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‘Lost LA’ takes a look at Descanso Gardens

A new episode explores how the history of the garden parallels the history of LA

KCET’s Lost LA explores the history of some of the city’s most important features, both existing and vanished. In a special program airing next week, the show, hosted by historian Nathan Masters, delves into the history of one of SoCal’s favorite public gardens, the 160-acre Descanso Gardens.

Like Huntington Gardens in San Marino, Descanso Gardens was once a lush, private estate, home to newspaper mogul E. Manchester Boddy, the owner of the Los Angeles Daily News. Boddy started inviting visitors onto his property when, after a massive die-off of his beloved flora, he needed a way to preserve the garden while also bringing in revenue to maintain it.

The history of the garden is, in many ways, the history of so much more, the program demonstrates.

A photo of a bridge and weeping-willow-type tree inside Descanso Gardens.
Exploring the 160-acre gardens “can be a walk through time,” says Descanso’s executive director.
Courtesy of KCET

In going back over the origins of the garden and how it developed, the program explores the numerous ways that the garden reflects the social, political, and cultural evolution of Los Angeles, as evidenced by a story detailing how the forced Japanese internment during World War II led to a major acquisition of the garden’s famed camelias.

“A visit to Descanso is like a visit to greater Los Angeles ... [and] a walk through Descanso can be a walk through time,” Descanso Gardens executive director David Brown says in the episode (we got a sneak peek).

The program also explores how Descanso is in some ways a microcosm of one of the major challenges facing the present and future LA: water.

The nearly one-hour special on the garden airs throughout Southern California at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on KCET.