A picturesque section of Griffith Park contains the ruins of a much grander plan.
The Fern Dell (alternatively spelled “Ferndell”) Nature Museum isn’t exactly a museum. Centrally located in Griffith Park, it’s an outdoor recreation area that most visitors encounter on the hike to the Griffith Observatory. Nonetheless, the area teems with a history inextricable from Griffith Park’s story of development.
Fed by a natural spring, the Fern Dell area was originally inhabited by the native Tongva/Gabrielino people. It began its modern transformation in 1914, when the city began to plant tropical foliage (including ferns) in the ravine. In the 1920s, the area became a popular attraction for people seeking health and stardom (the waters of the spring were said to hold mystical powers).
The Civilian Conservation Corps took over development during the Great Depression, adding terraces, faux-lagoons, ponds, waterfalls, and rustic bridges to the park in a design redolent of Babylon-esque ambitions. But over the course of the 20th century, the spring slowly dried. And after layoffs in the 1970s and 1980s, maintenance fell to the wayside.
The waters run stagnant in some spots and the boulders and gnarled branches that comprise its primordial look no longer appear as authentic as they no doubt once did. Still, Fern Dell possesses extraordinary natural beauty. As an abiding relic, it’s a captivating peek into the evolution of a public work.