Descanso Gardens may be a well-known botanical refuge among residents of Greater Los Angeles, as evidenced by the half a million visits logged last year, but perhaps less widely known is its link to the region’s indigenous past and early history-makers.
On Tuesday, the La Cañada attraction’s long history — from the reliance of Tongva tribes on the native landscape 10,000 years ago and Spanish settlement in the 17th and 18th centuries to California’s statehood and the 1952 sale of Descanso’s acreage to Los Angeles County by newspaper magnate E. Manchester Boddy — will be featured in the KCET documentary “Lost L.A.: Descanso Gardens.”
The one-hour segment airs at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on KCET, with encore presentations on Saturday at 6 p.m. and Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Executive Producer Matt Crotty explained in a recent interview how the “Lost L.A.” series developed as a co-production of KCETLink and the USC Libraries with host, producer and managing editor Nathan Masters at the helm. Masters helped develop a blog series “L.A. as Subject,” drawing on the archives and collections of its namesake research alliance to bring the regional history of Los Angeles to life.
“It showed us there’s a craving for Los Angeles history in the media landscape,” Crotty said of the response to the online series. “The idea that L.A. has a deep history and people who want to know about it, that’s a huge driving force behind what we do with ‘Lost L.A.,’ and it links up with what Descanso Gardens has to tell us.”
For the episode airing Tuesday, the show’s producers drew on Descanso’s own rich archives and interviews with staff members and garden officials, including Executive Director David Brown.
“The history from which we all descend is still very present in the landscape here,” Brown said, evoking the cultural connections implicit in the gardens’ camellia forest and half-century-old Japanese Garden, its Native California garden and heritage Oak Woodland.
“And we’re still making history here — we’re not just living it over and over again,” Brown added.
Growing up in South Pasadena, Crotty frequented Descanso and for years knew it as a peaceful and beautiful place. Being able to learn the deeper story behind the land and its slow evolution into a space that still celebrates the relationships between plants and people only deepened his appreciation.
The producer explained that dynamic exists everywhere, especially in a place as storied as Los Angeles.
“People say L.A. doesn’t have a history,” Crotty said. “We do have a history — you just need to be able to read it and see it. And the gardens are a beautiful example of that.”
FYI: “Lost L.A.: Descanso Gardens” premiers Tuesday, July 18, at 8:30 p.m. on KCET with encore presentations on July 22 at 6 p.m. and July 26 at 8 p.m. The episode also airs on Link TV Thursday, July 20, at 9 p.m. on DIRECTV channel 375 and DISH Network channel 9410. For more information, visit kcet.org/shows/lost-la or descansogardens.org.