My post last week about the brown lawn of the Mormon temple in Westwood had a short, weird life as a media drought nugget.
To refresh, I posted a photo Friday morning showing that the Los Angeles Temple of the Church of Latter Day Saints had allowed its landmark green lawn facing Santa Monica Boulevard to go brown. I wondered aloud (in my post and on social media) if it were a reaction by the drought. Others were quick to give the temple credit: the post took off a little on Twitter and Facebook, fed by the lawn's familiarity to Angelenos and the possible drought connection, even though in my posts the drought angle was just a question. I didn't know. My Mormon temple tweets with the picture above had the week's third-most "engagements" in Twitterspeak for LA Observed, after tweets about the passing of Chris Burden and the mock Don Draper obituary (a huge hit with "Mad Men" fans on Twitter.)
One of the media people to pick up on the Twitter thread was Shelby Grad, the Los Angeles Times assistant managing editor for LA and California coverage. He tweeted on Friday night crediting LA Observed (thank you), but now my drought speculation was rephrased as a real thing.
Now THIS is an epic LA drought moment -- when the Westside's most famous lawn goes brown & dry http://t.co/5HVwrGM53o @laobserved photo— Shelby Grad (@shelbygrad) May 9, 2015
When an editor at a newspaper gets interested in something, a story often follows. That happened here. On Saturday, the city desk sent a reporter and photographer Francine Orr out to the temple in Westwood. Orr essentially re-took my photo (better of course) and they talked to some Mormons. The Times story in Sunday's paper was double-bylined (Hailey Branson-Pitts and Abby Sewell) and had the drought claim built into the narrative, but the actual drought link was murky at best. The source for the drought angle was a security guard, Jarom Ellsworth. In the Times account, he told the paper that the temple's gardeners had stopped watering the lawn about a month ago to conserve water. He's the only source for that. Then he muddied the waters, so to speak, by apparently saying that after mowing the thatch the lawn tenders would soon resume watering until it is green again. So if going brown was a drought measure, it wasn't much of one. "Church officials could not be reached for comment," the story reported.
No mention of my LA Observed post in the story, by the way.
On Monday morning, the Times' Essential California newsletter signed by Grad and reporter Alice Walton led its drought section with the Mormon temple story from the weekend. They did include a link to LA Observed for more photos. (Thank you.) Others picked up on the Times story, now enshrining the news meme that the largest Mormon temple in California was doing the sacrificial thing and letting its lawn go brown. Curbed LA picked up on the contradiction hidden in the story and hedged on whether it was a drought thing at all. But the Times website posted a letter from a reader giving the Mormons kudos as the new drought heroes. "Who knows, perhaps many will be inspired to rip out their lawns," Evelyn Baran of Beverly Hills wrote.
The civic mystery remained: was the brown lawn at the Mormon temple truly a drought measure? Or was it just lawn maintenance? A friend of mine noticed on Monday that the lawn was already starting to show a little green. The temple guardians had yet to speak.
Then on Monday, the temple decided to play ball. The Times' Branson-Potts revisited the subject and quoted Eric McGougan, the temple’s engineer, saying this was indeed a sacrifice by the church in the spirit of water conservation. “It was definitely a difficult decision to let that lawn go unwatered because of what the temple represents to us,” McGougan said. “It’s a sacred place. But our intention was to join with the rest of the citizens of California and do our part to help conserve water.”
A church spokesman in Salt Lake City added his voice, saying Monday the church was “pleased to join others across Los Angeles and California in reducing water consumption during this historic drought.” The Times' follow-up story posted last night.
Today, the Deseret News in Utah is on the story too — giving the Los Angeles temple credit for starting a new trend in water conservation.