By Aaron Blevins, 3/29/2012
Revitalization Project Planned for Lush Garden Site
If Griffith Park is a jewel in the crown of Los Angeles, then Fern Dell is a jewel in the crown of Griffith Park — one that has tarnished and seen better days.
Therefore, Friends of Griffith Park is spearheading a renovation project that would rejuvenate Fern Dell, a lush fern garden that is known as much for its cultural significance as its aesthetic beauty.
Bernadette Soter, the organization’s vice president of outreach, said Friends of Griffith Park is hoping to bring Fern Dell back to its heyday, when the area was a major tourist attraction and was the pride of L.A. residents.
“When people’s families visited … this is the place they took them,” Soter said. “It just delighted everybody.”
However, the work is expected to be an ongoing affair. Though organizers are still refining the project and conducting studies, Friends of Griffith Park initially plans to replace bridges and increase the water level of the stream that trickles through the middle of Fern Dell.
Soter said there are 17 bridges in Fern Dell, and during a partial renovation in the 1980s, they were replaced with metal structures. She said the original bridges were faux bois, or “fake wood,” a “character-defining” element of Fern Dell.
“They’re not places to pause and contemplate as they had once been,” Soter said.
The water level is not what it had once been either, she said. Soter said organizers suspect that construction at Griffith Park somehow altered Fern Dell’s water source, and project organizers hope to conduct a hydrology study in the near future.
“Something made those levels decline, and the question is what,” she added. “That’s probably going to be the hardest part of the process.”
Soter said research will be continuous. Residents have been submitting old postcards and materials from Fern Dell’s earlier history, and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks Department has offered three large files full of old plans for Fern Dell, she said.
While many details are still up in the air, Friends of Griffith Park hopes to receive its finalized cultural assessment in the next month or so. The assessment will enable the group to begin technical studies, which will further refine the project and open more opportunities to secure funding and partners, Soter said. She said the assessment was paid for through two grants that totaled $21,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust.
Soter said the organization has not determined a final price tag for the project, though they expect it to be in the seven-figure range. She said Fern Dell’s program partial renovation in 1989 cost approximately $680,000.
The area has received plenty of attention in its 100-year history. In the 1930s, when park funding was dwindling, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal stationed three civilian conservation groups in Griffith Park, where they had various assignments, including work at Fern Dell. The area then blossomed, Soter said.
“There’s a lot of great memories [from that time],” she said.
However, funding to maintain Fern Dell again decreased in the 1960s and ‘70s. Soter said the area went into decline, and “the broken window syndrome” led to petty crime, gang activity, drugs and lewd conduct. In the 1980s, neighbors convinced the city to apply for state bond money to again spruce up Fern Dell, she said.
“It looked good for a couple years, but it fell back into decline,” Soter said.
Now, Friends of Griffith Park is concerned for Fern Dell’s future. Soter said its members believe that the area is at a critical point where something must be done or else it could be too late.
“We thought if we didn’t take action, it would be lost,” she added. “It’s very much worth salvaging.”
Friends of Griffith Park is still soliciting old materials, photos and post cards of Fern Dell that may serve as reference during the project. Organizers are also requesting volunteers and in-kind donations. For more information or to help, visit www.friendsof-griffithpark.org.