Like many of the city's earliest recreational tracts, Los Angeles carved Elysian Park out of municipal lands that defied development. A Jewish cemetery and a rock-quarrying enterprise were among the few early, documented uses of the land, but the area's deep ravines and steep hills rendered the park's original 550 acres too rugged for settlement, agriculture, or commerce.
"When successive City Councils were giving away, for small compensation, the vast domain that was donated to the pueblo at its founding," historian J. M. Guinn wrote in 1915, "the lands that form Elysian Park were considered worthless and the councilmen could find no one to take them off their hands. So these refuse lands remained in the city's possession."
But the land would not remain worthless for long. A newfound American appreciation for wild, sublime landscapes was beginning to endow lands like the future Elysian Park with new value. In fact, the same happy coincidence -- the rejection of remote, inaccessible lands as worthless and a growing regard for wilderness and natural wonders -- gave the United States its earliest national parks.
Persuaded by city engineer George Hansen that future generations of Angelenos would benefit from its scenic and recreational opportunities, the city council set aside the hilly lands as public parkland on August 22, 1883. Three years later, on April 5, 1886, the city formally organized the once-worthless parcels as Elysian Park.