Ernie LaMere, the San Fernando Valley octogenarian who transformed a weed-choked trail alongside the Los Angeles River into a lush public promenade known as "Ernie's Walk," has died at a Sherman Oaks hospital. He was 84.
LaMere succumbed Saturday) after slipping into a coma June 18, said his granddaughter, Linette Oswald.
It was in 1988 that Ernie's Walk began along a service road strewn with garbage down the street from his Sherman Oaks home. After convincing the city and county to clean up the trash, LaMere began planting leftover geraniums and marigolds from his back yard garden.
Using donations of flowers from his neighbors, the impromptu garden soon expanded to fill the nearly quarter-mile span between Kester and Cedros avenues, but it was only the beginning.
Driven by an insatiable urge to tinker, LaMere placed benches and numerous whimsical objects along the walk to entertain passersby over the years, including a phony cemetery and "Godzilla's lair"--complete with an inflatable monster and the plaster bones of its "victims."
"It's become almost an obsession for me," he told The Times in 1993. "I wanted to prove to the world that one man could make a difference to the environment."
A native of Washington state, LaMere's dreams of becoming a contractor or engineer were interrupted by the Depression, which steered him into a job as a restaurant busboy. He eventually became maitre d' for several resorts across the country and retired about 20 years ago, his granddaughter said.
But it was Ernie's Walk that became his monument and, his family hopes, his final resting place. According to Oswald, they are trying to honor LaMere's wish to have his cremated ashes scattered into the river beside the walk that bears his name.
"That way I'll always be with the walk and no one will ever be alone," he said in 1993.
LaMere is survived by his wife of 60 years, Fern; a son, Dennis LaMere of Van Nuys; a daughter, Joy Harris of Northridge; a sister, Dorothy Bates of Puyallup, Wash.; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A tree will be planted in LaMere's honor during a memorial service at 4 p.m. Sunday along Ernie's Walk. No other services are planned.