It's fallen on hard times, but for decades, the Fern Dell garden in Griffith Park (by the Trails restaurant) was a major attraction: "Starlets and health-seekers lined up in the 1920s to fill jugs from the spring that fed this 20-acre fantasia of ferns, footpaths and picturesque bridges. They thought it was a fountain of youth," as the LA Times puts it. But now Fern Dell is in bad shape--the kind of maintenance workers capable of keeping it up were laid off back in the 1970s and in the 1980s the ferns "fell victim to crime, vandalism and fern rustlers" (it was named one of the US's 12 most threatened landscapes in 2012 by the Cultural Landscape Foundation). Also in the '80s, the 17 faux bois bridges were replaced with metal. But there's still lots of hidden treasure there: there are stone walls built during the Depression by the California Conservation Corps and the tenants of a camp for runaway boys; and there are the ruins of an old stone waterfall that maintenance crews just happened to uncover last year; there are also "several dams" lining the boundary between Fern Dell and the Griffith Observatory trail, a mix of real river rocks and concrete faux boulders.
Predictably, the city has no money in its Rec and Parks budget to do anything about Fern Dell, but the Friends of Griffith Park have been working for a few years now to restore the site. Horticulturists are hard at work cultivating dozens of donated fern species and a story last year in the Park La Brea News added that FoGP "initially plans to replace bridges and increase the water level of the stream that trickles through the middle of Fern Dell." (They believe that Griffith Park construction messed with the water source and were planning a hydrology study.)
Where did Fern Dell come from? According to FoGP's website, "Drawn by its year-round waters, pre-European Tongva/Gabrieleño peoples convened tribal meetings in a verdant canyon they called 'Mococahuenga.' By the early 20th Century, the canyon had become part of Griffith Park and it took on a new role. In 1914, the Parks Department began adding ferns to the ravine and by the dawn of the 1920s the first of Fern Dell's terraced pools, bridges and faux bois elements were in place."
· Fern Dell water shut-off a mystery [LAT]
· Sprucing Up?Griffith Park's Fern Dell [Park La Brea News]