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Griffith Observatory
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Griffith Observatory

All photographs taken by Kenneth A. Larson. All rights reserved. © 2003 - 2017.

Griffith Observatory opened in 1935 and quickly became one of the most visited tourist attractions of Southern California. The Griffith Observatory is a star itself, having appeared in numerous motion pictures and television programs.

Colonel Griffith J. Griffith (1850 - 1919) donated to the City of Los Angeles the land that became Griffith Park and also donated the money with which to build the Griffith Observatory and the Greek Theatre. The City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks operates the park and most of the facilities. Although the name says observatory, it is more a museum or public educational facility. It does sometimes make contributions to science.

Groundbreaking for Griffith Observatory occurred on June 20, 1933. The dedication and formal opening was on May 14, 1935.

George Ellery Hale of the Mount Wilson Observatory worked behind the scenes to use his influence to guide the observatory's planning. Walter Adams and Robert A. Millikan of Caltech, organized a Scientific Advisory Committee. Caltech physicist Edward Kurth gathered information about museums and exhibits, and drew up the preliminary plans, acted as consultant to guide the construction of the building, and to became the observatory's first director. Russell W. Porter became an architect, artist and designer, and contributed to the design process. The John C. Austin/Frederick M. Ashley consortium was awarded the contract as project architect. They hired Edward Kurth to direct the project with Russell Porter as consultant. In November of 1931, the architects, the trust committee, Porter, and Kurth decided on a location on the south slope of Mt. Hollywood.

A 75-foot-wide theater was built for planetarium shows. The planetarium was a new idea, having been invented in 1923. The planetarium in the Griffith Observatory was the third to be completed in the United States. The Public Works Administration (or PWA, the forerunner of the larger WPA) employed six sculptors to create a public sculpture at Griffith Observatory, each artist sculpted one famous astronomer for the six-sided "Astronomers Monument" which still graces the front lawn. A twelve-inch Zeiss telescope is accessible from the roof. A triple-beam coelostat (the three-part solar telescope) is located in the west wing allowing visitors to view the sun. The star of the exhibits is the Foucault pendulum in the main rotunda. Countless visitors have watched the slow swing of the pendulum, knocking down a row of pegs as the earth revolves below the observatory.

In 1964, the Mark IV planetarium projector was installed. It was still in daily use at the time that the observatory closed for refurbishing. Parts were no longer available and it will be replaced as part of the renovation. The old Zeiss Mark IV will be placed on display in the new museum.

In February 1984, a year-long major cleaning began on the dome. The copper panels that comprise the dome were cleaned by hand.

The over sixty year old facility began its first major renovation and expansion early this century and reopened about late in 2005. The additions included a large gallery space under the front lawn with a second smaller theater. The new design was careful to minimize the alterations to the appearance of the building by making most of the changes underground or in the back of the building.

The trail to Mt. Hollywood and the famous Hollywood Sign leaves from the Griffith Observatory parking lot.

The Griffith Observatory is located at 2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 664-1181. info@GriffithObs.org.

A beautiful view of the Los Angeles Basin can be seen on a clear day, or our famous smog if not.
Front. Photo Date: 6-21-88
Front. Photo Date: 8-11-98.

The front lawn.

The ecylinder at left is the new elevator to the lowere gallery, to the right is the James Dean marker.
This dome houses a refracting telescope.
Observatory Dome Interior
Observatory dome interior. Photo Date: 8-11-98
Front Doors
Front doors. Photo Date: 9-22-01.

Sing of the doors. August 2013.

James Dean is far better known than one would expect from his short career of only three films, but he still stands a giant in film history. This marker commemorates his work on Rebel Without a Cause with a few critical scenes shot at the Observatory. His other two films were East of Eden and Giant.
This new elevator is one of the ways to the new lower level. The additions were designed for minumum visual impact.
Front Lawn
Front lawn. Photo Date: 8-11-98.
From Below
From below. Photo Date: 2-25-77
Front. Photo Date: 6-21-88.
Los Angeles
Los Angeles from back. Photo Date: 8-11-98.
Roof. Photo Date: 8-11-98.
Roof. Photo Date: 8-11-98.
Projector. Photo Date: 9-28-79
Projector. Photo Date: 8-11-98.

Exterior of the restored PLanetarium dome.

The old Zeiss projector has been replaced, but it has been preserved as an exhibit of Planetarium shows of old.
Teslacoil. Photo Date: 9-22-01
Teslacoil. Photo Date: 9-28-79.

A stairway takes visitors from the original main level to a lobby below. From here there are two ways t othe new lower level exhibit space, a stair and this curving ramp.

Model of the Moon.
Los Angeles from Observatory
Photo-composit looking at Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory. Photo Date: .

Another view of Los Angeles on a typical smoggy day. Photo date: 9-25-04.

From the Griffith Observatory, on a clear day, you can see forever. On most days, you are lucky to see Hollywood...
Los Angeles
... or Down Town.
In the early years of the 21st Century, the Observatory underwent a major renovation that took several years. Below are some photos of this renovation.
Renovations in progress. Photo Date: 2-1-03.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 9-25-04.
Renovation in progress. Photo Date: 2-2-05.
It took a few years for Places Earth to revisit the Observatory after the reopening. The entire building was retrofitted and upgraded, the Planetarium Theater was upgraded, exhibits in the main hall were replaced with new, rearranged, or upgraded. The biggest change may be that an entire new level was added below part of the original building and extending out under the front lawn, doubling the exhibit space and adding a second theater.

It seems the observatory is more popular than before the renovation. On the day of this visit, we arrived about 11:30 and parked a half mile down the hill. Prior to the renovation, it was usually quiet at that time.

As viewed from the new BCAM at LACMA (The white dot between buildings). Photo date: 2-14-08.
As viewed from Barnsdall Art Park in July 2016.

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This page last updated: Monday, 13-Feb-2017 21:46:00 EST

Note:This is not the official site for any of the places shown in Places Earth. Places Earth is not responsible for accuracy of the information. Hours of operations, prices, exhibits, and sometimes locations are subject to change without notice.

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