It’s hard to believe that the City of Los Angeles has designated 900 places for preservation as cultural-historical monuments and it’s taken this long and this much effort from so many to get the city’s greatest asset, Griffith Park, within reach of that status.
In a hearing room packed with 150 or so community activists, the Cultural Heritage Commission voted 4-1 to approve monument status for the park, setting the stage for the City Council to act on their decision.
The key moment came at the outset when Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the park area and is it’s No. 1 cheerleader, ended doubts about where he stands with unequivocal support for the commission staff report which found nearly all of the park contributed to its cultural-historical significance.
LaBonge talked about his love affair with the park and his daily hikes, and how Babe Ruth found out he was traded from the Red Sox to Yankees while playing golf at Harding and how his idol Walt Disney dreamed up Disneyland watching kids playing on the park’s merry-go-round.
The crowd loved it and cheered him for his support, and for dispelling the notion that he harbored a dream of creating a different kind of “Disneyland” in the thousands of acres of wilderness in Griffith Park.
In all, 58 community members signed up to speak and they got their chance after representatives of the Autry National Center and the lobbyist firm Latham & Watkins accused them of having “misunderstood” or worse “misstated” the Autry’s position on the park proposal.
They were all for approving monument status for the park as long as it fully excluded the Autry.
The Autry, the zoo, Toyon Landfill were among the parts of the park that city planning staff determined were not elements of the historical nature that justified granting special protections.
The Autry, which pays $1 a year lease for its 12 acres and wants to expand dramatically on the 10 unused acres, is the most contentious issue and its continuing dismissal of community opposition only fans the passions of their opponents.
The sore spot has less to do with Griffith Park but its willingness to commit to maintaining the Southwest Museum in the Mt. Washington/Highland Park area as a living museum of western and Indian culture. Long mismanaged, the Southwest — with a collection of art and artifacts far more valuable than the Autry’s — was taken over several years with a promise it would be restored and maintained.
The Autry, once seen as a savior, now faces intense community opposition and the Cultural Heritage Commission spent a lot of time talking what it’s role could be since it is included in the overall monument area but not a “character defining” element of the history.
The issue of the Autry and similar elements was left vague and the staff was directed to develop a policy that would let the commission intervene if any development might negatively impact the park’s character.
In the end, community activists came away pleased that they had gotten as much as they could have hoped for and started gearing up for the dealing with the City Council.