Past LFIA Presidents Recall Key Moments
Since the founding of the Los Feliz Improvement Association in 1916, nearly 50 men and women have served as president of the organization.
LFIA’s founding father William Mead was the first president. Several community leaders held the position more than once, including Griffith J. Griffith’s son, Van M. Griffith and later Edmond Stephan, who took on the presidential role in both the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Today, there are a dozen former presidents living in and around Los Feliz. We asked them to give us their thoughts on what they felt their greatest accomplishments were during their tenure.
The two highlights during my two tenures as president. During the ‘70s we planted more Deodars on Los Feliz Boulevard . I say “we” because everyone was involved making sure the trees went where they belonged. And, in the ‘80s, we saved hundreds of lives and received many thank-you’s for putting up a guard barrier at Los Feliz and Western—a dangerous curve. Stephan Edmond (1972-74 and 1986-88)
I do recall a discussion of how to re-route the traffic off of Los Feliz to Franklin, starting at Hillhurst going west, by having the traffic signals going west made briefer. Hubert Smutz was the man in charge of the signals and a longtime Los Feliz resident. His passing has led to the development of Los Feliz as a mini freeway. Richard M. Moneymaker (1977-79)
I was very proud and privileged to be the first woman president of the Los Feliz Improvement Association. I worked with a very distinguished board of directors representing the Los Feliz area. I feel that many of our accomplishments were due to my establishing excellent and successful working relations with politicians and leaders of the community, such as John Ferraro, Peggy Stevenson, Tom LaBonge, Mike Roos , David Roberti and members of the Los Angeles Police Department (North East Division). A major success was preventing the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department from establishing a fee to enter Griffith Park, working closely with Assemblyman Mike Roos. Dorothy V. Meyer (1981-84)
In 1988 I was 40 years old and one of the Young Lions on the LFIA board. The Old Guard had been through many tough fights. Most of them they won, including preventing the developers from turning the Los Feliz Estates into hillside high rise condominiums. But they had lost the fight over the building of the Los Feliz Towers; a long, arduous and bloody battle. It was understandable then that they might be cautious and even a bit suspicious of newcomers on the board of directors.
The Young Lions, however, were full of energy. They wanted to be proactive, not just reactionary. They had new ideas and projects, all of which cost money. It was a perfect recipe for a clash with the Old Guard. But that’s not what happened. The Old Guard embraced the change. They also mentored us young ones. In turn we learned patience and a bit of humility. We also inherited the tremendous respect (“clout”) that the organization had built in City Hall and elsewhere.
As a result, many good things you see in Los Feliz today came out of that era including, the strong partnership between LFIA and our local schools, the replanting of the Deodar Trees, the Los Feliz Street Fair, the Los Feliz BID, the Police Sub Station, the Los Feliz Library and a vibrant, informative Los Feliz Observer. There are also many things you don’t see including, ill- conceived commercial projects, graffiti, blight and the commercialization of Griffith Park just to name a few of the ongoing battles your LFIA board continues to wage every day.
What an exciting time it was for me. I also learned a very valuable life’s lesson. “Never be afraid of change!” (even if you’re old) Thank you LFIA. Philip Homsey (1988-90)
Thanks for the opportunity to be part of the 100th anniversary of the LFIA. I was president during the 75th Anniversary and we had a big celebration in Griffith Park. We also started the history committee and published the 75 years of Los Feliz history book. We started the merchants on the way to forming the Los Feliz Business Improvement District and actually came up with the name, Los Feliz Village. I helped start the Cleanup Committee and fought against graffiti encroaching the community. We also helped Barnsdall Park redevelop by getting approximately $10 million for allowing Metro to use their parking lot for staging the subway construction. We also stopped some early mansionization attempts. We also helped get the Jacarandas planted on Hillhurst. It was a busy time, to say the least. Ken Lewis (1990-93)
There are three things that prevail as accomplishments and they span more than my two years as president, but are the events which I worked long and hard to bring to fruition, so here we go! The Los Feliz Library, our meetings at the Autry Museum and the refurbishment of the Mulholland Fountain.
Almost 50 years of struggle finally culminated in the final decision for the location of the Los Feliz Library to be in the midst of our neighborhood. This decisive issue was not easy for LFIA, split the Board and parts of the community. The gala opening celebrations and continuing success of our library is a great memory.
Negotiating a luxurious meeting home for LFIA general meetings with the newly opened Autry Museum has resulted in a years-long positive and welcome relationship for LFIA and the community.It was a four year effort to repair and restore the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain. Many were involved. The struggle was long and costly. Years when the DWP felt LFIA should raise the $350,000 restoration cost. The William Mulholland Fountain is a rare memorial to the genius of one man for the benefit of the entire City and it is also a beautiful and unique entrance to Los Feliz. While the actual rededication ceremony of the restored fountain took place just a few months after my presidency was complete, chairing the Memorial Fountain Committee and the gala ceremony with dignitaries, children from four of our schools, professional musicians and over 100 neighbors attending this event, it remains as an outstanding accomplishment and brightest memory of those years. My hope is that LFIA will press DWP to again fill the fountain, recycle the water and turn on the colored lights at night and honor William Mulholland, restoring the joy of entering Los Feliz. Marilyn Bush (1993-96)
What I best recall from my terms as LFIA president was the fundraiser which we had at what was then called ABC/Channel 7 Studios. ABC/Channel 7, at considerable expense to itself, outfitted one of its sound stages with lights, music, and décor and invited actors living in Los Feliz to attend. The thronged event raised a lot of money for the LFIA, but–just as important–allowed the neighborhood to gather together and even to get an inside peek at the studios.
