By Edwin Folven, 1/17/2013
Event hosted at the observatory, one of Howser’s favorites
Hundreds of fans of television host Huell Howser gathered in front of the Griffith Observatory before sunset Tuesday to pay tribute to the man who invited them to explore little-known corners of the state, as well as landmarks in their own backyards through his show, “California’s Gold”.
Howser, who died on Jan. 6 at age 67 at his home in Palm Springs, was praised for his likable, folksy demeanor, and an ability to make every location, no matter how mundane, seem like a major attraction. The event was organized by Councilman Tom LaBonge, a longtime friend of Howser, and was held at the observatory because it is a location the talk show host loved and frequented.
Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory, said Howser featured the facility four times on his show. He said Howser was always inquisitive, but never got in the way of the subject matter.
“It was incredibly easy to work with him. He asked questions, but they were always important questions,” Krupp said. “I think all of us were incredibly lucky to have Huell Howser come along, and we are going to miss that California Gold.”
Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, said Howser was very interested in preservation, and filmed segments at sites the conservancy was trying to protect such as the Watts Towers and the Broadway Theatre downtown. She said Howser also cared about the people behind the scenes, and was interested in telling their stories when others media outlets paid little attention.
“He had stories that weren’t about the brick and mortar, but the people and lives they touched,” Dishman said. “Each story about a place was like a brick that helped build support for the preservation movement in Los Angeles. Huell inspired that drive to learn more about our city, our region and our state.”
Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET-TV, which aired “California’s Gold” and other similar programs Howser created, said no one can replace the likable host. However, he said Howser has inspired many people to explore their surroundings, and look to Howser as a role model.
“Who’s going to replace Huell? The answer is nobody right now. But he left his entire body of work to Chapman University so they can digitalize it and make it available around the world,” Jerome said. “As future generations study Huell and see the goodness, I have no doubt that young people will pattern themselves after him.”
Other speakers paid tribute, such as actress Anne-Marie Johnson and Public Works Commissioner Capri Maddox. Pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix said he loved Howser’s vernacular, such as his exclamation, “Isn’t that amazing?” when he would uncover interesting facts. LaBonge also paid tribute, stating that he believes a public school should be named after Howser, and that its sports teams should be named, “The Historians”.
Fans in attendance also added poignancy during the tribute, many describing Howser as being “one of a kind.” Michael Deiner, of San Gabriel, said he watched “California’s Gold” at least once a week.
“I loved his show and I loved the way he made you feel like you part of the adventure,” Deiner said. “One of my favorite episodes was when he came to the Griffith Observatory, and that’s why I wanted to come here to pay tribute. He was the best.”
Judith Banks, who moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco in 2001, said Howser made her want to learn more about her new city of residence.
“There was nobody like Huell Howser,” she said. “He was an inspiration. He made you feel like you were there, visiting these wonderful places. I am really going to miss him.”
LaBonge said Howser, who lived for years at the El Royale apartment building on Rossmore Boulevard, would be sorely missed. As the sun began to set, LaBonge led the crowd in singing Howser’s rendition of “California, Here I Come”.
“This is our call to generate interest in our state and make people believe in the great history of California,” LaBonge added. “From Rossmore Boulevard to Highway 111, Huell Howser was our special friend.”