On a chilly afternoon at the Griffith Observatory, hundreds of people gathered Tuesday, warmed by memories of legendary broadcaster Huell Howser, who they came to honor with a sunset salute.
Howser, known for his folksy "California's Gold" show on public television, died Jan. 7. As his fans came to the Observatory lawn in Griffith Park, news media were reporting the cause of death listed on his death certificate as prostate cancer.
Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge kicked off the tribute from the steps of the Observatory just after 4 p.m. The tribute emphasized Howser's significance as an educator and a community builder, as well as his impact on the small businesses and locations he profiled.
Al Jerome, CEO of KCET, the public television station that co-produced much of Howser's programming, said it would be hard to replace the affable broadcaster.
Jerome recalled the time he saw Howser disarm a 55-year-old man at Echo Park Lake, who was distraught over losing his job.
"He immediately recognized what was going on and brought his tone down," Jerome said. "He was such a professional. One in a million can do that on camera and not have to edit."
"He didn't really report on stories," said Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, who first met Howser as he prepared a segment on the Watts Towers. "His way of telling the stories was to ask questions and react to the answers."
LaBonge, perhaps jokingly, called for a high school named in Howser's honor, with mascots dubbed "The Historians."
LaBonge said Howser's legacy will live on in the materials he had donated to Chapman College in Orange County.
Others who spoke about Howser from the podium included historian Charles Phoenix and Capri Maddox, a commissioner for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works.
After the speakers concluded, LaBonge led the crowd in a sing-a-long of "California Here I Come."
Then guests lingered for about 20 minutes waiting for the sun to duck below the horizon at 5:07 p.m., in what LaBonge dubbed a "California Sunset."
Those who braved the cold and parking issues included a contingent from the Los Angeles Conservancy's "Moderns."
Regina O'Brien, a television art director and Silver Lake resident who heads the group, said Howser was a frequent guest at the group's events, and showed a unique ability to engage with all kinds of people.
Howser's family had said they did not want a public or private event to honor Howser.
Howser's official death certificate shows that his remains were cremated and scattered off the coast of California, which he loved dearly.
Howser lived in Council District 4, where Griffith Observatory is located.
A group is now circulating a petition that would honor Howser with a statue at the Observatory.
Speculation is, of course, continuing about who might replace Howser, with some, including Eric Garcetti suggesting that LaBonge would be a strong candidate.
Eric Garcetti just answered our question about who he thinks should succeed Huell Howser:
"There will never be another Huell," he told Echo Park-Silver Lake Patch in a Tweet, "But @TomLaBonge has the same infectious enthusiasm for CA [sic] and he'd be a great successor."
Add your own memories of Huell Howser in the comments below.