Los Angeles Almanac Logo
Home | All Almanac Topics | Mysterious L.A.

Curse of Griffith Park

Rancho Los Feliz Adobe, Circa 1900

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

Editor's Note: the Almanac includes much of the following as legend and folklore - not history. Although some elements of the story may indeed be historical fact, we offer these stories, along with other stories in Mysterious L.A., 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, Doña Petranilla, who had 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 mayor of Los Angeles and future state treasurer), some furniture to Soledad and nothing to Petranilla. The story relates that Coronel and his lawyer, Don Innocante, were believed to have dishonestly obtained the dying Feliz’s signature on the will. So, Petranilla cursed the land, Coronel, Innocante, and the judge who upheld the will. Innocante later ended up being shot and killed.

Don Antonio Coronel and wife Mariana, no date given. In the collection of L.A. Public Library.

In the years that followed, a series of disasters struck subsequent owners of Rancho Los Feliz. Coronel’s widow and inheritor 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 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 the stairs of 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 tied to the area were beginning to abound). Griffith suffered losses to his ostrich farm venture on the land and barely survived an attempt on his life by a disgruntled gun-wielding tenant. In 1896, Griffith donated most of the 3,012 acres left of Rancho Los Feliz to the City of Los Angeles to serve as a public park. Seven years later, in 1903, Griffith was convicted of the attempted murder of his wife, Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer, while they were vacationing at a Santa Monica hotel. In his trial, Mrs. Griffith testified that, although publicly Griffith was believed to not touch alcohol, in private he was a secret drunk, subject to paranoid delusions. He served a two-year sentence at San Quentin and, due to the loss of his good reputation, Mount Griffith was renamed Mount Hollywood. Griffith’s offer to gift $100,000 for the construction of an astronomical observatory, Greek theatre and other park improvements was also rejected by the city until after his death.

Griffith J. Griffith, circa 1910. Photo from Security National Bank Collection at L.A. Public Library.

Aslo see: Griffith Park Fire Tragedy, 1933.