Sunday, February 10, 2008

Griffith Park - Take Two

A few months ago, we went to Griffith Park to see the Old Los Angeles Zoo. Unfortunately, the entire southeast section of the park was closed due to last summer’s wildfire. Griffith has been slowly recovering ever since - the main road that cuts through the center of the park is still closed. Many of the hiking trails finally reopened in January, then got closed again after unexpected rains caused mudslides. Yesterday was the first truly warm day Los Angeles has had for a few weeks, so it seemed like an opportune time to try again.

We decided to enter the park from Los Feliz, east of Bronson Canyon and the Hollywood sign. On the way, we stopped to marvel at the Ennis House in Glendower Avenue. The Ennis House is probably the most famous house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the city of Los Angeles – owing to the fact that it has appeared in a number of hugely successful films and TV shows. Built in 1924, the house made one of its earliest appearances in the 1958 William Castle schlocker “The House on Haunted Hill.” It was featured as the titular home of eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren (played by Vincent Price), who held an unusual overnight party inside. It later appeared as a filmmaker’s residence in the 1975 adaptation of the quintessential Hollywood novel “The Day of the Locust,” as Deckard’s apartment building in Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner” (1982), and as Angel’s gothic pad in the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Perhaps least notably, it was the home of Thomas Ian Griffith’s manipulative martial arts instructor in “The Karate Kid Part III” (1989), a film that featured the house’s incredible view of downtown Los Angeles.

The Ennis house, like Griffith Park, has been threatened recently by both wildfires and mudslides. In 1994, the Northridge earthquake caused significant damage to the southern retaining wall, prompting the National Trust for Historic Preservation to put the house on its 11 Most Endangered list. In 2005, the Ennis House Foundation was formed to raise money for restoration and, thanks to them, the house is no longer in immanent danger. Hopefully, it will be reopened to the public in the near future.

I was surprised to see that the Old Zoo in Griffith Park was also in relatively good shape, as I'd assumed that the fire had reached it. There haven’t been any animals in the cages since 1965, but there have been plenty of filmmakers in there. When I first moved to Los Angeles and got interested in seeking out film locations, I read an article in the L.A. Times saying that “Zoltan, Hound of Dracula” (1978) was filmed here. I’ve never seen “Zoltan, Hound of Dracula,” (if any blog readers can comment on this one, I’d LOVE to hear about it), nor do I plan to. I can already fully appreciate the creepiness of the setting.

The old lion cages are now an elaborate picnic grounds (though they were briefly re-converted to lion cages for the 2004 movie “Anchorman” with Will Farrell). Just behind the walls are a series of long, steep stairwells, leading to dark, empty storage rooms that look like they belong in Candyman's Cabrini Green.

Lest you get the idea that this section of Griffith Park is not family-friendly, I should point out the nearby Merry-Go-Round. Constructed in 1926, the carousel supposedly served as the inspiration for Disneyland. According to Griffith Park historian Mike Eberts, Walt Disney brought his daughters here and started dreaming...

Further north, on the way out of the park, there’s another big attraction for kiddies and film geeks. The miniature railroad at Los Angeles Live Steamers is where Steve Martin wooed Bernadette Peters in “The Jerk” (1979). The train operators offer free rides (to geeks of all ages) on Sundays, from 11am to 3pm.

So there you have it. From the house on haunted hill to 1/8 scale trains. Fun for the whole family.

Ennis House (view from the south - featuring the fully restored retaining wall)

(a more familiar vantage point)

These textile blocks form all the outside walls of Frank Lloyd Wright's modern Mayan temple

View from the front patio.

Griffith Park - coming back to life

Old Los Angeles Zoo


  1. crashnorm2/11/2008

    Hello Joe

    Maybe you would like to join me in my quest for the BAGHDAD MEMORIAL TRAIL in Griffith park. At least post a blog about it
    See my website


    Thank you

    Nrm Pringle

  2. Dennis Fischer3/10/2008

    In Charles B. Griffith's movie DR. HECKYLL AND MR. HYPE, the old cages from the old L.A. Zoo subbed as a prison on this low-budget Cannon feature which has a rather amusing Oliver Reed performance.