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Intersections: Parked in Deukmejian's paradise

September 18, 2013|By Liana Aghajanian
  • Liana Aghajanian, columnist. Photographed on Monday, August 26, 2013.
Liana Aghajanian, columnist. Photographed on Monday,… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

If you ask Richard Smith how he's doing, you're bound to get the same answer any time of the week. "It's just another day in Paradise," he says with a smile.

With a clear view of the starry sky every night, the kind of silence that brings on a healthy dose of contemplation and neighbors that include bobcats, quail and deer, it's hard to believe that Smith, his wife, Nong, and their dog, Cody, call Los Angeles home. But they've traded the traffic and busy city life for a different view and perspective.

Since March, they've been living in their RV at Deukmejian Wilderness Park as hosts of the 709-acre area nestled above La Crescenta. Though Glendale's other parks have caretakers, they're city employees who live in one park in exchange for work they do at others. The unique, wilder nature of Deukmejian prompted the city to develop the volunteer pilot program, with the Smiths as the first participants. In exchange for full RV hookups, their 30-hour work week includes overseeing event reservations, opening and closing the park, and keeping it safe and clean.

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So far, the park and their hosts have been a great fit for each other.

"When we first moved in, people were very interested to know what we were doing here because they had never seen anybody here before," said Smith. "Once they found out we were the park hosts, most of them were absolutely thrilled to have someone here."

It's a nomadic lifestyle, but Smith has waited a long time to be a part of it. The decades-long journey, from a fruitful career in the motion picture and film industry to living in an RV with the wilderness as his backyard, has been worth it, he tells me on a recent morning. As we talk, a hummingbird hovers near a feeder hanging from the RV. It's so close, I can pick out the details in its face and wings. It's enough to make you feel envious of the Smith's interesting, unusual arrangement.

Originally from Rochester, New York, Smith worked for Eastman Kodak, the image and photography equipment company, as well as Technicolor, mostly as a technical director, for almost 50 years. In 2004, he was recruited by UCLA and built a film preservation and restoration lab for the university to support its film and television archive, the second largest in the country.

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