As a transplanted New Yorker it took me a while to figure out that Los Angeles had a great park of its own. The snob in me was stuck on, or stuck in, Central Park and I didn’t think that any other city could have a park where people gathered, jogged, horseback rode, went to the zoo, picnicked, or maybe even shroomed but I was wrong. L.A. has Griffith Park and it is every bit as grand and big (bigger) as Central Park with a rich history. And it has a birthday coming up!
Griffith Park has a curious beginning. It was once private property belonging to Colonel Griffith J. Griffith and his wife Mary Agnes Christine (Tina). Colonel Griffith was a former reporter and mining correspondent, who became wealthy advising mining syndicates. In 1896 Griffith made a “Christmas gift” of five-square miles of rocky terrain to the city of Los Angeles for the multitudes of Angelenos to enjoy at the time. This gift constituted most of the land that he originally purchased in 1882 from Rancho de Los Feliz, “which was originally part of a 6,647-acre land grant to Cpl. Jose Vicente Feliz, who helped lead the first Spanish colonists to the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1775-76”.
Colonel Griffith was a character at best. But his antics were off putting particularly when he ended up in San Quentin for shooting Mrs. Griffith in the head. She did survive the trauma and subsequently divorced him. Yet, the damage was done. In 1903, although the park retained his name, Mt. Griffith was re-christened Mt. Hollywood (the famous Hollywood sign) while he atoned for his sins in prison.
Prison changed him. Prison can do that. It gives a man a chance to think. And he wanted to repay his debt to society with an offer of philanthropy. He still had his fortune to spill into making improvements in the park. But forgiveness is an art. The colonel had the paintbrush with no canvas to work with.
“Ambition must have broad spaces and mighty distances,” wrote Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith when he offered the city of Los Angeles $100,000 in 1912 to build the astronomical observatory in his namesake park. The money was refused.
This did not stop him from leaving most of his fortune in trust to be used for funding the theatre and observatory after his death which occurred in 1919. “Using Griffith’s trust money, the Greek Theater was completed in 1930, the Griffith Observatory in 1935.” Nothing like redemption.
What makes Griffith park so unique is that it is the largest municipal park with urban wilderness in the United States. It measures approximately 4210 acres with mostly untouched landscape. Griffith park is home to activities that appeal to young and old, lovers of all seasons, not that Los Angeles really has much change in season, and different times of day. Who doesn’t like date night at the Greek Theatre?
The park is home to the Los Angeles Zoo, Equestrian Center, the Griffith Merry-Go-Round, the Greek Theater, the Autry National Center, The Griffith Park Southern Railroad, Pony rides, various hiking trails, and the Griffith Observatory.
And what parent does not boast photos of their kids at the Griffith Park train rides? I know I do!
Griffith’s Park’s actual 125th birthday is December 16, 2021 but the park just can’t wait to celebrate and so the party is happening on Saturday, November 13th. The Los Angeles Conservancy is organizing the free festivities and you can receive a downloadable copy of the event map here. Click for full schedule of events here.
So Save the Date for next Saturday and if you have never been or live across the street spend a day in urban nature celebrating what Los Angeles is all about – rugged terrain steps away from the city. Happy day! Happy Birthday, Griffith Park! You have a fan!
Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)