LA TIMES writes story about Friends of Griffith Park's aspirations to revitalize Fern Dell

KCRW takes a walk with us in Fern Dell. Read the full coverage here, and listen to the "on-air" story.

Saving a green oasis just steps from the City

The Griffith Park Historic Fern Dell Preservation Project

Facilitated by generous grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Los Angeles County Preservation Fund and the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust, Friends of Griffith Park is embarking on the first-ever Cultural Landscape Assessment of historic Fern Dell. Working with a seasoned team of professional landscape architects, botanists and historic preservation consultants, we are laying the groundwork for a long-range plan for the revitalization of this unique resource.

Fern Dell is the only public fern garden of its size and significance in California. A blend of natural and manmade features, it beckons visitors with a stream-fed ravine, meandering paths, shaded picnic glens and a richly layered history. In 2009, Fern Dell's significance contributed to the City of L.A.'s decision to designate Griffith Park as its largest Historic Cultural Monument. Griffith Park is now the largest municipal landmark in the United States.

Fern Dell
Although signs of neglect can be seen throughout Fern Dell, people still daily use and enjoy this green retreat in Griffith Park.

In its heyday, Fern Dell was one of the Park's most celebrated features, but today it is a victim of neglect. The weight of decades has taken its toll. Surviving architectural elements are in need of stabilization. Details have been compromised by expedient fixes, and over the years, construction has drained its waters, placing its signature ferns and trees at risk. Recognizing the need to take action to save Fern Dell's historic fabric, Friends of Griffith Park is developing a first phase Cultural Landscape Assessment Plan that will set priorities in what will be a multi-tiered revitalization process.

Fern Dell
At one time, Fern Dell was a must-see attraction, whose nooks and crannies were celebrated in picture postcards. Vintage views showing it at the height of its lushness, contribute to our understanding of how it looked and functioned in its heyday. If you have personal photos, emphemera or firsthand knowledge about Fern Dell that you would like to share, please contact us at

Fern Dell's Layered History

Drawn by its year-round stream, L.A.'s pre-European Tongva/Gabrieleņo peoples convened tribal meetings in a verdant canyon they called "Mococahuenga." By the early 20th Century, the ravine and its environs had become part of Griffith Park and its waters took on a new significance. California health-seekers ascribed curative powers to its spring which they called a "fountain of youth." At the very least, on a warm day a cool sip from its natural well was refreshing!

In 1914, Park Superintendent Frank Shearer, a noted plantsman, sensed that the area's micro-climate could support semi-tropical species and began adding ferns to the canyon. To encourage viewing, paths and benches were constructed and by the dawn of the 1920s the first of Fern Dell's terraced pools, bridges and faux bois elements were in place. Soon visitors to Los Angeles discovered Fern Dell. Guidebooks listed it as a must-see attraction and postcards captured its picturesque beauty for the folks back home.

Ironically, the Great Depression was a boon to Fern Dell. It was enlarged by laborers and craftsmen residing in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in Griffith Park. Using the National Park Service handbook as their guide, they built additional water features, picnic grounds, terraced areas and railings in what architectural historians call "Park Style."

Post-War Fern Dell was a magnet for families, and many baby-boomers recall playing Tarzan and tag in its jungle-like recesses. Today, 21st Century Angelenos continue to find enjoyment there. On any given day, a microcosm of L.A. can be seen strolling, hiking, appreciating nature, or enjoying a picnic or a book.

For almost a century, Fern Dell has served as an urban oasis for Angelenos. Funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust, coupled with the support of Friends of Griffith Park members and cooperation from the City, will help Fern Dell reclaim its place as one of the most beautiful and singular places in Griffith Park.