On Tuesday morning, June 30, the dawn was met by a handcrafted wooden tea house which was constructed overnight on the northeast flank of Baby Bell (aka Taco Peak) in Griffith Park. The 80-square-foot Japanese style structure was built anonymously by local artisans using wood reclaimed from redwood trees burned in the devastating 2007 Griffith Park fire. Because the teahouse was erected illegally, the city is planning to remove it (one report says on or by July 27). Griffith Park is a historical landmark and it takes a long process for a piece of art to be approved.
This fascinating story grabbed my attention so I just had to visit the teahouse for myself. A Friday afternoon hike after work was the plan.
I leave my office in Echo Park and catch a Metro 2 at 4:00 heading west. I get off at Sunset and Western at 4:24 and begin my walk. I had looked at several bus options but a single bus ride to this location and a 0.8 walk to Griffith Park was the most efficient way to go. I arrive at Los Feliz Blvd. and Fern Dell Drive at 4:41. One more block up Fern Dell delivers me to the entrance to beautiful Ferndell gardens.
4:50 PM – Begin Hike. A causal walk through the exotic gardens of Ferndell is always a delight. Upon emerging from the gardens I walk north through the picnic area shaded by sycamores, oaks, and redwoods. I’ve had some good hikes begin from here. Park personnel have the northbound lane of Western Canyon Road blocked to traffic. I pick up a park map from the attendant and I’m glad to see that they revised it in 2014.
I arrive at the beginning of Western Canyon Trail at 5:17 and begin my climb. Soon I emerge from the shade. Thankfully it’s not too hot today. Mount Hollywood comes into view, regally standing at the north end of the canyon. The vegetation is thirsty. There is virtually nothing in bloom aside from some trees and shrubs such as elderberry, toyon, sugar bush, laurel sumac, fennel, California buckwheat, and a single bush sunflower. The wide dirt road gets pretty steep in its final section, but my pace is relaxed.
5:38 – Western Canyon Road. Lots of traffic. I ask an attendant directions to the teahouse, just to test him. I’m glad I knew the way because his directions would have gotten me lost for sure. I continue east on the steep dirt road to the Vermont Canyon bridge. Striking views open up to the east and southeast toward downtown. There is lots of parking activity down by the Greek Theatre and a band is warming up for a concert.
I cross the bridge and transition to the shortcut trail heading north to Mt. Hollywood. I virtually always take this route rather the long switchback on the road. I’m enjoying the expanding views and rugged surroundings. The vegetation alongside the trails is covered with dust from all the foot traffic with no hint that it rained last weekend. There is a fair amount of foot traffic on the trails today. The Hollywood sign stands silhouetted against the late afternoon sun. I reflect on my rewarding hike there a month ago. Mount Hollywood looms above me. I stop to photograph the tiny white flowers of dodder (witch’s hair).
6:07 – Six point junction south of Mt. Hollywood. I double back out onto the point for the panorama south. Normally I would climb straight up the ridge north to Mt. Hollywood, but because my destination is the teahouse, I turn right and take the dirt road northeast . I’m now appreciating the shade as I traverse along the east flank of Mt. Hollywood. As I arrive at Hogback Trail and Dante’s View, I’m treated with great views north and northeast. Downtown Glendale basks in the sun.
And across the canyon…eureka…the teahouse! I didn’t recall if I’d have direct line of sight from here, but I do and I’m excited. It’s in the sun, which I’m happy about. I had thought that it would be in the shadow of Baby Bell. Several tiny figures stand next to the covertly built structure, standing 0.3 mile from here as the crow flies. I turn left and continue my pilgrimage. My pace is earnest now with my eyes on the prize.
6:23 – Four-point Junction north of Mt. Hollywood. I turn right and walk due north along the watershed divide toward Baby Bell. My pace is brisk. At the junction I veer left unto the narrow rutted path that will skirt the east flank of Baby Bell. I’m eager.
6:29 – Griffith Park Teahouse. What a charming structure! About 10 people are here admiring the novelty and snapping pics. The dark brown timbers and nature wood panels of the open-air edifice are illuminated by the late afternoon sun. I endeavor to capture a thorough photographic record of the scene. The teahouse was beautifully constructed has the feel of quality craftsmanship. The old concrete foundation upon which it sits seems to fulfill its destiny. The location with its grand views is perfect for such a place of peace and well wishes. The inscription carved out of wood reads:
GRIFFITH PARK TEAHOUSE
An empty and irresistible concrete foundation, fallen redwoods, local decomposed granite, bell, wishes
Built from redwoods killed in the 2007 Griffith Park Fire, the teahouse is a love letter to Los Angeles and a quit perch for urban reflection. In homage to the fire, the timbers were lightly charred before assembly.
