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Diana's obituaryDiana Barnwell, 82, of Mount Washington, in the City of Los Angeles, departed from this life on May 17, 2021. Ms. Barnwell was born in Long Island, New York, on September 11, 1938, to Thomas and Edith (Tweddell) Barnwell. She is survived by cousins Jerry Tweddell of Sonora, California, Amy Reinhart of Quincy, Massachusetts, and Claudia Burnham of Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Diana Barnwell lived a life of inspired and exemplary civic involvement.
Ms. Barnwell’s grammar school years were spent in Rosslyn, New York. Diana graduated from Lake Erie College for Women (now co-ed Lake Erie College), Painesville Ohio, in 1960, where she developed a life-long interest in culture, architecture, history, nature and animals. Lake Erie College was a female seminary, like its sister colleges, that focused on developing active women and involved citizenship. Diana’s year abroad was spent in Madrid, Spain, living with a local family, and learning to be a world citizen. Black and white photos of the era confirm her fashion sense developed early – one of elegance with a signature sweeping hair braid everyone fondly remembers.
Finding New York City not entirely to her liking upon return to the United States, Diana and a friend agreed that they would travel to Los Angeles to seek new opportunities. When the friend dropped out, Diana came on her own, arriving in Los Angeles by bus, an art portfolio, single suitcase, and lots of grit in tow. Diana spent many years working on advertising and promotions for the Los Angeles Times -- back when newspapers played such a central role in our body politic.
After Diana bought a house in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington, she followed an opportunity to head the Highland Park Improvement Association – a non-profit civic organization in Northeast Los Angeles. Under Diana’s leadership, it funded the first survey of the extensive collection of historic homes and commercial buildings in Highland Park. Based upon that study, she and others founded the Highland Park Heritage Trust, an important historic preservation organization in Los Angeles.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Diana was a driving force of community activism to encourage the Southwest Museum Board of Trustees to stay invested in the spectacular site chosen by founder Charles Lummis to house Los Angeles’ first museum. Diana served many years on the museum’s Board of Trustees, a place where she encouraged responsible expansion of the National Register of Historic Places building to exhibit its stunning collections of native American and California historical artifacts. Diana strongly supported community efforts to sensitively restore and expand the museum site, including major exhibitions drawn from its largely unseen collections to enrich the cultural lives of the region’s children – a chapter of her activism that remains unfinished.
Ms. Barnwell served on the Board of the Mount Washington Association, participating in City processes to create the 1988 Northeast Community Plan – a guiding land use plan of the City. Upon appointment by the City Council Office, Diana served for more than a decade on the Northeast Community Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) – a City board that met monthly to hear real estate projects similar to a Neighborhood Council (before such councils were created in the 1999 Los Angeles City Charter overhaul).
Diana and other CPAC members famously used the back of a dinner napkin to sketch a rotation of a proposed Home Depot development project on the industrial portion of the Lawry’s spice factory in Cypress Park. The developer’s agreement to this compromise meant Lawry’s historic restaurant buildings and gardens were saved from demolition. Today, it is known as the Los Angeles River Center, serving as home to the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, and numerous other environmental groups.
In the later years of her working career, Diana was the Executive Director of the Pasadena Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In that capacity, Diana researched and organized numerous popular programs and home tours in the Arroyo Seco region – always emphasizing the value of our collective understanding of place and history. She also worked a lot with architects - a group she appreciated for their role in creating Los Angeles’ world-renowned architectural aesthetic.
After retirement in 2005, Diana remained an engaged and informed citizen. She faithfully read the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, and other writers that kept her connected to current affairs. She cultivated and maintained an eclectic network of friends and supporters, including a Salon who enjoyed activities together. Challenged by the onset of Parkinson’s disease, in 2009 she found comfort at the continuous care community of Hollenbeck Palms in Boyle Heights. There she enjoyed an apartment with a stunning view of downtown Los Angeles and Griffith Observatory – as she watched and applauded a rising new City landmark at the 6th Street Bridge and River Park.
Diana remained an activist in illness. She volunteered as a Parkinson’s patient for a physician-training program at USC’s Keck Hospital, and her remains are dedicated to scientific inquiry about the disease.
Her cousins and adopted family of friends and colleagues were privileged to know her smile, slyly ironic turn of phrase, and abiding desire to contribute to our collective betterment. Some of Diana’s favorite charities are Michael J. Fox Foundation, Sierra Club, Humane Society, Los Angeles Conservancy and the Highland Park Heritage Trust, if anyone wants to celebrate her in tribute.
A celebration of Diana’s life contributions will occur at 9:00 a.m., Wednesday July 21, 2021, at the Gamble House, 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena, California. Ms. Diana’s favorite iPhone emoji, one she sent to others to express appreciation, was the Blue Butterfly: wings on which she now soars in the memory of those who knew her.
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Memories & condolences
My brother and I grew up with Diana in Mt. Washington. She was smart, funny, kind, and warm. We didn’t have any Aunts a…
My brother and I grew up with Diana in Mt. Washington. She was smart, funny, kind, and warm. We did…
My brother and I grew up with Diana in Mt. Washington. She was smart, funny, kind, and warm. We didn’t have any Aunts and she was like that to our fa…