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`MAYOR' IS ADVOCATE IN CHIEF FOR LUSH ENCLAVE AMID URBAN SPRAWL.

Byline: Dennis McCarthy

The mayor of Griffith Park hikes to the top of his domain on a clear day this week to enjoy the spectacular view - four national forests and a big ocean to boot.

``What a gift,'' Luis Alvarado says from the top of Mount Hollywood. ``What a beautiful gift.''

Griffith Park - a mountain in the middle of a city. The largest urban park in the world.

More than 4,200 acres in the middle of Los Angeles, dwarfing its more famous counterpart on the other coast, the 600-acre Central Park in New York.

A gift to the city from philanthropist Griffith Jenkins Griffith in 1896, and now, more than 100 years later, Luis Alvarado's baby.

``What's so special about Luis is not only is he the protector of the park, but he's also the encourager,'' says Tom La Bonge, special assistant to Mayor Richard Riordan, who appointed Alvarado to this honorary position more than five years ago.

``Luis wants every Angeleno to use the park,'' La Bonge says.

Steve Soboroff, Los Angeles recreation and parks commissioner, agrees. ``Luis knows Griffith Park goes a long way in helping L.A. have the feel of a big neighborhood, instead of a huge city,'' he says.

``He wants people to feel, `Hey, this is my neighborhood park,' and that's exactly what he's been doing so successfully.''

But with the accolades comes the responsibility, and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming being both a protector and an encourager when more than 10 million people visit your park every year, Alvarado says.

It's not like the job that that other, better known, honorary mayor has - Johnny Grant of Hollywood. His domain of tourist attractions and the Hollywood Walk of Fame are man-made.

``They can be destroyed and reproduced again,'' Alvarado says. ``I'm the guardian angel of this natural wonder that, if destroyed, can never be replaced.''

Yeah, it ain't easy being mayor of Griffith Park.

It is on the hiking trails where this 59-year-old contractor by trade really comes alive.

Where he caught Mayor Riordan's eye, leading hundreds of people a week on hikes along isolated trails in his volunteer role as chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter.

A big bear of a man, always smiling, laughing and recounting colorful local folklore about the park on the weekly hikes he leads, La Bonge says.

``The mayor loves to hug him when they see each other,'' he said. ``Luis is just that kind of guy. He's done so much for this city.''

Even before he was named mayor of Griffith Park, Luis Alvarado was keeping a close eye on his park.

``I've always felt my job was protecting it, conserving it, and keeping it in its natural state,'' he says. ``In today's standards, you have to be careful.

``People drive by open space now and think something should be there, a facility, a restaurant. My job is to keep all intrusion away from Griffith Park.''

Recently, he was tested when plans were announced to build a Children's Museum in an area of the park that Alvarado thought should remain untouched. The plans were tabled, and another site is being considered.

``It gets to be a big job, a full-time job - trying to balance the desires of special-interest groups and preserve the park in its natural landscape,'' he says.

But, like La Bonge says, Alvarado is under no pretension about what his job is. Balancing nature and man in the world's largest urban park.

``My primary purpose is to introduce Griffith Park to the people of Los Angeles controlled by the almighty dollar and clock - the people who overlook this beautiful park,'' Alvarado says.

``Look what they're missing,'' the mayor of Griffith Park said, on a clear day from the top of his domain - a mountain in the center of a city surrounded 360 degrees by overpopulated areas.

Four national forests - Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland - all within view.

And the Pacific Ocean to boot.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo: Luis Alvarado, the honorary mayor of Griffith Park, stands on one of the park's many trails. ``I'm the guardian angel of this natural wonder that, if destroyed, can never be replaced,'' he says.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 1999
Words:705
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