Greatest Dead Angelenos #4: Griffith J. Griffith

00043864.jpgCol. Griffith J. Griffith was one of the fathers of Los Angeles. He donated a massive portion of Rancho Los Feliz to the city to create what is now Griffith Park, donated $100,000 for the Griffith Park Observatory and another $50,000 to build the Greek Theatre. What a guy, right? Well, that’s only the half of Griffith J. Griffith, the most awesomely named dead Angeleno and the only one who ever shot his wife in the face.

The other half starts when he was a 14-year old Welsh immigrant trying to cut it on the mean streets of New York City. Educating himself and finally making it to San Francisco where he quickly amassed a fortune from investing in mining endeavors. You see he helped prepare confidential mining reports for ultra-rich dudes. While today we might call something like that “insider trading,” back then they called it “damn, son, you’re RICH!”

So what would any mega-rich twenty-something in the late 1870’s do? He moved to LA, of course. In LA everybody loved GJG (the J stands for Jenkins!) and by “loved” I mean “thought he was a jackass.” People who knew him called him things like a “midget egomaniac” and plenty of other things that leads you to believe that dude was SO rich and full of himself that no one really liked him. Of course, he also made sick money on just about everything he touched. So, maybe there is something to that?

* The rest of the Greatest Dead Angelenos series can be found here.

Plenty more Griffith J. Griffith fun after the jump.

Instead of just buying a Mercedes and being annoying like most of the crazy-jerkbag millionaires we all know in Los Angeles these days, Griffith went and donated a big chunk of land from one of his more profitable purchases, Rancho Los Feliz, to the city of Los Angeles for use as a park. Now we call it Griffith Park. It’s big and awesome and someone caught it on fire recently.

It should also be noted that our man Griffith was becoming a bit of an alcoholic. A bit of an alcoholic like pounding two quarts of whiskey A DAY. Two quarts of whiskey a day makes Griffith J. Griffith paranoid. So paranoid that in a fit of crazy he walked into his wife’s hotel room and, convinced that she was in league with the pope to steal his money and his land, shot her in the face.

Thankfully she was a quick-thinker and not only survived the gunshot wound to her face, but jumped out the window and was able to crawl to safety. Needless to say blasting your wife’s eye out and disfiguring her while totally hammered doesn’t do much for a man’s reputation in this city. Griffith found himself in San Quentin for two years on account of that little move.

Some say that he came out of his, shall we say, “pompous-phase” during his time in prison. Accounts of this are varied but when he got out of prison he came back to LA and tried to either, make good, or bribe the city into loving him again. The story changes depending on how much you hate the guy for drunkenly shooting his wife. At the time everyone hated on him pretty hard. Surprisingly, he was undeterred by the hate.

He tried to donate $100,000 to the city for the construction of what is now the Griffith Park Observatory and another $50,000 for the Greek Theater. The people of the city referred to this as “a bribe” and were not having any of it. Of course, they were happy to use that money after Griffith died. The Greek and the Observatory are now two of LA’s most important landmarks. There is also a monument of Griffith on Los Feliz Blvd and Riverside at the entrance to Griffith Park, so next time you roll into the park, be sure to pour some out for the crazy old millionaire who gave generously to the city but was convinced his wife not only knew the pope, but that they were gonna take his money together.

He’s not just standing at the entrance to his park though. Griffith J Griffith is also chilling down on Santa Monica Blvd. No, he isn’t a 155 year old tranny, he’s buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary. Check this link to see exactly where.

I still have no idea how he got to be called Colonel. Anyone?

The most exhaustive resource for Griffith J. Griffith information seems to be Mike Eberts’ article for the Glendale News-Press reprinted here.

Image from the LA Public Library

2 thoughts on “Greatest Dead Angelenos #4: Griffith J. Griffith”

  1. Love the spin you put on this one. “155 year old tranny” just cracked me up. Nice. In spite of it all he wound up making a big impact on LA and his park is the largest urban park in the world if my recollection is correct.

  2. Never trust a man with two first names…wait…or does he have two last names?

    As for Col. Griffith’s alleged military rank, it was customary back in those says to carry such a title, as in some states, a Governor (usually their friend or relative) or other political figure had the authority to bestow such an honorary rank on an individual. A classic example was Harlan Sanders, who is best known for his own brand of deep-fried poultry from the Bluegrass State.

    Elvis Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, was another example. His honorary rank was granted to him by the governor of Louisiana.

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