The most important event while I was LFIA president was the construction of the new Los Feliz branch library. My predecessor as president was Marilyn Bush, and she gets much of the credit for the library’s location, design, and completion. I spoke at the ground-breaking (and posed for a photo with then-Mayor Richard Riordan, then-Councilman John Ferraro, and others, all of us with ceremonial shovels in hand) and then the following year spoke at the library’s opening/dedication dinner. In the decades since then, thousands and thousands of adults and children–my children and I among them–have borrowed books and attended events at the library, and the LFIA should be proud of its role.
My favorite memory was speaking at the rededication of the Mulholland Fountain. The audience included various City officials and busloads of students from neighboring schools. Several other people spoke, including then-U. S. Congressman Henry Waxman and William Mulholland’s granddaughter, Catherine Mulholland. I spoke mainly to the students, letting them know that Mulholland had been a poor immigrant, living in a shack where the fountain now is and doing menial work as a ditch tender (or zanjero). However, Mulholland also educated himself and eventually became one of the important people–perhaps the most important person–in Los Angeles’s history. John Caragozian (1996-97)
I believe the greatest accomplishment for the Board during my tenure as president was helping to lead the charge against breaking up Los Angeles, as Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley were seeking to secede from the City. Had this happened, it would have resulted in Los Angeles dropping from being the second to the third largest city in the country. While I had mixed emotions in leading that fight, as I believed the larger size of Los Angeles had some negative consequences for its citizens, such as a school system that is too large to manage and the devolution of too much power to government employee unions, the LFIA Board nevertheless wanted to fight secession and I agreed to help lead the charge.
Relating to the first question, my greatest memory as LFIA president was speaking out against secession on behalf of LFIA at the L. A. Board of Supervisors meeting that was being held to discuss the issue and then hearing part of my speech being used the next morning on the National Public Radio segment that was being run nationally about the L. A. secession issue. LFIA was certainly on the national map with that issue. Terry Hughes (2000-03)
The issue faced by any president is whether in a given situation an activist, pre-emptive approach that signals a willingness of the organization to strongly oppose actions of our governmental representatives and developers or whether appeasement of such persons in the name of amicable relations is most effective. From my perspective, the politicians and others promoting proposals affecting our community need LFIA’s support far more than LFIA needs them. During my tenure as president, I did my best to diffuse overly suspicious and cynical views of the actions of government and developers and, instead, in certain cases to advocate a strong “stand up and bark” approach as the most effective means of advancing the best interests of the community. I hope I will be remembered for having walked this very thin line with balance, common sense and, ultimately, effectiveness. I firmly believe that LFIA’s “legacy” must reflect not efforts to conciliate with officials or others on important issues through weak positions or pleasant social interaction but rather effectively halting or reversing proposals benefiting a few with perceived clout, political or financial, rather than the best interests of our community. My congratulations to LFIA over 100 years of great service to our community and my wish that over the next 100 years, LFIA preserves a legacy of which we can all be proud. Donna Zenor (2003-06)
The greatest accomplishment was getting Griffith Park in its entirety declared City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #942 on January 27, 2009. It was part of the process begun in 2005 by the Griffith Park Master Plan Working Group to get a Master Plan for Griffith Park. One strategy was an army of volunteers who gathered signatures on 12,000 petitions to designate Griffith Park an Urban Wilderness. I fondly remember standing with LFIA board member Virgil McDowell at the Charlie Turner Trailhead to gather signatures. His warm smile and friendly manner made the signature gathering easy and fun. All we had to do was mention the proposal to build multi-level parking structures in the park and people would grab the pen out of our hands to sign the petition. When it came time to present our application to the Cultural Heritage Commission, I dressed for the occasion, white suit, heels and stockings, and hauled in four banker boxes full of petitions on a dolly. At every meeting City Council Chambers was packed with enthusiastic Griffith Park supporters. It truly demonstrated the people’s love of Griffith Park as an urban wilderness where they can escape from the noise of the city and get into nature.
There are other accomplishments as well. We celebrated LFIA’s 90th birthday at the newly reopened Griffith Observatory. LFIA got a budget, new bylaws, and a website. An over-height wall on Los Feliz Boulevard was taken down. That almost never happens, but thanks to the persistence of Zoning Committee Chair, Juliet Kiperman, it did. LFIA supported the Department of Recreation and Parks in their 2007 fire recovery efforts. Marian Dodge (2006-09)
On looking back, the thing I am most proud of was my documenting and recording the rich history of Los Feliz. Specifically, the launch of the two books I authored for LFIA: “Los Feliz: An Illustrated Early History” at the beginning of my term in 2009, and “Los Feliz and the Silent Film Era” at the end of my term. In addition, I am most proud of several other personal history projects that were very time consuming but also very rewarding: 1) the digitization of the historic residential survey as well as its expansion with the addition of all streets south of Franklin Avenue to Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, 2) the doubling of photographs in the historic photo archive, and 3) the launching of historic walking tours.
My favorite moment during my tenure was LFIA’s 95th birthday party at the Autry National Center on May 16, 2011. Not only was I able to cut the beautiful birthday cake, but I was given the opportunity to brag about the achievements of LFIA in molding the beautiful community we all live in today. Donald Seligman (2009-12)
The two biggest accomplishments for me was driving the change that established LFIA as a 502(c) (3) nonprofit organization and then raising $90,000 to prune the Los Feliz deodars! Chris Laib (2013-16)
We thank each of these former presidents for graciously contributing their memories to the LFIA Observer’s Centennial Issue.