One of America’s 12 Most Threatened Landscapes

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The Cultural Landscape Foundation, an influential Washington D.C. non-profit dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of America’s cultural landscapes, has named Fern Dell to its Landslide 2012 list of significant, but threatened, parks, gardens and civic spaces worth preserving. In its announcement, the Foundation singled out Friends of Griffith Park for its Fern Dell preservation effort.

Fern Dell has been a popular oasis in Griffith Park for nearly 100 years, but today its hardscape is deteriorating, and its lushness in retreat. Recognizing that the city needs help to resolve these problems, in the Fall of 2011, Friends of Griffith Park established the Griffith Park Historic Fern Dell Preservation Project. Progress on the initiative is proceeding. Its first phase has been successfully completed and Phase II has begun. Thanks to the support of our funders and all-important members we have positive news to report.

LandsIide® is The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s annual selection of important but at-risk landscapes worth saving. This year’s theme, “Patrons and Their Landscapes,” honors visionaries like Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, whose sweeping act of generosity created Griffith Park. In singling out Fern Dell, The Cultural Landscape Foundation is acknowledging its role in our collective heritage and reinforcing the importance of revitalizing this urban oasis for future generations to enjoy.

Fern Dell: then and now

Fern Dell is a fusion of natural and man-made elements that bridges Griffith Park’s cultivated and wilderness zones. In 1914, the Parks department began adding ferns to this stream-fed ravine in Western Canyon, and by the early 1920’s, the first of Fern Dell’s terraced pools, paths and bridges were in place. In its prime, the 20-acre site was the city’s pride. In 1928, Los Angeles Times columnist, Lee Shippey, wrote: “When the brook is rushing and gushing, and all the ferns and mosses are vivid green, and the great sycamores winter-gilded, fill the immediate sky with clouds of gold, that glen seems to us the loveliest we ever saw.” Shippey believed that Central Park, Kensington Gardens, and the Tuileries were no match for Fern Dell. They were “formal and citified and in no way compare to this masterpiece of the Los Angeles Park Department as works of art.” The 1930’s saw Fern Dell enlarged by New Deal workers and it remained a showplace until regularly scheduled, skilled maintenance ended in the 1970s.

Initial assessment completed

Friends of Griffith Park launched the Historic Fern Dell Preservation Project in the Fall of 2011. Faced with deteriorating conditions everywhere we looked, our first step was to commission a comprehensive assessment of the site. With grants from the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, FoGP retained consultants from the landscape architecture, historic preservation and horticulture fields to work as a team on an intensive analysis of Fern Dell. Their
collaboration produced the Historic Fern Dell Cultural Landscape Assessment 2012, a first-phase diagnostic report that maps, details and photo-documents every feature of the site, and lays the groundwork for the technical studies and professional planning that must precede revitalization.

The assessment has been well-received. Michael Shull, Recreation and Parks Director of Planning, says, “The Fern Dell Cultural Landscape Assessment Report provides a valuable plan that we can use to assist management of this area as well as support possible future competitive grant funding to protect and restore valuable assets such as this.”

The next task is to apply the assessment’s recommendations. Chief among them is the creation of a Cultural Landscape Preservation Plan. This sophisticated blueprint for renewal will combine the expertise of a small army of consultants from a dozen technical fields—hydraulic engineering, landscape architecture, historic preservation, structural engineering, surveying, concrete rehabilitation, horticulture, wildlife ecology and more—into the comprehensive project plan that will be vital to implementation.

Living gifts received

On a parallel front, Fern Dell’s horticultural consultants, world renowned fern expert Barbara Hoshizaki and Long Beach Community College instructor Jorge Ochoa, have made generous in-kind contributions. Before her passing in May of this year, Hoshizaki donated a portion of her private fern collection to the effort. Recently, Ochoa and members of Friends of Griffith Park transferred this valuable gift to the growing facilities on the Long Beach campus. There, under Ochoa’s direction, Horticulture Club students are nurturing and multiplying the ferns, and creating new
specimens from spores that will be ready for planting when the time comes.

Fern Dell Fund established

With the first phase complete, Friends of Griffith Park is soliciting support for Phase II of the project. We have established the Fern Dell Fund to accept donations that will enable this important preservation work to continue.

We encourage our members and friends to consider making a special taxdeductible donation directed to the Fund. Contributions can be made by check (specify Fern Dell Fund on the memo line) or can be made online by selecting the Fern Dell donation option. And if your employer has an employee-matching fund, please consider making a contribution through that established mechanism to match your personal contribution.

Mailed contributions should be sent to:
Friends of Griffith Park, P.O. Box 27573, L.A. CA 90027-0573

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