Walk past the broken fence in the southwest corner of Griffith Park. Follow a path that leads you to a dilapidated wood footbridge across a filthy stream. You come to a picnic area of barren land and broken swings. Nearby, past graffiti-marked trees, are the hundreds of ferns that are this area's claim to fame.
This is Fern Dell. Once a popular oasis, the small canyon of streams and exotic vegetation near the top of Western Avenue in Griffith Park has fallen on hard times because of vandalism and neglect. But, with plans unveiled last week by the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, officials and park enthusiasts say, there is hope for Fern Dell.
The department has put out for bid a renovation plan that calls for the 4.5-acre Fern Dell to receive a complete face lift by next summer. There is a Tuesday deadline for firms to bid on the project, which is being paid for with a $500,000 state grant, said Don O. Nelson, an architect with the department.
"The whole idea is to get more people into that area of the park. We want more families to enjoy it here," Nelson said.
The push for restoration of the park comes after two years of lobbying by a small group of nature lovers and area residents known as the Friends of Fern Dell.
"We're anxious to see it get started. But we are concerned that the items put in will not be destroyed by vandals," said Lenore Levan, president of the 50-member group.
To discourage such damage, park officials say gardeners will wear vests identifying them as city employees and rangers will begin patrolling the area more heavily.
Among other things, the restoration plan calls for a new water-fogger system to keep the more than 140 varieties of ferns damp and to allow gardeners to plant other ferns that would not otherwise survive in the area. The stream, now filled with trash, will be cleaned for the first time in three years, Nelson said.
The white split-rail fence that borders the canyon on Fern Dell Drive will be replaced with a black vinyl-covered fence. The 10 wood footbridges, built in 1936, will be rebuilt or replaced with concrete bridges that will be stained dark brown to resemble bark.
Handrails along the streams will be repaired. Nine drinking fountains, including one accessible to handicapped people, will be built. And the picnic area will get new swings and other play equipment.
Lillian Needleman, who has lived in the Los Feliz neighborhood for 31 years, remembers when "the Dell" was one of the more romantic areas of Griffith Park, long before Fern Dell got a reputation as a spot for muggers to lurk.
"Why, there used be crawdads and goldfish in the ponds there, and we would catch the streetcar from the Dell up to Vermont Avenue and hike to the observatory," said Needleman, 58.
Work on Fern Dell began in 1912, when then-city parks Supt. Frank Shearer decided the Western Avenue canyon north of Los Feliz Boulevard would be ideal for creating a fern garden. Within four years, the city had built the stream, the rock-lined pools and retaining walls that run along the 1,800-foot trail.
By 1916, more than 400 native ferns were planted in what is now the southern half of the garden. The northern half was developed in the early 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.