On any given day Elysian Park plays hosts to family picnics, leisurely nature walks, birthday parties, and weddings. There’s nothing like a President’s Day Weekend heat wave to draw a crowd and remind us of this fact. As the city’s oldest park founded in 1886, Elysian Park’s heritage is Los Angeles’ heritage.
Within the park is the Grace E. Simons Lodge, surrounded by lush greenery and a small cascading brook. The event space, a popular spot for community banquets and wedding receptions, is named after a noted reporter and social activist who galvanized the community to protect the park against developers. Simons, who died in 1985 at the age of 84, spent her career working for a French News agency in Shanghai, then as editor and reporter for the California Eagle, L.A.’s famous African-American newspaper, before lending her tenacious spirit to the preservation efforts at Elysian Park. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the organization she founded, the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park.
This historic landscape has, over the years, been considered prime real estate for hungry developers and business interests. According to Historic Echo Park, Simons’ work helped rebuff countless attempts by developers with dreams of oil fields, airports, convention centers, condominiums, and more. The Online Archive of California notes that Simons even waged a war against the Los Angeles Police Academy, although this battle proved ultimately an unsuccessful one.
Simons and her husband Frank Glass, a noted activist and Communist revolutionary according to Searchlight South Africa, called 1627 Morton Ave in Echo Park home. Living in such close proximity from the park, you might say Simons literally lived, breathed and slept Elysian Park in her later years. Without Simons’ work, Elysian Park could have been home to countless other developments, making the many picnics and sunsoaked afternoons amid the lush landscapes but wistful reverie.
Simons and her husband were a testament to the kinds of outspoken and spirited individuals that call neighborhoods like Echo Park and Elysian Heights home. With people talking about building an NFL or MLS stadium in Chavez Ravine or a massive residential development at the adjacent Barlow Hospital, we’re reminded of the importance of Simons’ work and the idea that protecting sites of cultural heritage is an ongoing battle.
Marni Epstein Epstein is an entertainment, music, and lifestyle Journalist and resident of Echo Park. She has previously worked in the film and digital media industries with FOX and Sony Pictures Entertainment. She is currently also pursuing a Masters in Historic Preservation.