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Historic-cultural status for Griffith Park urged

August 22, 2008|Joanna Lin | Times Staff Writer

Taking up the debate over stewardship of the nation's largest urban park, Los Angeles' Cultural Heritage Commission voted Thursday to consider an application to designate Griffith Park a historic-cultural monument.

The move triggers a review of the park by commissioners, who must make a recommendation to the Los Angeles City Council within 75 days.

Supporters of the designation argued at Thursday's hearing that historic-cultural status is needed to protect the park from commercial projects like those proposed under a 2005 master plan for the park that was quickly scrapped by City Hall.

"If the city runs short of funds, Griffith Park is going to look like a pot of gold," said Louis Alvarado, who is known as the honorary mayor of the 4,218-acre park.

The 350-page application was submitted by Griffith Van Griffith, whose great-grandfather gave the park to the city in 1896, and funded it with $75,000 from the Griffith family's trust.

Griffith, 55, who traveled from his home in Morro Bay, Calif., to speak at the hearing, called the nomination "long overdue."

"This park is just a gem for the city," he said. "It's sort of like the heart of the city too."

But others, including an aide to Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the park, questioned whether the designation goes beyond what is needed.

LaBonge supports the historic-cultural designation for the park's buildings "but not an entire park," said Renee Weitzer, the councilman's chief of staff and chief planning deputy.

"There are many unknowns that need to be researched," she said, raising concerns that the designation would make city projects in the park "unnecessarily difficult, more time-consuming and costly."

The application needed the votes of three of the five cultural heritage commissioners to proceed, but with two commissioners absent Thursday and one initially dissenting, the matter seemed likely to be continued to a future date.

The green light came when Commissioner Glen C. Dake revised his vote, despite saying he believed that such a designation was unnecessary.

Dake said he thought the city Department of Recreation and Parks does "an able job" as steward of Griffith Park.

He said he thought it would be "wrong to put it under the skirts of the Office of Historic Review."

In particular, Dake said he was hesitant to move forward because of how such a designation would affect local utilities that operate in the park.

Commission President Richard Barron, in an effort to sway Dake, said he believed that the application for the park "needs to be looked at differently than we've ever looked at a monument."

After half an hour of discussion, Dake switched his vote, allowing a review to begin.

"I demand I get my needs met, but I'll go along," he said.

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joanna.lin@latimes.com

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