The Battle Over a Los Angeles Hilltop

A Son of Abolitionist John Brown Continues to Stir Up Controversy From His Altadena Grave

The unmarked trail that leads to the gravesite of abolitionist Owen Brown is flanked by wild fennel and sage. The place has a quiet stillness, befitting a man who devoted the last years of his life to peace and temperance.

The conflict surrounding the site, however, is anything but peaceful. For more than a decade, this unassuming hilltop property above Los Angeles—in the unincorporated community of Altadena—has been at the center of a controversy that touches on historical preservation, racial inequality, overdevelopment, and public access to private land.

The third son of …