July 27, 2012

Photo Essay: Historic Fern Dell, Griffith Park

[Last updated 8/11/21 7:16 PM PT]

Locals and tourists alike flock to Griffith Park for its observatory, zoo, museum, theater, and hiking trails that provide clear views of the Hollywood Sign—but in the early 20th Century, Griffith Park's real attraction was Fern Dell. 

This canyon—with year-round waters (part of the Ballona Creek watershed)—had been landscaped into fern garden with terraced pools, bridges, and concrete railings that looked like they were made of logs.

But Fern Dell started to fall into disrepair in the 1960s when Parks budgets were cut, and park maintenance suffered. Fern Dell fell victim to littering, vandalism, and disrepair.

Stone retaining walls crumbled.

Trees fell.

But as sore shape as it's in now - after failed attempts in the 1980s to restore it with an insufficient budget - it's still Griffith Park's most accessible magical place, with flowers still blooming...

...plenty of shade...

...and bridges strong enough to stand the test of time.

It may be a bit overgrown in parts...

...and it has seen brighter days...

...but it is not beyond repair.

Personally, I think all of Griffith Park is pretty magical, but I've been puzzled by Fern Dell. It's not a hiking trail per se. But it no longer appears to be a garden of any sorts, many of the pools, waterfalls and grottos now dried up, or left with standing water full of leaves and debris.

I think you have to imagine it as it once was... know what it could be.

Volunteers and the non-profit organization Friends of Griffith Park are donating their time to try to preserve Fern Dell and its historic elements.

As a priority, they want to keep it advertising-free (as is the rest of the park, the largest city landmark in the U.S.)... that it can be fully enjoyed by the public.

Update 8/11/21 7:16 PM PT—Some of Fern Dell's faux bois ("fake wood") railings are about to be restored by Terry Eagan, an expert in the field. 

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