How Deukmejian Wilderness Park Got Its Name
I recently had the honor to sit down with Nello Iacono who was the head of the Glendale Parks Department from 1988 to 2003, to get the story behind the purchase and development of Deukmejian Wilderness Park. Nello was intimately involved in its purchase and oversaw the park construction planning that has made Deukmejian Park such an asset to our community. Here’s some of what he told me mixed with some of my own research to give you the full story on the park’s name.
The story, of course, begins near the turn of the century with the Le Mesnager family and their vineyard operations centered on Dunsmore Canyon. Prohibition effectively put a stop to their commercial vineyard business, and Dunsmore Canyon became a home site for the family. In the late ’60s the family decided to sell the property and initially approached both Glendale and the state to purchase the property for parkland. Neither was interested. I remember reading a news report from that era saying that the state questioned the value of such steep and wild land for recreation. The Le Mesnager family was then left to sell Dunsmore Canyon to private parties. Developer Bill Bliss bought the property and formed the Intervalley Ranch Company with the intention of building several hundred homes on the site in a Pinecrest-style terraced development.
Initial opposition to the large development began in the ’70s in the neighborhood below Dunsmore Canyon and gained traction with Glendale as then up-and-coming Glendale Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg took on the cause. This particular struggle between development and open space was much like the later Oakmont 5 fight, but on a smaller scale. By the early ’80s, setbacks in the permit process for the developer, coupled with the city geared up for purchasing the property, resulted in numerous lawsuits and lots of legal maneuvering.
In 1984, an agreement for $5.5 million was reached with Intervalley Ranch. In a refrain familiar today, the city had little money available for the purchase but was able to cobble together $3.5 million from city and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy funds.
Here’s where the Deukmejian name comes in. We’re now into the late ’80s in this saga, and that last $2 million was proving elusive to the city. They had applied to the state for the money and Glendale Councilman Larry Zarian took the initiative, putting in a personal phone call to then Governor Deukmejian. Of course we have no idea what was said between them. In his telling of the story, Nello Iocano doesn’t attempt to make a guess as how their conversation went, but here’s my theory.
George Deukmejian had been a very pragmatic Republican governor and some say he was pro-business at the expense of environmental issues. By 1989, nearing the end of his second term, Deukmejian was under intense criticism for his environmental record as governor. Perhaps Zarian was able to convince the governor that this would be a good “environmental legacy” for his two terms in office. Maybe there was a promise of naming the park for him. Perhaps Zarian appealed to the governor as a fellow American of Armenian descent. Perhaps all of the above?
The bottom line is that Governor Deukmejian dug up the $2 mil, and in 1989 the 700-plus acre Intervalley Ranch was purchased by Glendale as a future park. Nello remembers that there was very little discussion as to the naming of the new park. The Council made the decision that it would be Deukmejian Wilderness Park.
Many have conjectured that the name of the park is rather obscure. So many other names come to mind that make more sense – Le Mesnager Park, Dunsmore Canyon Park, Mount Lukens Park, Vineyard Park. But the fact remains that without Governor Deukmejian’s personal efforts to secure $2 million for this park purchase, we very likely today be walking the sidewalks of yet another terraced hillside neighborhood rather than hiking the verdant trails into the unspoiled wilderness above Dunsmore Canyon.