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Griffith Park designated historic-cultural monument

January 27, 2009 | 12:53 pm

Griffith Park was designated a historic-cultural monument this morning, making it one of the largest landmarks in the country. The designation, approved unanimously by the Los Angeles City Council, puts major changes and developments in the park under the review of the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission.

Some newer areas of the park, including freeways, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Autry National Center, are not subject to the same commission oversight. The city’s Department of Recreation and Parks still owns and operates the 4,218-acre urban park.

Griffith Van Griffith, whose great-grandfather gave the park to the city in 1896, applied last summer for the park’s landmark status. At City Hall today with his wife, Barbara, he said he was “ecstatic.” His great-grandfather, he said, would be “doing a little jig in his mausoleum” in celebration of the designation.

The park's monument designation received widespread community support, with dozens of boosters attending every city hearing and hundreds signing petitions in favor of the landmark status. Griffith and the park’s supporters said they are hopeful the designation will provide protection for the park from commercial developments, such as those briefly proposed in a 2005 master plan commissioned by the city.

“There was never an absolute threat to the park, but this absolutely protects the park,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes Griffith Park. LaBonge was an early skeptic of landmark designation but strongly supported it after he said he was assured it did not negatively affect the park or the city’s stewardship of it. For many supporters, landmark designation also signals a renewed interest in the country’s largest urban park.

“The park has been repositioned in our city’s consciousness as the heart,” said Bernadette Soter, a member of the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council who rallied community members to support the designation.

Though historic designation of the park passed smoothly in the City Council, the application was the subject of heated debate throughout the legislative process. Various city utility departments have expressed concern over how landmark designation would affect their operations and general maintenance of the park’s infrastructure.

City officials say those departments are working with the Office of Historic Resources, which oversees city landmarks, to iron out the logistics over the next six months. A ceremony at Griffith Park to mark the designation is being planned for the spring, LaBonge said.

-- Joanna Lin