In SoCal, if you suddenly find yourself amongst sprawling hills and canyons, endless hiking trails, colorful carousels, pony rides, pettings zoos, scenic views of the Hollywood sign, and one of the most sophisticated observatories in the country, you’ve found the location of the Griffith Park neighborhood, home of the Griffith Park Observatory.
In 1882. Griffith J. Griffith purchased the Rancho Los Feliz after spending a successful stint as an investor in the mining industry. Griffith used the property to establish an ostrich farm that served two purposes. First, he answered the demand for ostrich feathers to compliment the day’s fashion trends, particularly where women’s headwear was concerned. His greater purpose, however, was to lure residents from the Los Angeles area to his nearby property developments that were said to allegedly be haunted by the ghost of previous Rancho owner, Antonio Feliz. When the property rush peaked in 1896, Griffith donated more than 3,000 acres to the City of Los Angeles.
In 1903, Griffith was tried and convicted of shooting and severely wounding his wife. After being released from prison, he attempted to begin construction on a brand new amphitheater, observatory, and planetarium, as well as a boys’ and girls’ camp; however, because his reputation with the city was tainted by his crime, his request for monies, was refused. Believing in his plans, Griffith set up a trust fund to support the improvements and after his death in 1919, the city began to build what he had envisioned. By 1930 the venue still known as, The Greek Theatre, was completed and by 1935 the Griffith Park Observatory was finished as well.
Today, Griffith Park is a neighborhood saturated with SoCal history. On October 3, 1933, Griffith Park became the scene of one of the most catastrophic wildfires on record in California when a fire broke out amidst nearly 4,000 men who had been hired as part of a welfare project, clearing brush from the area. Many of the workers volunteered, others were ordered, to fight the fires. By the time the blaze was contained, it had claimed the lives of 29 men, injuring more than 150 others. Between 1941 and 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps camps contained within Griffith Park were repurposed as holding cells for Japanese Americans who were deemed, “enemy aliens”, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Griffith Park Detention Camp opened almost immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack and 35 Japanese immigrants who worked near military installations were detained on suspicion of fifth column activity, which is to say that they were suspected of gathering in secret in order to mobilize openly and assist with an external attack; aiding the Japanese in undermining the United States. By the end of 1942, more than 550 Japanese Americans had been confined in Griffith Park, all subsequently transferred to Fort Lincoln, Fort Missoula, and other Department of Justice Camps.
Walt Disney is known to have said, “all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Griffith J. Griffith’s vision for Griffith Park is an example of a dream so greatly believed in that it had the power to continue coming true even after Griffith’s life had ended. Today, Griffith Park is home to some of the best things to do in Los Angeles. The park’s most well-known attractions include the Autry National Center, Bronson Canyon, Greek Theatre, Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park & Southern Railroad, Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, Griffith Park Zoo, Heritage Tree, the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, the Los Angeles Zoo, and the Travel Town Museum. The hills of Griffith Park are also home to the iconic L.A. landmark, The Hollywood Sign.
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