Griffith Park

Davis Carousel

QUESTION:  The Wurlitzer 165 displayed next to the Emperor here at the American Treasure Tour was once displayed at the Davis Carousel in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.  What type of machine complements it now?
A)  Another Wurlitzer 165
B)  Stinson 165 Military Band Organ
C)  Artizan B Band Organ
D)  North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works Model 14 Band Organ

So, a week's exploration of the land that would become Griffith Park in the heart of Los Angeles, California is finally coming to a close. You've been wondering all this time where it was going, and now you have an answer: it's bringing us to one of the few remaining merry-go-rounds found in its original setting in the city: the Davis Carousel!  As with all things, the Davis Carousel does have a story. It was built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company of North Tonawanda, New York.  Spillman was the maiden name of the wife of Allan Herschel.  Never heard of him?  Herschel is considered the first American (an immigrant from Scotland, but we are, after all, all immigrants) to establish a business dedicated to the construction of merry-go-rounds. He partnered up with his wife's brothers to create the Herschel-Spillman Company. It lasted a few years but bad blood between the partners led to a split and, we're sure, tense family gatherings. So Spillman Engineering went independent. But we digress.

Members of the Spreckel Sugar Company commissioned the carousel so that it could be placed at their Mission Beach Amusement Center in San Diego, California. The Great Depression did the center in, and in 1935 they closed down, and the carousel went to the city's Balboa Park as part of the California Pacific International Exposition. After two years, Ross Davis purchased it and moved it to Griffith Park, where it has been ever since.  Davis commissioned a band organ for his carousel and, in 1939, Wurlitzer sent him the very same Model 165 currently on display next to the Emperor in the American Treasure Tour's Toy Box. It is hardly a conventional 165, though. By '39, Wurlitzer had retired production of automatic music machines in their North Tonawanda factory, so they assembled the machine from what they had around, including a Model 157 facade. The machine is in near-perfect condition, showing off its original paint and having never required any restoration of which to speak. And the carousel continues to entertain kids, as it did for the daughters of Walt Disney, who went on record as saying the Davis Carousel in part inspired the creation of Disneyland. And, being in Los Angeles, there can be no surprise that it has also been on television, notably during a commercial in which a young James Dean was handing bottles of Pepsi to teenagers as they rode the horses.

ANSWER:  B)  Sintson 165 Military Band Organ.  We're sure you caught our joke - there's no such thing as a North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works Model 14 Band Organ!  We always have a lot of fun here at the American Treasure Tour blog!

Griffith Park, Part Two

QUESTION:  In the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, which actor plays Plato?
A)  Jim Backus
B)  Natalia Wood
C)  Dennis Hopper
D)  Sal Mineo

The American Treasure Tour blog continues our exploration of Griffith Park today. Although it has not yet been revealed, there is a connection to our amazing collection here. We hope you have stuck through so far to see where it will all come together!  We were discussing different uses the park had over the years. There are a few sites envisioned by Griffith Griffith when he donated land and money to the Park's development. He did not live to see them created, but one of them was a Greek Theatre.  Dedicated in 1930, it did not serve its intended purpose from the start. Rarely used for any reason prior to World War II, it became a military barracks during the conflict. Mismanagement after the war left the outdoor performance venue in somewhat poor state until 1975.  Then, Nederlander Productions took control of  it. Today, you can grab a hot meal and watch entertainers of all calibers as they perform for visitors.

Another highly recognizable spot in the park that dominates the skyline is the Griffith Park Observatory. Opened in 1935, a full sixteen years after the death of its financier and sponsor Griffith J Griffith, the observatory charges no admission and includes a planetarium and an exhibit hall. Most of the tourists who visit the site go there for the views. On a clear day (meaning, a day with minimal smog), the panorama offers impressive scenes of downtown Los Angeles, the famous Hollywood sign, and the Pacific Ocean. Of course, another reason to go to the observatory is to remember all the movies and television shows in which it appears, including:  Rebel Without A Cause, Yes Man, Bowfinger, Jurassic Park (movies), and Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Beverly Hills 90210, MacGyver (television).  The park also hosts the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, Bronson Canyon, the Los Angeles Zoo, and Travel Town Museum. But there's one more site we have not yet mentioned, and that is what tomorrow's blog will be all about.....

ANSWER:  D)  Sal Mineo 

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

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

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