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Paying Tribute to a Gardener and His Eden : Volunteer Has Spent 25 Years Turning Griffith Park Fire Site Into a Leafy Oasis

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The hike up the mountainside was one that Amir Dialameh has made 8,700 times before.

Except that this time there was a line of 60 admirers huffing and puffing behind him Saturday when he climbed a dusty trail to the Griffith Park ridge top they call Amir’s Garden.

The crowd was there to celebrate the lush, tree-shaded garden’s 25th anniversary--and to thank the man who single-handedly reclaimed the Los Angeles ridge from the desolation of a 1970 brush fire.

Dialameh, a West Hollywood wine merchant who often hiked along the Mineral Wells Trail above the park’s zoo before the fire, was heartbroken when he saw its devastation. So he decided to repair the damage himself.

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City officials were at first skeptical when the Iranian immigrant sought permission to clean and replant the burned area. No bulldozers or city workers would be available to help him, they warned. But Dialameh seemed enthusiastic. And parks administrators finally said OK.

He spent the first year using a pick and shovel to dig out the blackened stumps of 200 trees killed by the blaze.

Then he spent the next two dozen years planting about 60 varieties of trees and shrubs on the three-acre hilltop, visiting daily to water the thousands of plants and to carve new hiking and walking trails in the area.

These days the ridge top is marked by a city sign that reads “Amir’s Garden.” But it is Dialameh--now white-haired and retired at 64--who distinguishes it.

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“I don’t give money to charity. I spend everything I can on this. This is my church,” he explained as he stood in the shade of a 50-foot ash tree that he planted as a $2.99 seedling 15 years ago.

“This is what you can do for your kids, for future generations. It doesn’t take much time. Just a little effort.”

Dialameh was something of a celebrity for some of those joining in Saturday’s commemorative hike.

“I’ve seen your name up here for years--it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” said Michael Gips, a studio lighting technician who lives in Hollywood and hikes frequently in Griffith Park.

Seventeen-year-old Ben Lee of Burbank disclosed that he plans to follow Dialameh’s example and help build and repair trails in the park as part of an Eagle Scout project.

Pat Moloney, a Glendale author, explained how he frequently hikes to the garden to meditate. “What he’s done here is incredible. And it’s amazing with all the city bureaucracy that they haven’t tried to stop him,” Moloney said.

The city has allowed several individuals to cultivate garden areas, according to Tom McCall, a Los Angeles parks maintenance supervisor on hand Saturday to praise Dialameh. Other sites include Dante’s View, tended by the late Dante Orgolini and more recently by 91-year-old Charlie Turner.

Dante’s View was damaged a few years ago by a brush fire. And another blaze two months ago burned to the southern edge of Amir’s Garden. Firefighters made a special effort to protect it, according to Park Ranger Rupert Maragetson. “We have a special place in our hearts for Amir’s Garden,” he said.

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Saturday’s visitors were encouraged by Dialameh to help replant the newly scorched terrain, and dozens did. Omar Cortez, a Mid-Wilshire trucking company loader, even brought along two small trees of his own to contribute. Four family members pitched in to help plant them.

“Thank you very much for coming,” Dialameh told his fans.

No, corrected Bernie White, an actor from Hollywood. “Thank you so much for what you’ve done for all of us.”


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