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Legends; Detention Centers and a Gay-In: High and Low Lights of Griffith Park’s 125-Year History | Los Feliz News

Los Feliz — Maybe ghosts live up there. Coyotes certainly do. At approximately 4,210 acres, Griffith Park is the largest city park in the United States with urban wilderness.

And this year, he celebrates his 125th birthday. Volunteers throughout the park will mark the event this Saturday, Nov. 13, with talks and information about specific sites, according to the LA Conservancy.

Here are some highlights of Griffith Park’s colorful history:

1800 (approx.) – Creation of Rancho Los Feliz

Jose Vicente Feliz, a soldier among the settlers who traveled from what is now Mexico to settle Los Angeles, was granted over 6,000 acres for his efforts. This land, which lies west of the LA River, became known as the Rancho Los Feliz (now you know where the neighborhood got its name). There were fanciful tales that a member of the Feliz family cast a spell over the rancho after it was forcibly bequeathed to a new owner. Around the 1860s, a series of new owners took over the rancho. Eventually, much of it ended up in the hands of Griffith J. Griffith circa 1882.

1896 – Land is brought in and Griffith Park begins

Griffith made a fortune speculating on mines, which may have helped offset his personality. He was described as “an egocentric dwarf” and “a pompous, pompous little fellow” who “had an exaggerated leg like a turkey gobbler,” according to Hollywood Forever.

Say what you will, however, in 1896 he gave 3,000 acres of the rancho to the city of Los Angeles, calling it a Christmas present, according to the San Francisco Call. The land was “particularly suitable for public park purposes”, the newspaper said, and it offered a “combination of rolling hills and beautiful valleys, with magnificent prospects for poetic retreats”.

1903 – Griffith J. Griffith shoots his wife in the face

Yeah. Thanks for the park and all, but….

On September 3, 1903, Griffith shot his wife in the face as she knelt on the ground before him. She survived.

It turns out Griffith was a raging paranoid and thought his Catholic wife was conspiring with the Pope to poison him and steal his money. He also secretly drank two liters of whiskey a day, while allying himself politically with the city’s temperance movement, Hollywood Forever reported. So that may have also figured.

Griffith went to San Quentin for two years, and what used to be called Mount Griffith was renamed Mount Hollywood, said HollywoodSign.org. Upon his release from prison, Griffith offered the city $50,000 to build the Greek theater in the park, and $100,000 to build the observatory. The city rejected the money – but later got some anyway, after Griffith’s death.

1933 — The Griffith Park fire

In one of the deadliest brush fires in California history, 29 men hired under a federal jobs program perished during a bushfire that jumped a firewall. The victims were among thousands of people working in the park creating trails and clearing brush. Many were enlisted to fight the fire without water supply. Many were trapped as the winds changed direction and the flames advanced.

1937 – Griffith Park gets a carousel – which was more important than you think

The carousel arrived on the east side of the park after operating for about 10 years in San Diego, according to Carousel History. Among the many people who used to go to the carousel on weekends were Walt Disney and his children. The famed Los Feliz resident entertainer was watching his girls go around, and he started thinking about maybe…expanding the concept. This is what some say inspired the creation of Disneyland.

1941 – A Japanese Detention Camp

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, a section of the park became a temporary holding area for Japanese Americans who had been arrested as “enemy aliens” and were eventually to be transferred to more permanent internment camps, the Densho Encyclopedia said.

In the summer of 1942, it then became a treatment center for German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war. After the war, this northern part of the park was transformed in 1952 into Travel City Museum, the collection of old railway carriages still open to the public,

1944 – The Hollywood sign becomes part of the park

The Hollywood sign – originally Hollywoodland – was first erected in 1923 as a giant $21,000 advertisement for the Hollywoodland real estate development. But by the early 1940s, that venture had failed, and the sign quietly became city property, according to Hollywoodsign.org.

It was then in a dilapidated state, and the H even ended up falling. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce finally removed the LAND portion of the sign and repaired the rest of the letters in 1949. All letters were completely replaced in 1978.

1966 – Griffith Park loses – and wins – a zoo

the Griffith Park Old Zoo – which had been open since 1912 – was closed in 1966, leaving behind ruins that are now a picnic area. That same year, the Los Angeles Zoo opened nearby.

1968 – The first Gay-In

Before the Stonewall riots in New York, Los Angeles had a “gay-in” on Memorial Day 1968. (That was during the sit-in and be-in era.) Outdoor rallies for LGBT people to come out of the closet continued into the early 1970s, according to the LA Conservancy.






The haunted picnic table in Griffith Park.




1976 – The Haunted Picnic Table

The following probably did not happen:

On Halloween night, Rand Garrett, 22, and Nancy Jeanson, 20, had sex on a dark picnic table along Mt. Hollywood Drive, a few downhill turns north of Vista Dell Valle Drive (not an easy hike, by the way – and it was supposedly in the middle of the night). Suddenly, a tree fell and crushed them both to death.

Since then, the table is believed to be haunted. A city worker attempting to remove the tree was startled by a disembodied voice, an inexplicable and violent movement of the tree, and a threatening message written in the steamy window of his truck. When his supervisor came back to do the work himself… well, that supervisor passed away. And her hair had turned completely white.

Well, that’s at least one version of that urban legend, which is most likely rooted in an article on a fake news site, according to Discovering author Griffith Park.

However, there is a real table – cracked in half by a fallen tree – in the park. People still leave flowers and graffiti for Rand and Nancy, two innocent children whose only crime was love. And the intrusion.

So happy birthday, Griffith Park. Here’s to 125 more years of this sort of thing.

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