Griffith J. Griffith Statue

Griffith J. Griffith Statue

Griffith J. Griffith Statue

Just outside the entrance to Griffith Park, a 14-foot bronze statue honoring Colonel Griffith J. Griffith welcomes all visitors to his namesake public park — the largest of its type in the United States.

Griffith Park is one of the greatest gifts the city of Los Angeles offers its residents. The largest public park in the United States, it consists of 3,015 acres with countless picnic areas, hiking trails, a merry-go-round, a golf course, horse-riding trails, the Los Angeles Zoo, and much more.

How did this vast public space come to be a free gift for the citizens of Los Angeles to enjoy? By the whim of one man — Griffith Jenkins Griffith. His generosity is memorialized in a bronze statue welcoming all at the entrance to his namesake park.

Griffith Jenkins Griffith — The Man

In 1878, a young Griffith J. Griffith was the mining reporter for the Daily Alta California, a San Francisco-based newspaper. He already knew a bit about mineralogy from his studies, and he combined that knowledge with some insider tips he gleaned from his reporting to invested in silver mines in Mexico. This made him a rich man.

Griffith moved to Los Angeles in 1882 and purchased the Rancho Los Feliz where he made even more money selling land and water rights. He used his fortunes to insert himself into the company of the wealthy elite of Los Angeles, but he was never fully accepted into their ranks. Instead, they considered him to be an annoying, bombastic blowhard.

Griffith was a well-known eccentric. He insisted that he be referred to as “Colonel Griffith” despite not having an official military title. He also suffered his share of demons. While he publicly espoused the virtues of temperance, he was in fact a closet alcoholic, a condition that exacerbated his paranoia about the Catholic Church. He was convinced the Catholics had it in for him — and his money.

Colonel Griffith J. Griffith welcomes you to his namesake park. Photo from the author’s collection.

On December 16, 1896, Griffith donated 3015 acres of his own property to the city of Los Angeles on the stipulation that it be used as a public park. This donation, which Griffith called a Christmas present to the city, became Griffith Park, and it was important to Col. Griffith that it be freely accessible to everyone. In his own words:

“It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people. I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered.”

Dark Days for Colonel Griffith

Eventually, Griffith’s demons got the best of him. In 1903, while on a sabbatical in Santa Monica, he accused his Catholic wife, Christina Mesmer (a member of the Verdugo family), of spying on him for the Vatican. During the ensuing argument, Griffith shot her in the face. Amazingly, she survived the shooting, though she was blinded in one eye.

Col. Griffith was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and served two years in San Quentin. Christina was granted a divorce on grounds of cruelty. The more ignoble punishment happened years later when the highest point in Griffith Park was renamed from Griffith Peak to Mount Hollywood.

In December 1912 Griffith, out of prison and back in Los Angeles, offered the city another Christmas present — a donation of $150,000 that would be used to construct an observatory and an amphitheater within the boundary of Griffith Park. The city stalled making a decision, likely because they didn’t want to be too closely associated with an unpopular, wife-shooting madman.

In the wake of this delay, Griffith established a trust fund for the two projects with the funds to be made available upon his death. He died in 1919, and construction on Griffith Observatory and the Greek Theatre was completed in 1930.

The Colonel is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery on a section known as the Griffith Lawn, marked by a tall monument that, if you’re standing in just the right spot, points the way to Griffith Observatory.

Griffith Monument at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Photo from the author’s collection.

Griffith Jenkins Griffith — The Statue

A plan to erect a statue honoring the park’s namesake started around 1988. After eight years of navigating city and public approval, $100,000 from Griffith’s trust was used to pay for a bronze statue of Colonel Griffith. Sculpted by artist Jonathan Bickart, the statue was finally dedicated on November 23, 1996 — 23 days before the 100th anniversary of the park.

Griffith Jenkins Griffith Statue
Close up of Col. Griffith. Photo from the author’s collection.

The inscription on the statue’s marble base echoes Col. Griffith’s statement about his intent when he gifted the park in 1896:

“Public parks are a safety valve of great cities and should be accessible and attractive, where neither race, creed nor color should be excluded.”

Griffith J. Griffith Statue

Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: