First published in the March 26 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
By Natalie Miranda
The Deukmejian Wilderness Park recently welcomed hundreds of community members to its long-awaited Stone Barn Nature Center grand opening, revealing the restored facility with a celebratory ribbon-cutting event.
The stone barn, a two-story vernacular rock structure, features interactive displays that offer visitors an in-depth retrospective of what is now a historic center nestled at the base of Mount Lukens, as well as the diverse flora and fauna within the park. The barn also includes a children’s center with hands-on educational activities.
The movement toward the reconstructed facility’s March 19 debut has taken place in four phases over the past 30 years. The total cost of the project — $11.3 million dollars — was funded through grants, and was “worth every penny,” according to Glendale Mayor Paula Devine.
“Parks, as we all know, are the cornerstone of every community,” she said. “No matter the timeline of this project, the investment in Glendale parks and open spaces is priceless. Spaces like this beautify and strengthen our communities.”
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian, who voted for the final round of funding that helped bring the project across its finish line, said that although there were delays along the way related to the city budget and economy, contributing to the opening of the stone barn was a top priority.
“We figured that whatever it takes, we needed to make sure that we had this nature center open to the public, especially for the children,” Kassakhian said.
“We don’t inherit the Earth and nature from our parents, but we borrow it from our children, so hopefully they will be able to learn about the animals and plants in this area and put it to good use and do better by this planet than we, and previous generations, have,” he added.
Prior to the purchase of the park’s site by the city in 1988, George Le Mesnager, a Los Angeles businessman who emigrated from France, acquired the property in 1886.
His son, Louis Le Mesnager, built the stone barn and some accompanying buildings between 1914 and 1918. The structure functioned as a stable that stored equipment and grapes for the Le Mesnagers’ Los Angeles Winery — operating in that capacity until 1920, when Prohibition ceased the winemaking industry.
However, the barn’s return to winemaking after the Prohibition Era in 1933 would be short lived. A hillside fire, followed by major flooding, gutted and destroyed the building. The barn was eventually rebuilt with a new roof and residential quarters on the upper floor, which housed the Le Mesnager family from 1937 through 1960, and was later sold to a housing developer.
The city eventually intervened and renamed the barn Deukmejian Wilderness Park. In 1992, the city’s master plan and environmental documentation recommended that the facility be restored and used as an interpretive center.
Henrik Sardarbegian, Glendale Parks and Recreation Commission president, said the stone barn acts as an access point of information for visitors prior to their exploration into wilderness.
“I always thought that the park was a beautiful empty plot of land without any introduction to what is all around us, and now the stone barn is that introduction,” Sardarbegian said.
“The barn not only connects us to the land here,” he added, “but it is also a gateway and an open invitation for the community to always start here, whether they’re visiting the hiking trails or interacting with nature itself.”
The Glendale Parks and Open Space Foundation was one of the organizations that supported the project. Foundation President Paul Rabinov said the journey to the barn’s opening has been especially meaningful to those who had a hand in reimagining the facility.
“To play an active role and watch the whole thing come together has been fantastic,” Rabinov said. “We worked toward improving the community and providing something special for our children and our future. I can’t think of a better place to have put my energies.”
Glendale’s state representatives — including Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who is also a former Glendale City Council member, and state Sen. Anthony Portantino — also attended the March 19 event.
Portantino praised the work of the local community, saying he was proud that the park’s stone barn had been completed.
“Whenever you incorporate the appreciation of our open space and wilderness with a learning opportunity about its inhabitants, it’s a win-win for the community,” he said. “It was really a group, community effort — decades in the making — and now we can appreciate it.
“It’s March Madness and everybody was here at the park, not watching the basketball game — that says something about this space,” Portantino added.
Kassakhian said seeing the structure in its final phase was worth the wait.
“Anytime you come up with an idea or support an idea, you always have these visions of what it can be, what it should be, and then when you see it all together — especially with all the different groups and organizations that have made this a reality, to finally see it physically in front of you is an incredible feeling,” he said. “It is truly a dream come to life.”