Saturday, April 11, 2009

Griffith Park Observatory

Griffith J. Griffith (1850-1919) was a Welsh immigrant who made a fortune in mining in Southern California at the end of the 19th Century. In 1896, he donated 3,015 acres of his land to the City of Los Angeles to establish a public park that is five times the size of NYC's Central Park. In 1903, Griffith shot his wife during a dispute and he subsequently served 2 years in San Quentin for attempted murder. After his release, he donated money to the city to build a grand public observatory in the park. Architect John C. Austin (1870-1963) built the observatory in 1935 on the West slope of Mount Hollywood overlooking the Los Angeles basin.

Here is a view of the Griffith Observatory from Los Feliz with the peak of Mount Hollywood to the right:

The exterior of the observatory was originally going to be decorated with elaborate teracotta tiles. However, after the Long Beach earthquake of 1933 caused extensive damage to many local tiled buildings, the architects revised the design and built the observatory in plain reinforced concrete.

The Public Works of Art Project, one of the federally funded New Deal initiatives, comissioned the Astronomers Monument in front of the observatory in 1933. The monument was designed by Los Angeles artist Archibald Garner and includes depictions of the six great astronomers: Hipparchus (about 150 B.C.), Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and William Herschel (1738-1822).

Here is the copper-plated dome of the central planetarium with the downtown skyline in the background:

A view of the dome that houses the nighttime viewing telescope:

The dome that houses the solar telescopes:

The interior rotunda is decorated with murals painted in 1935 by Hugo Ballin (1879-1956) depicting the history of science:

A detail of the panel "Navigation":

Trails from the observatory lead up to the peak of Mount Hollywood with views over Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley on the other side of the hills. Here is a view from the Mount Hollywood trail looking back down to the observatory:

Many movies and television shows have been filmed at the observatory but the first major movie that the observatory starred in was "Rebel Without a Cause." In front of the observatory, there is a 1955 bronze bust of James Dean by artist Kenneth Kendall:

The observatory underwent a major renovation between 2002 and 2006 and is now open to the public again. I highly recommend that tourists to Los Angeles and people who just moved to Los Angeles visit the Griffith Observatory. Admission to the building and exhibits are free but there is a fee for planetarium shows. The telescopes are open to the public free of charge on clear nights. Be warned that there is limited parking and the observatory tends to get very crowded on weekends. If you drive on a weekend, arrive early or take a shuttle from Los Feliz.

The Griffith Observatory is very kid-friendly with lots of interactive exhibits, shows, etc ...

View Griffith Park Observatory in a larger map

1 comment:

  1. I just visited myself recently. Thank you for your informative text and photos.