(1904 - 1978)
It was the early 70's and I was living
in West Los Angeles working for the Department of Public Social Services'
Appeals Unit in East Loa Angeles. I had just ended a relationship
after 3 increasingly difficult years and I was still getting over the disappointment.
I had learned to complete my field work
(home visits) by 2 or 3pm and would spend the rest of the afternoon exploring
sites from Huell Hauser's TV travelogue Los Angeles Gold looking
for exotic and interesting distractions.
One afternoon, after arriving at Griffith
Park Observatory's parking lot and not really relishing another tour
of the building, I discovered what looked like a trailhead leading up the
side of nearby Mt. Hollywood.
At the top was a terraced and planted mini-park
interlaced with dirt paths lined with abalone shells and quaint rock walls
and benches. In it's midst was an old Italian gentleman, down to
suspenders and undershirt, working quietly with rake and hoe. Becoming
aware of my presence he put the tools aside and motioned for me to join
him on one of the benches. Introducing himself as 'Dante' he began to tell
me the story of what he said was unofficially known to him and his many
friends as 'Dante's Rest'.
After a breakup with a girlfriend some
years prior he also had found himself wandering around LA with time on
his hands. One day he climbed this hill and just sat there all afternoon,
doing nothing, waiting out his grief. The next and subsequent days
As his broken heart mended he began to
take notice of his immediate surroundings. He was reminded of his
boyhood on a hillside farm in the old country (Brazil) ... and like all
people born in the country he began to rearrange things. At first
just a little picking up here and there. Next clearing some little paths
and moving larger stones out of the way. Then just a few small bushes
... anise for seed, rosemary and oregano for scent on warm summer evenings.
Finally the transplanting of a 3 year old Meyer lemon helped clarify
his growing intention ... he would create a garden for others to heal in
By the end of the first year he had roughed
out a plan and began seriously clearing brush, scraping real paths and
lining them with stonework . By then several people had noticed his
efforts and started showing up to help. More plants and trees were
donated and work parties were held on the weekends culminating in wine
and cheese suppers lasting sometimes late into the evening up there on
the side of the hill. The county Parks Department even donated several
of their own large concrete benches and installed them ... tacitly accepting
Dante's illegal takeover of their property.
Dante had been at his task for 10 years
by then and several hundred people now gathered for his birthday every
fall ... some were even talking of taking over for him when his own efforts
came to an end *.
By the time he was through telling me I
was moved to tears ... such a gentle old soul and such a beautiful gift
to others. What he was doing and the effect he was having on so many
people was special and healing ...
Later I discovered that Dante had immigrated
to America to be an artist and that he had done mural work for the Santa
Barbara courthouse as well as some film work in Hollywood.
* And so they did ... here is the story.