The Story Behind Griffith Park
June 13, 2018
What’s the most important park in Los Angeles? Whether you’re from the Glendale apartments, the Downtown enclaves, or as far south as San Pedro, you probably know it’s Griffith Park, something they’re quick to point out while paying tribute to their illustrious (or infamous, depending on your interpretation) founder Griffith Jenkins Griffith:
“Griffith Park stands today a monument to the dedicated vision of one man — Griffith Jenkins Griffith, Park Commission, civic philanthropist, advocate of parklands, and fervent speaker of recreation for the health of Los Angeles.”
Indeed, it’s one of the city’s most enduring and well-known landmarks, and a testament to the richness of the LA spirit, but what do you know about it beyond that? If the answer is “not much,” then you might want to keep reading, because today we’re going to be highlighting what makes Griffith so great, and give you some background on how the park came to be.
What’s So Great About Griffith Park?
Think about everything that Griffith Park contains. You might be able to name a great many of its attractions, but can you name them all? The main page alone lists:
- Autry Museum of the American West
- Bronson Caves
- Fern Dell
- The Greek Theatre
- The Merry-Go-Round
- Griffith Observatory
- The Southern Railroa
- The Hollywood Sign
- The LA Equestrian Center
- The LA Zoo
- Travel Town
Think of how many of those just scream “LA.” The Zoo and Botanical Gardens, for instance, have been the place to see exotic wildlife in the city since 1966, containing more than 1,100 animals and 800 plant species. Griffith Observatory has been a great cultural icon since 1935, providing one of the best views of the city. And the Hollywood Sign? It’s world-famous. What landmark is more indicative of the city of Angel’s than that?
And it doesn’t stop there. At the park there’s plenty of space to engage in biking, camping, golfing, hiking, horseback riding, jogging, picnicking, soccer, swimming, tennis, and more. It boggles the mind how near every aspect of the outdoors has been centralized here, which begs the question, how did Griffith Park become what it is most well-known for today?
How Griffith Park Came to Be
To begin, we’ve got to take a trip back through history, to the time before Griffith Park was Griffith Park. A time when it was just a a 6,000 acre plot of land — Rancho Los Feliz — held by Spanish soldier José Vicente Feliz. From there, the property changed hands several times. First to Maria Ygnacia Verdugo, who married one of Feliz’s sons, then to her son Don Antonio Feliz, then again to one of Antonio’s friends, Antonio Coronel, and to several others before finally ending up in the hands of Colonel Griffith J. Griffith.
Griffith was an immigrant to the United States, originally hailing from South Wales. After arriving in Pennsylvania as a teenager in 1865, he had little in the way of money. He eventually moved to San Francisco, working as a business manager for a newspaper, but was able to set to work amassing a personal fortune through gold mine speculation. In 1882, he had enough to purchase 4,071 acres of Rancho Los Feliz, up to the “northern boundaries of the Pueblo de Los Angeles.”
A colorful character, Griffith used part of the land as an ostrich farm, where the public could come and delight in the sight of the rather foreign and enormous birds. There was a railway that transported visitors to the farm, and they could even purchase ostrich feathers for a few dollars a pop, but this venture was doomed to failure, eventually closing in 1889.
So, no ostrich farms, but Griffith still believed that people of a large metropolis like Los Angeles deserved a place to be one with nature. It’s likely for these reasons that he handed over a bulk of Rancho Los Feliz, about 3,015 acres worth, to the city:
“It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people, Griffith said on that occasion. I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered.”
Whether this was purely out of altruism is up for debate, however, as he performed this deed on the condition that the land he gifted be named “Griffith Park” for all time:
As for Griffith, his life story was tied to Griffith Park up until his death. He was a man well-known by the community, though not liked by all, as there were many who openly despised the man, and at least one who tried to take his life. After a rather dark incident in which he attempted to murder his wife during an alcohol-fueled rage, Griffith graduated from slightly unlikable rich blowhard to much-reviled villain, so much so that the city wouldn’t even accept the money he later wanted to donate to build an observatory (they even renamed Griffith Peak to Mount Hollywood).
No matter, it seems, as he left the money to the city in his will, and, upon his death, and that observatory, Griffith Observatory, was eventually opened in May of 1935. Regardless of Griffith’s apparent dearth of personal character, his contributions to the city are inescapable. For more than a century, Angelenos have been able to rely on Griffith Park as a place of respite, and now, you know a bit more about the “why” and “how.”
Don’t Forget: Getting There From the Glendale Apartments Is Easy
Amazing communities like Altana are less than a 10-minute drive away, giving you near-unfettered access to one of Los Angeles’ most special places. When you’re part of the family here, once you’re all done at the park, you’ll have the added satisfaction of heading home to a luxury apartment that’s the envy of all others, complete with some of the most modern conveniences man could ask for. Don’t forget to check out what Altana has to offer, then enjoy every facet of being part of this top-tier community.