustic frame for couple & small group portraits. These wooden doors, in their turn, invite guests to enter the Main Court where the actual celebration will start.
Soft diffuse light coming through the leaves of big trees surrounding the Main courtyard is very flattering for portraits. You can make many great shots under the trees right in front of Early California style buildings.
The eye-catcher of the court is the beautiful three-tiered fountain in the center of a tiled pool. It has been here since La River Center & Gardens was a restaurant paradise. Around this iconic fountain, you can make some good shots as well.
Ceremony areas of La River Center and Gardens
As I’ve explained above, you will have two outdoor options for your celebrations:
- the Main Courtyard, and
- the side patio with a lawn called San Fernando courtyard.
You can choose any of them for your ceremony or reception. However, the Main courtyard is great particularly for parties, and the San Fernando court for ceremonies. And here is why.
San Fernando Courtyard is a broad patio with an adjoining lawn on the westside. A giant old ficus tree keeps this patio in the shade which makes it protected against the direct sun and heat. Not to mention that thanks to this shade you’ll get quality photos with all faces clear and without harsh contrasts. The tree-lined walls add to the privacy of the spot.
I highly recommend decorating the altar place with flower arrangements. An experienced florist will find this spot a perfect canvas for his ideas. It’s very important to make the place look attractive and special. Compare these two Los Angeles River Center and Gardens wedding photos and draw conclusions.
Sometimes you may hear the cars passing on one of the main streets so it can be a little difficult to tune out. Keep it in mind while setting up your audio equipment for vows and speeches. Yet, you are in the center of L.A. 🙂 Though the calm soothing atmosphere of the spot can make you forget it.
In case of rain, you are allowed to tent the San Fernando courtyard. For the Main Courtyard, it’s not allowed. In this rare case you can just make your tented ceremony in the San Fernando courtyard and after that move your reception to the Atrium — a spacious two-level room in the California building.
Reception area of La River Center and Gardens
Organizing your party in the Main courtyard you will find a lot of space for your table layout. Nobody will sit in the dark corner and feel isolated from the main crowd. You will have a really huge space.
There are two bars on different sides of the patio with enough room nearby to organize a cocktail hour for guests.
The carved wooden door of the courtyard is an ideal frame for your Grand Entrance. Guests will see you entering the reception from anywhere in the courtyard.
Another convenient facility of the spot is a circular enclosed small stage for First Dance that may serve also for any guests’ entertainment including to display your wedding cake.
Guests will like to have dinner near the babbling fountain and a fireplace. Yes, there is a section with the fireplace that you can use as well — for warming up and adding a rural romantic vibe (but not for cooking). Setting up couches and coffee tables around it makes a great lounge. By the way, on a chill evening, you will also be provided with heaters.
If you find that you need more lighting in the evening don’t hesitate to set up your own decor lights additionally to the venue’s illumination. It will look magical in the evening. Actually, you will need more light during the evening reception for quality photography. In such cases, I set up my additional lighting equipment to get great shots.
By the way, you will have a nice bonus from La River Center & Gardens: your name & of your husband-to-be will be written by street lights on the bell tower, shining beautifully in the dusk — a special lighting gift from the venue to you.
Why the La River Center and Gardens is perfect for your wedding
The location of the venue is great: in the midst of the city yet peaceful and relaxing. The guests will find it super convenient to be accommodated near the downtown yet surrounded by gardens.
You will have a lot of parking for your guests within walking distance from the event spot.
You can be sure that your money will go to the organization that develops and maintains parks for L.A. and keeps safe and sound all this beauty around.
With very high probability, by comparing this venue to others you will discover that you’ll get here more for the same money. It’s a very reasonable venue, financially and logistically.
And the last sentimental bonus: in the past, the place housed the famous Lawry’s California Center and if you are a native L.A. person, your grandparents or parents probably had their dinner here.