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Griffith J. Griffith

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Griffith J. Griffith
Griffith Jenkins Griffith

(1850-01-04)January 4, 1850
DiedJuly 6, 1919(1919-07-06) (aged 69)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Memorial Cemetery
Los Angeles
Other namesColonel Griffith J. Griffith
Mining and real estate magnate
Known forPhilanthropy, assault with a deadly weapon
SpouseMary Agnes Christina Mesmer (1887–1904; divorced)
ChildrenVandell M. Griffith (1888–1974)

Griffith Jenkins Griffith (January 4, 1850 – July 6, 1919) was a Welsh-born American industrialist and philanthropist. After amassing a significant fortune from a mining syndicate in the 1880s, Griffith donated 3,015 acres (1,220 ha) to the City of Los Angeles that became Griffith Park, and he bequeathed the money to build the park's Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory. Griffith's legacy was marred by his notorious shooting of his wife in 1903, a crime for which he served a year and nine months in prison.[1]


Career and philanthropy[edit]

Griffith J. Griffith was born in Bettws, Glamorganshire, Wales, on January 4, 1850.[2] He immigrated to the United States in 1865, settling in Ashland, Pennsylvania. In 1873, he moved to San Francisco, California, and became manager of the Herald Publishing Company. In 1887, he married Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer (1864–1948), a daughter of early Los Angeles settler and businessman Louis Mesmer.[3]

In 1878, G. J. Griffith became mining correspondent for the Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper. As a reporter, he gained extensive knowledge of the mining industry on the Pacific Coast and in Nevada, which led to his employment by various mining syndicates. As a mining expert, Griffith acquired a fortune.[4]

In 1882, Griffith moved to Los Angeles and purchased approximately 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of the Rancho Los Feliz Mexican land grant. On December 16, 1896, Griffith and his wife Christina presented 3,015 acres (1,220 ha) of the Rancho Los Feliz to the city of Los Angeles for use as a public park. Griffith called it "a Christmas present." After accepting the donation, the city passed an ordinance to name the property Griffith Park, in honor of the donor.[5]

"It must be made a place of rest and relaxation for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people," Griffith told the Los Angeles City Council when he donated the land. "I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happy, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered."[6]

Griffith later donated another 1,000 acres (400 ha) along the Los Angeles River.[7]


While vacationing in Santa Monica on September 3, 1903, Griffith shot his wife Tina Mesmer Griffith in the presidential suite of the Arcadia Hotel, as she knelt on the floor before him. The shot did not kill her, but she was left disfigured and lost her right eye. Griffith was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. The prosecution was led by Henry T. Gage, former governor of California.[1] Griffith was defended by attorney Earl Rogers, whose cross-examination of the veiled Mrs. Griffith revealed that her husband—generally thought to be a teetotaler—was in fact a secret drunk who was subject to paranoid delusions. Griffith was convicted of a lesser charge, assault with a deadly weapon. The judge sentenced him to two years in San Quentin State Prison, and a $5,000 fine,[8] instructing that he be given "medical aid for his condition of alcoholic insanity".[9] He served time from April 5, 1905 to December 6, 1906.[8]

On November 4, 1904, while he was in jail, Mrs. Griffith was granted a divorce on the grounds of cruelty, and she was awarded custody of their 16-year-old son Vandell.[1] The court also stated that G. J. Griffith would pay for his son's education at Stanford University. The decree was made in the record time of four and a half minutes.[10]

Later life[edit]

G. J. Griffith was released from prison December 3, 1906, after serving nearly two years. His conduct at the penitentiary was called exemplary. Griffith returned to Los Angeles and began lecturing on prison reform.[11]

In December 1912, Griffith offered a second "Christmas present" to Los Angeles, in the form of a Greek Theater and a Hall of Science to be built at his expense in Griffith Park. The offer was accepted by the City Council, but members of the Park Commission objected and instituted a court action to block the donation. Griffith left the offer in his will. He died of liver disease on July 6, 1919. The bulk of his $1.5 million estate was bequeathed to the city for the building of the Greek Theater (1929) and Griffith Observatory (1935).[12][1] He is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles in the north end of Section 7, a.k.a. "The Griffith Lawn".[13] While standing at the side of his obelisk and looking north, one can see the Griffith Observatory.

Griffith used the title of Colonel, but official records of military service which support this rank have not been found.[1] Evidence suggests the only military title he ever held was Major of rifle practice with the California National Guard.[14][15]

Additional images[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Jobb, Dean (15 December 2023). "Delusions of Grandeur: The Scandalous Crime of a Los Angeles Millionaire". CrimeReads. CrimeReads. Retrieved 18 December 2023.
  2. ^ "BBC – south east Wales historical figures – Griffith J Griffith". BBC website. BBC. May 14, 2010. Retrieved May 14, 2010.
  3. ^ Los Angeles Daily Examiner, November 5, 1904
  4. ^ "The Britons who made their mark on LA". The Daily Telegraph. 2011-09-11. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
  5. ^ "Death Claims G. J. Griffith," Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1919
  6. ^ Griffith Park narrative Archived 2010-01-15 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles
  7. ^ "Griffith Park To Be Considered For Monument Status"; Walton, Alice, City News Service, August 21, 2008
  8. ^ a b California State Archives via Ancestry.com. California, U.S., Prison and Correctional Records, 1851-1950 Original data: Department of Corrections. San Quentin State Prison Records, 1850–1950. ID #R135
  9. ^ St. Johns, Adela Rogers, Final Verdict. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962, pp. 220–239. "That was where Earl Rogers began the first alcoholic insanity defense," St. Johns wrote. "Perhaps the first—certainly one of the first—times that alcohol was called to account in an American courtroom as a disease, a mental illness, not just a sin or a crime or an indulgence". (Final Verdict, p. 232.)
  10. ^ "Mrs. Griffith Gets Divorce," Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1904
  11. ^ "Griffith is Freed Today," Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1906; "Griffith to Lecture: Gone to San Francisco to Advocate Prison Reform Along Elmira Institution Lines," Los Angeles Times, January 26, 1908
  12. ^ "Death Claims G. J. Griffith," Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1919; "City Gains by Griffith Will," Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1919
  13. ^ Russell, Ron (July 3, 1988). Splendor Fades at Final Resting Place of Famous, Almost Famous. Los Angeles Times
  14. ^ Gurstelle, William (2006). Adventures from the Technology Underground. Clarkson Potter ISBN 978-1-4000-5082-6
  15. ^ Bell, Alison (June 12, 2011). Colonel Griffith J. Griffith one of L.A.'s more colorful figures. Los Angeles Times

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