For the true heart of Los Angeles, look no farther than Griffith Park. From its lush golf courses to its historic Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory, from its L.A. Zoo to its equestrian and hiking trails Westsiders mingle with east Angelenos as Valley denizens join those of downtown. For more than a century, the nation’s largest municipal wildland park has served to unite Angelenos. “Everybody talks about Central Park in New York, (but) Griffith Park is a beautiful natural monument … better than any park in the world,” said Louis Alvarado, honorary mayor of Griffith Park. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2 “When you go to Griffith Park, everybody has something in common, everybody becomes friendlier with each other. We become a common city.” From its heights above Los Angeles, Griffith Park offers sweeping views of a commonly shared metropolis. On the eastern edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, the park’s 4,100 acres maintained by 120 city workers offers respite for 10 million visitors a year. Joggers hit their stride. Bicyclists spin their wheels. Duffers get in their licks. Couples hold hands. A lone flutist plays on a distant glade. And America’s largest urban hike club assembles three times a week for a 2-hour sundown trek. “Are you ready to hike!,” shouted Alvarado, leader of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Griffith Park Section, during a recent evening hike above the historic Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. “Yes,” barked a hundred waiting regulars. “OK, that sounds like music to my ears.” With that, hikers from across Los Angeles hoofed it over sage-covered hills gifted to the city by Col. Griffith J. Griffith in 1896. Few knew of the dapper Welshman who’d once owned Rancho Los Feliz, the former Spanish land grant that would become known as Griffith Park. Few knew of the colonel’s aim: to edify residents of every race and creed via a sunlit riverfront park. “It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people,” Griffith said to mark the occasion. “I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner, and finer city.” And few knew of the portly gentleman who, after a sensational trial, would serve two years in prison for shooting his society wife in the eye. As Griffith had fretted over the future of his park, so have others. Last year, a consultant floated a draft Griffith Park master plan with notions of aerial tramways, parking garages, a mountain hostel and an L.A. River “pleasure pier.” A more hands-off vision will soon be submitted by a working group of nearby residents and stakeholders. “The biggest single long-range threat to the park is overdevelopment,” said Mike Eberts, author of “Griffith Park: A Centennial History,” and a frequent hiker of the park. “I think the open space in the park should take priority once the land is developed, you don’t get it back.” Hikers traipse past mustard and sticky monkey flowers. Past Amir’s Garden, with its blooming pink geraniums. Past historic Bee Rock and over toilsome Cardiac Hill. As the sun sets, the sage becomes fragrant as lights of the city begin to flicker far far below. “It’s beautiful,” exclaimed Ana Montenegro, 48, of Burbank. “All the trees. It’s relaxing. The views. The city lights.” “What a great way to get rid of stress,” said hike leader Theresa Michaels, an agent with Windermere Burbank. “I’m a Realtor and I completely forget about it huffing and puffing up here.” Each week, Tovah Sands looks forward to heading directly from her job in Northridge for the heights of Griffith Park. “I love it,” said Sands, of Woodland Hills, taking a deep breath at the top of a hill. “Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s the most beautiful thing. “This is the most important part of Los Angeles.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!