Griffith J Griffith

Griffith Park, Los Angeles

QUESTION:  When Griffith J Griffith first purchased the land that would become Griffith Park, what did he first use it as?
A)  A farm for Brussels Sprouts
B)  An ostrich farm
C)  A cattle ranch
D)  A mine
ANSWER BELOW

Thus far this week, the American Treasure Tour blog has devoted our attention to a  (huge) plot of land located in the heart of Los Angeles, California known as Griffith Park.  At 4,310 acres, it is the eleventh largest urban park in the United States and, if you've been paying attention, has a fascinating story behind it. The man behind the park is Griffith J Griffith, who hoped he would be remembered for his gift to the city, but his reputation was definitely, and justly, tarnished after he tried to kill his wife. So the city rejected further donations during his lifetime. The crimes of the dead were apparently forgiven, though, when he willed more money to Griffith Park with his death to build some of the structures that are now iconic symbols for Los Angeles.  

A one hundred-acre aerodrome was built in the Park in 1912. Famous aviation pioneer Glenn L. Martin flew from there numerous times. It remained in use until 1939, when another airport was built in nearby Glendale that crowded airspace and compelled them to shut it down. Today, the former site of the aerodrome is now the parking lot for the Los Angeles Zoo, the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, soccer fields, and the entrances to numerous freeways. At around the same time, Hollywood directors started filming there, notably D.W. Griffith (no relation to Griffith Griffith), who filmed the battle scenes from his epic and highly controversial Birth of a Nation there in 1915.  Right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese-American citizens were detained in detainment camps located within Griffith Park prior to their dispersal to internment camps in what would become one of the most shameful moments in 20th century American history. 

The rich history of Griffith Park will continue tomorrow.  We promise.  Another spot envisioned by Griffith Griffith for the park was a Greek Theatre.  Dedicated in 1930, it did not serve its intended purpose from the start. Rarely used prior to World War II, it became a military barracks during the conflict. In 1975, Nederlander Productions took control of the outdoor performance venue. Today, you can grab a hot meal and watch entertainers of all calibers as they perform for visitors. 

ANSWER:  B)  An ostrich farm

Griffith J Griffith

QUESTION:  What does the "J" in Griffith stand for?
A)  Griffith
B)  James
C)  Jenkins
D)  Jefferson
ANSWER BELOW

In yesterday's blog, we discussed the story of Rancho Los Feliz, a ridiculously large block of land that was granted to the first mayor of what would become Los Angeles. It was originally 6,647 acres, but by 1882, small sections had been shaved off and sold to various investors. The bulk of it was sold to a Welsh immigrant named Griffith J. Griffith.  He was fifteen years old when his family moved from the old country to Ashland, Pennsylvania, located in the heart of coal country (near Centralia, a town that deserves its own blog entry!). At twenty-three years of age, Griffith moved to San Francisco, where he took a job as manager of the Herald Publishing Company and also became a correspondent specializing in the mining industry.  He not only became an expert, but amassed a great fortune from mining.  He bought 4,000 acres of what was the Rancho Los Feliz in 1882, and five years later married Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer.  

Griffith and his wife donated exactly 3,015 acres of their Los Angeles land to the city as a public park in 1896, calling it a Christmas present. The city accepted the gift and named it after Griffith. He would later donate another thousand acres along the Los Angeles River to the city as well. Griffith Griffith was an outspoken teetotaler in public but, behind closed doors, he allegedly experienced alcohol-fueled rages. That was the reason given when, in 1903, he shot his wife in the face. He did not, surprisingly, kill her, but he did disfigure Christina. There was a sensational trial, and Griffith was sentenced to three years imprisonment at San Quentin for assault with a deadly weapon (he served less than two). Christina did get a divorce from him, and gained custody of their only child. When Griffith died in 1919, he left $1.5 million to the city for construction of a Greek Theater and an observatory, both of which were constructed in the park named after him. Thanks to the impact of movies, Griffith Park Observatory is one of the most famous in the country.

ANSWER:  C)  Jenkins