The story of Griffith Park dates back to 1882, when Welsh immigrant and self-styled “Colonel” Griffith Jenkins Griffith bought Rancho Los Feliz. He also leased some of the land to an ostrich farm. During the time, ostrich feathers were prized as they were used to decorate women’s hats.
The eccentric mining magnate and property developer maintained a lavish lifestyle, and while he had some friends, he collected more enemies. Nevertheless, his ego was sated when he grabbed headlines after his “Christmas gift” in the form of the land donation in 1896 with the quote:
“It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people. 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.”
Similar sentiments are inscribed on a 14-foot bronze statue of Griffith, created by Jonathan Bickart and unveiled in 1996 at the main entrance to the park.
Nearly five times larger than Central Park in New York City, Griffith Park is home to the Old Los Angeles Zoo, riding schools, train rides, hiking trails, a golf course, a fair carousel, and many other treasures such as the Griffith Observatory.
Inside the observatory is an exhibit on Griffith, but it leaves out some of his more scandalous escapades. In 1903, a paranoid and drunken Griffith shot and disfigured his wife Mary. He served two years in San Quentin prison for the crime.
Mental illness and revelations of chronic alcoholism further clouded his reputation. He died in 1919 and was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Griffith’s name certainly lives on in the park; however, many visitors pass this statue never knowing who the man was.