Griffith Park dates back to 1896, when Colonel Griffith J. Griffith and his wife Mary Agnes Christine (Tina) donated over 3,000 acres to the City of Los Angeles, “to be used as a public park for purposes of recreation, health and pleasure, for the use and benefit of inhabitants of the said City of Los Angeles, forever.” Colonel Griffith had originally purchased the land in 1882 from Rancho Los Feliz.
Griffith Park has served these purposes since becoming an integral part of the lives of generations of Angelenos. It is unique, even at the national level, for possessing a large-scale mostly untouched landscape in the center of an urban metropolis. Measuring roughly 4,210 acres, Griffith Park is the largest municipal park with urban wilderness in the United States.
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.
In the early 1970s, the Merry-Go-Round was an important site within the gay liberation movement. The gay-ins from 1970-1971 were a series of outdoor gatherings that sought to encourage LGBT individuals to come out of the closet and to build understanding and acceptance among heterosexuals of different forms of sexual and gender expression. The Gay Liberation Front was largely responsible for organizing the events, which appealed to younger generations of gay and lesbian activists.
The Friends of Griffith Park is a non-profit organization that promotes the stewardship of Griffith Park so it can survive and thrive in the 21st Century.
Griffith Park is more than just individual buildings, hiking trails, or recreational areas; it is the heart and soul of the city and a reminder of what was once here on a larger scale.
In May 2008, the Griffith Family Trust nominated Griffith Park as a Historic–Cultural Monument (HCM) to ensure that future development s are reviewed through a transparent process and are compatible with the historic character of a park.
The nomination was prompted by a master plan drafted a few years ago for the park that proposed several new commercial construction projects, including a hotel, and an aerial tram; a new master plan is now being prepared.
With intentions to uphold Colonel Griffith’s original intent, the HCM nomination calls out a wide array of historic and natural elements for protection. It identifies thirty-six historically sensitive resources and areas including buildings, trails, and natural features.
Griffith Park also includes a broad swath of wilderness area and park – wide objects such as retaining walls, culverts (enclosures for flowing water), and drinking fountains designed in the so-called Park Style seen in national parks of the era.
These elements date to the 1930s Depression era federal work programs, and the style continued to be used by the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks into the 1950s.
It is home to sites like Fern Dell, a 20-acre plot which is the only public fern garden of its size and significance in California. However, this urban oasis has been rapidly deteriorating in the recent decades.
Griffith Park’s designation as an HCM has been a boon for Fern Dell. Friends of Griffith Park established the Griffith Park Fern Dell Preservation Project in 2011. After making the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s, America’s 12 Most Threatened Landscapes list, Fern Dell’s rehabilitation has begun.
Griffith Park is the largest municipal landmark in Los Angeles and in the United States; as such, Griffith Park houses an incalculable amount of unique and irreplaceable natural spaces that its HCM designation will protect.
Approval of the nomination by City Council brings Griffith Park the same status already given to city parks such as MacArthur Park and Echo Park.
It will protect the irreplaceable historical elements of the park – not only structures but also the invaluable open spaces that together create a cultural landscape unmatched anywhere in the U.S.
Although it would not prevent further development outright, HCM designation will make sure that you and other citizens have the chance to voice your opinion on significant development proposals for the park.
On January 27, 2009, the Los Angeles’ City Council unanimously voted in support of designating Griffith Park in its entirety as HCM #942, adopting recommendation of the City’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) and Cultural Heritage Commission.
To allay concerns over how to manage the park’s vast array of historic resources, the city’s Office of Historic Resources is working with the Department of Recreation and Parks to develop a maintenance plan that identifies all elements to be protected under the HCM designation.