Griffith J. Griffith: The Man Behind LA's Griffith Observatory Was An Absolute Monster

By Chase McNeill
Constructing the central dome at Griffith Observatory. Source: (truthdig.com/articles/rare-photos-reveal-griffith-observatory-under-construction)

Nestled in the Hollywood Hills sits a famous icon visited and adored by millions. It's not the Hollywood sign but Griffith Observatory. Every night, Angelenos and tourists crowd the observation deck to see the glittering lights of Los Angeles. Many visit, but few know about the troubled man responsible for it all: Griffith Jenkins Griffith. Although he donated the land and money for the park, no plaques or portraits mention that he was a murderous, alcoholic monster.

In 1896, Griffith J. Griffith gifted 3,015 acres of his land to the city of Los Angeles. Hiking wasn't exactly a popular pastime in 1896, when Los Angeles looked much like a farm town, but still, it was a large swath of land. While it seemed generous, Griffith simply tossed away property that wouldn't earn him a buck. A man who made his fortune in oil, he made several attempts at monetizing the area. He even put an ostrich farm on a spot near the Los Angeles River. At the time, ostrich feathers fetched $5 a piece for women's fashion, so he brought 34 of the gangly birds onsite. To supplement the feather business, Griffith turned his birds into a sort of zoo. Visitors came to see the ostriches, but what they really loved to do was feed the hapless birds whole oranges and watch them slide down their long, fleshy necks. Apparently, the orange-tossing business wasn't sustainable, and the whole operation shut down in 1889.