YEAH, YEAH, SO YOU’VE BEEN TO GRIFFITH PARK. Who hasn’t? But what do you know about Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, the occasionally delusional oddball who made the city’s biggest park possible? Go look for him on ProQuest, the database that contains every article published by the Los Angeles Times, from 1881 to the present. ProQuest is an indispensable yet little-known resource for Angelenos, featuring not only national and international news stories from the last century but also editorials, classified advertisements and even full-page display ads.
The older search engine, which contains L.A. Times content from 1881 to 1985, is on the L.A. public library’s Web site under “Databases.” Click on the section titled “Research Library (ProQuest),” then drag down the subhead titled “The Historical Los Angeles Times.” L.A. Times stories published since 1985 are also in the database, but under the heading “Los Angeles Times (ProQuest).” All you need is your own PC and a library card — your password into the system.
Once you’re in, the search possibilities are limitless: Any civic sleuth or history nerd can look up Los Angeles society pages of the 1880s, ads for fresh strawberries from the 1890s or school-board elections from the turn of the (previous) century. Look up your address and you may find the home of a soldier sent off to fight in World War II. Look up your street and you might discover a lurid crime.
As for Mr. Griffith, he was no slouch in the news department. He moved to Los Angeles, struck it rich, donated 3,000 acres for a city park, shot his wife, went to prison and then gave the city even more money — in the form of a new observatory and the Greek Theater. He’s in there — covered in nearly 40 years’ worth of stories, from his arrival in the 1880s to his death in 1919.
Proquest available at any branch library, or go to the Los Angeles Public Library Web site at www.lapl.org