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Curse of Griffith Park

Rancho Los Feliz adobe, built in 1830s, photo circa 1900. Photo from Security National Bank Collection, courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

Editor's Note: the Almanac includes the following as folklore - not history. Although some elements of the story may indeed be historical fact, we offer these stories as a part of the cultural fabric of Los Angeles County.

In 1863, Don Antonio Feliz died of smallpox, leaving behind his surviving sister Soledad and his blind, teenage niece, Dona Petranilla, who both lived with him on his land Rancho Los Feliz (present-day Griffith Park). Feliz’s will, signed on his deathbed, left almost all his land to Don Antonio Coronel (a former Los Angeles mayor and future State Treasurer), some furniture to Soledad and, to Petranilla, nothing. The story goes on to say that Coronel and his lawyer Don Innocante were believed to have obtained dying Feliz’s signature on the will dishonestly. So Petranilla cursed the land, its new owner Coronel, Innocante the lawyer, and a judge who upheld the will. Innocante was later shot and killed.

Don Antonio Coronel and wife Mariana, no date given. Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

In the years that followed, a series of disasters struck the various owners of Rancho Los Feliz. Coronel’s widow and inheritor of the land later remarried, only to end up in a bitter divorce that wiped out most of her stake in the land. Later owner Charles V. Howard was supposedly also was shot and killed. Owner Leon "Lucky" Baldwin suffered devastating losses to cattle and crops, forcing him to sell the land just to pay off the mortgage. San Francisco financier Thomas Bell, who briefly owned the land, later died in a fall down stairs in his Sonoma County mansion (allegedly pushed by a mistress). Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, the last private owner, was said to only visit the land during daylight (ghost stories in the area began to abound). Griffith suffered losses to his ostrich farm venture on the land and barely survived an attempt by a disgruntled tenant to gun him down. In 1896, Griffith donated most of what was left of Rancho Los Feliz, 3,012 acres, to the City of Los Angeles to serve as a public park. Seven years later, Griffith was convicted of the attempted murder of his wife in a Santa Monica hotel. He served a two-year sentence at San Quentin and, due to the loss of his good reputation, Mount Griffith was renamed to Mount Hollywood and Griffith’s offer to gift $100,000 for construction of an astronomical observatory, Greek theatre and other park improvements was rejected by the city.

Griffith J. Griffith, circa 1910. Photo from Security National Bank Collection, courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.