King of Griffith Park

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This is something I’ve been pondering for the last week, ever since Eric and I went to an open house last Sunday.  We are not in the market to buy, but Eric found out that a Los Feliz Modernist house, built by his favorite designer, Jock Peters, was coming on the market after 60 years.   So, we went to see the house.  The house was built in 1933 by Peters for Academy award winning cinematographer Alfred Giks.  Peters, who is also famous for his interior design of iconic Bullocks Wilshire Department store, passed away at 45, in 1934.  Eric’s obsession with all things Bullocks Wilshire related is what ultimately drew us to the open house.

Now, I think it’s been established, but I am a curious person and I found myself wondering about the lives of the person or people who lived in the house.  The real estate agent reminded us that the property had been owned by the same family for 60 years, that the owner had passed away recently at the age of 98.  At one point, the agent told us the man’s name, Sol Shankman.  “You might have heard of him, he was kind of famous for walking in Griffith Park everyday for 35 years.”  The agent pointed out unique features of the house, including an incredible mural in the master bedroom that had been commissioned decades ago.  But as much as Eric was interested in the bones of the house, I found myself wondering about the people who had lived there.

The second we got in the car, I Googled Sol Shankman.  You can try it yourself, if you Google “Sol Shankman King of Griffith Park”, THIS is the article that will come up first. I found the picture of the nonagenarian Shankman, in 2008, being honored by friends and family at a park ceremony.  And then I read about how he really only started walking Griffith Park in the late ’70s, about the time his wife Elizabeth passed away.  According to the article, he’d never been much of an athlete, but then, he started walking.  He was around 60.  Maybe he walked to ease the pain of losing his wife of four decades, maybe he walked because he wanted to try something new, reinvent himself.  Who knows, the point is he started walking and didn’t stop.

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He’d been a chemist, a son, a husband, a father, a business owner, a humanitarian and finally, he became a walker.  And the real estate agent was right, it ended up being his claim to fame.  His obituary ran in the Los Angeles Times, Tom La Bonge was at his memorial, his obituary called him a civic institution.

And I thought about Sol and his house and his life all week.  I’m a walker too, it’s really only been in the last few years that I’ve taken it up as sport, but I love putting in my earbuds, turning on my playlist, and hitting the road.  I love walking my neighborhood or the beach or downtown or New York or San Francisco or Kansas City or the little town where I grew up.  I like traversing main streets, bridges, parks, residential neighborhoods.  I love looking at a house thinking, I wish I lived here and appreciate looking at another one thinking, I’m glad I don’t live there!  What a gift these legs and feet of ours are.  It’s like God said, “Here, take these, see the world.”

This morning, I thought about Sol because for the first time, I went for my own walk in Griffith Park.  I mean, I’ve been there, you know, to the Observatory and to see Amy Grant at the Greek, but I had not walked it.  So I parked and I followed some people in workout wear and started a trail.  I really didn’t know where it would take me, but I wasn’t surprised when I realized I was headed to the Observatory.  And up and up I climbed until I made it to the top.  I took pictures, but the pictures didn’t do the view justice.  It was just so beautiful and, well, I know it’s a hokey word, but it was inspiring too.  It’s nice to try something new, whether you’re 22 or 46 or 60 or 93.   And I know that the title doesn’t belong to me, for, really, there can only be one, but in that moment, on this day, I felt like the King of Griffith Park.

The Least I Could Do

monkey-islandA few days ago on Facebook, a friend of mine from home posted this article about the preservation and safety improvements made on some of the slides at Riverside Park in my hometown of Independence, Kansas.  The article made me happy, because I remember those slides, I loved those slides and I’m glad those slides will be there for years to come to bring joy to the next generations.  Reading the article, it hit me, probably for the first time, just how much of my youth I spent at that park and zoo.

I have seen a lot of parks in my day, some of them pretty spectacular, like Central Park and Golden Gate Park, and Griffith Park, and Hyde Park, and Gosford Park(just kidding), but the thing is, I don’t think I could love a park more than I love Riverside Park. Of all of the parks mentioned, I don’t think any of them formed me, the way Riverside Park formed me. It’s where I took swim lessons every summer and now, my daily swim is one of the most important parts of my day. It’s where I’d climb on a retired airplane and dream of flying off to see the world. It’s where I’d get nervous in the outfield at t-ball practices because I knew that if anyone hit the ball to me, I’d never be able to catch it. It’s where I’d run to clear my mind while listening to Amy Grant or Michael W. Smith on my Sony Walkman. I could go on, but in a way, memories are boring unless they are yours. And if you are from Independence and you are reading this, I’m sure you have your own memories.

After reading the above article, I decided I wanted to send a little money to FORPAZ, which stands for Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo. In fact, I became a member. Anyway, if you are reading this, and especially if you are from Independence and you have your own special Riverside Park memories, I encourage you to take a few minutes to write a check (any amount would be welcome, I’m sure) to support a worthy cause. Make checks payable to FORPAZ, INC., PO Box 9, Independence, KS 67301. I know how lucky I was to grow up playing in a park like that and I’d like to do what I can to insure the same for others.