By Donna Barstow

Did Fern Dell residents living along the southern edge of Griffith Park find a Fountain of Youth? The neighborhood's mysterious water problem could turn out to be a relatively rare natural spring that no amount of Los Angeles development and urbanity can kill.

The mystery surfaced in the heat of mid-August, when the nearby American Film Institute (whose headquarters are located near Griffith Park), Immaculate Heart High School and two homeowners found water leaking into inappropriate areas. The Department of Water and Power insists its pipes — recently bursting and creating sinkholes in other parts of L.A. — are not to blame.

However, health buffs who know how little effort is made to test the contents of store-bought bottled water might one day celebrate this as a fantastic rediscovery of sorts.  Back in 1929. a natural spring was discovered in Fern Dell, and some called it the Fountain of Youth. Here's the fascinating story:

Local resident Gerry Hans says that in the 1920s, news of a natural spring spread among Angelenos, who dubbed it the “Fern Dell

Spa.” He points to Mike Ebert's book, “Griffith Park, A Centennial

History,” which reads:

People were trekking to the southwestern corner of Griffith Park so

they could fill jugs and bottles with water. Word had spread that the

water from a particular spring at Fern Dell was special…Others

attributed health-enhancing qualities to it. There was even some

playful talk that it was the fountain of youth.

The Park Department capped the spring and had it piped to Los Feliz

Blvd., but neighbors complained that it flooded the street. Later, the

Park directed it to spigots, and even in 1967 people were coming for

the water.

Now back to the present: The Oaks Homeowners who live in the area met with city officials about the water damage on Thursday, October 8. Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, Julie Spacht of the DWP,

representatives from AFI and Immaculate Heart High School and

neighbors all attended. Gerry Hans filled me in on what is (and isn't) being done.


One homeowner on Fern Dell Place found that his usual drainage system didn't work, and another found water damage in a

hillside wall. The problem spread: AFI, whose historic buildings are set further down the hill, found

water pouring into one and had to build a trench to

redirect it. The high school has seepage in one hillside wall.


Before Griffith Observatory was renovated in 2003, water migrating down from its extensive heating and cooling system was providing healthy moisture to the

park lands. But when work on the Observatory started, its water was shut

off. The DWP was concerned about this, and they retained Northwest

Hydraulic Consultants to study how much it would cost to build

a recirculating stream for the area: oh, around half a million. So

nothing was done.


This new mystery water originates from some place higher on the hill — not the Observatory. DWP  tested the water, detecting no chlorine, which they said proves

it's not from the city's supply. However, Mr. Hans pointed out

that water, when compressed and filtered underground through the soils, can quickly lose



If it's not from the DWP, it means a new natural spring is bubbling up. What a shame that we can't harness that water

that the city and park needs so badly!


Is this new water the same mineral-filled Fountain of Youth from days of old? If so, maybe it could be tapped to revitalize the waterless

area above Fern Dell.

But wait, let's talk about me for a minute: I

want some of that special Fern Dell magic water too. Yum.
 — Cartoonist Donna Barstow blogs at

Note: an earlier version of this post misidentified Gerry Hans as being with DWP. He is with the Oaks Homeowners organization.

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