Ferndell to Griffith Park Observatory is an interesting walk full of history with an interlaced sound experience. Pulitizer Prize Musician Ellen Reid has created a sound journey on the path.
To fully experience Ellen’s musical Griffin Park journey you need to download EllenReid SoundWalk to your phone. Then walk through the park with headphones.
As you visit different locations in the park you’ll hear Ellen’s beautiful music.
Park History – Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith
The Colonel gifted the site to the City of Los Angeles in 1896 as a Christmas present. Shortly after he was released from San Quentin he offered the city a further $150,000 to build an Observatory and theatre.
He had been jailed for shooting his wife in the head. Fortunately she survived and unsurprisingly divorced him. Griffith died in 1919 but put his considerable fortune into trust in order to fund the theatre and observatory after his death. He achieved his wish.
More about the trail
At over four thousand acres, Griffith Park in Los Angeles is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Unlike many other urban parks, a great deal of Griffith Park is rugged, and home to deer, coyotes and even the occasional mountain lion. However, Ferndell, located on the south side of the park facing the Los Feliz neighborhood, is a well kept and cultivated area, albeit with a slightly wild and unkempt look.
The start of the route
It opens with a large grassy area, popular with picnickers, and a snack vendor is set up near a decorated electrical utility box near the street.
A bronze bear standing next to the Griffith Park sign was created in 1976 as a gift from the German Consulate, twenty eight years after the Berlin airlift and thirteen years before the fall of the wall reunited East and West Berlin. The bear is often secretly decorated at night with hand knitted vests and other articles of clothing, particularly during holidays.
The dedication reads:
“To the people of the United States of America in gratitude for their aid, friendship, and protection.”
Presented to our sister city, Los Angeles, by the people of free Berlin.
People have been here before
The entrance to the Ferndell pathway begins just past the grassy area. A bronze place commemorates the area as an ancestral home to the Gabreliano tribe of Native Americans.
Development began in 1910
Much of the development of the canyon started in the 1910’s, and was expanded in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the employment projects started by president Roosevelt to provide work for young men during the Great Depression. Workers were paid $30 per month, $25 of which was sent directly to their families back home.
The pathway with its own Micro-climate
The temperature shifts upon entering the Fendell pathway, which is protected from direct sunlight by canyon walls and many tall trees. A natural stream supplemented by water condensed from the air conditioning system in the observatory above supports the lush landscape of ferns and tropical plants, and the area remains cool and green even in mid summer when other sections of the park are dry and brown.
Much of the vegetation along the stream is non native, with notable exceptions being Coast redwoods and Sycamore trees.
Hollywood here we come
The pathway follows the stream for some distance, at times meandering and crossing the stream. At one point it crosses under a concrete bridge supporting Ferndell Drive. Homes in the Hollywood Hills are just a short distance from the path, and attempts to climb up to the Hollywood sigh are frequent enough that homeowners have put up a sign advising hikers that no entrance is possible from their neighborhood.
The Observatory comes into view
About a half mile in, the trail opens up onto a playground and picnic area. Turning to the right, the Griffith Park observatory comes into view. The trail heads uphill and we leave the shade behind.
The vegetation shifts from tropical exotics to sturdy California native plants and trees. One of them, the Heteromeles arbutifolia, or Toyon, is best known as the Hollywood Berry bush, and is the origin of the name Hollywood.
The famous Hollywood sign original read HOLLYWOODLAND and served as an advertisement for a real estate development. The sign is visible from many points along the trail.
Not far from the hustle
Looking southeast from the Ferndell to Griffith Park trail, we can clearly see downtown Los angeles, and looking directly down, we can see the homes of the Hollywood Hills.
The observatory itself was also a Depression-era project, constructed from 1933 to 1935 by the WPA, or Works Progress Administration. It has been featured in countless films, most notable “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean.
Returning the way we came, but this time on the opposite side of the stream, we come across two cozy picnic areas. They are commemorated by a plaque dedicated to Minnie M. Barton, the first female parole officer in Los Angeles.
Moved by the plight of formerly incarcerated women, she dedicated her life to creating shelters and halfway houses from women, and the picnic area is what remains of a women’s summer camp in the canyon.
By all accounts she was a highly popular public speaker, and a tireless and jolly worker who accomplished a great deal for troubled women.
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