What wishes will swirl up into the city?
The Griffith Park Griffin is a rare puma/red-tailed hawk hybrid.
Guests to the teahouse have written hundreds of messages on small tiles of wood. Many hang on wooden pegs around the interior walls, and many are on the decomposed granite floor (I presume they have been blown off by the wind as several have blown off since I have been here). Upon making a wish, a guest seals it by ringing the red bell that hangs in a window. It has a pleasing tone.
I am usually a law and order kind of person, and know that clandestinely building things on public property sets bad precedent, however, I for one would like to see the charming teahouse remain.
After lingering sufficiently, I leave at 6:46 and head toward Mount Bell. How can I come this far without climbing my favorite peak in Griffith Park!? Eight minutes deliver me to the summit.
6:56 – Mount Bell (1582). I love this peak. I’ve climbed it more than any other peak in the park. I almost always have the summit to myself, but today I share it with two young men. The vast metropolis beyond the rugged parkland seems serene from this peaceful perch. Haze mutes the views. A cool breeze feels good. The peaks to the east are silhouetted by the setting sun. Ant-like people dot the dusty paths and peaks. Back from where I came, I can see the teahouse sitting on the northeast ridge of Baby Bell.
I leave the peak, retrace my steps, and arrive back at the teahouse at 7:10. It’s mostly in the shade now and other guests are visiting. I take a few more pictures and say good-bye to the Griffith Park Teahouse. I have a little remorse knowing it probably won’t be here for long. I trace my steps toward Mt. Hollywood. There’s still foot traffic coming and going in the setting sun. After the four-point junction I keep going straight and am rewarded with a splendid view south. The bull-dozed summit of iconic Mt. Hollywood calls me hither.
7:23 – Mount Hollywood (1625’). I love this peak too. There are always people here…eight right now. The human sprawl of Los Angeles and Hollywood fills the southern panorama. The grand observatory stands regally on its perch below. The sun is directly above Mt. Lee (the Hollywood sign) and not long till disappearing. There is a pleasant breeze. My plan is to catch the Metro 181 at Los Feliz and Vermont at 8:15, so I can’t linger long.
I leave the summit at 7:31 and head directly south down the steep use path. Down and down I go. I’m enjoying the golden light and picturesque scenery. The famed observatory basks in the fleeting rays of sun. I get shots of our solar orb setting behind Burbank Peak as I near the Vermont bridge. I cross the bridge and get a final chance to shoot the sunset from the Berlin Forest.
Griffith Observatory – I arrive at the Charlie Turner Trailhead at 8:57. Someplace along the way from Mt. Hollywood, I had realized that I have misestimated the timing, so I gave myself permission to move my bus time to 8:45. The observatory parking lot is jammed full. Long lines wait to view through telescopes on the lawn and roof. People line the railings and watch dusk turn to night over the expansive metropolis. I wander around the observatory and soak in the sights of this amazing place and reflect on the special times I’ve had here.
I leave the observatory at 8:23 and begin to descend East Observatory Trial. I soon realize I have again misestimated the timing. So I give myself permission to push my bus time to 9:15 and enjoy a leisurely stroll. I’m entertained by the concert at the Greek Theatre and the beauty of nightfall over the park and city. I meander down the trail and along Vermont Drive to catch my Metro bus at Los Feliz Blvd.
Epilog – What a fun adventure! I love Griffith Park. And in all my hikes there over the years, I’ve never repeated one. With the vast web of trails, I’ve been able to cobble together various trail sections and destinations to create a different hike each time. It was real a treat to visit the teahouse! It is a remarkable gift to the people of Los Angeles.
See Hiking Griffith Park at Dan’s Hiking Pages
(includes links to my other blog posts for hiking in Griffith Park)
Relevant trail descriptions for this hike at Dan’s Hiking Pages:
- Ferndell to Griffith Observatory via West Observatory Trail
- Mt. Hollywood (1625′) via Griffith Observatory with options to Mt. Bell and beyond
- Griffith Observatory via East Observatory Trail
- Brush Canyon to Mt. Bell (1582’) with options to Mt. Hollywood and more
Relevant blog posts at Dan’s Hiking Blog:
- Western Cyn to Mt. Hollywood & Bell in Griffith – Sept. 12, 2013
- Observatory to Mt. Hollywood & Bell in Griffith – Sept. 19, 2013
- Mt. Hollywood, Mt. Bell Hike – 10-10-10