Griffith Observatory, September 2006
Location within Los Angeles
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|Location||Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Elevation||346 m (1,135 ft)|
|Construction started||June 20, 1933|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||John C. Austin
Frederick M. Ashley
|Designated||November 17, 1976|
Griffith Observatory is a facility in Los Angeles, California sitting on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. It commands a view of the Los Angeles Basin, including Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, Hollywood to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. The observatory is a popular tourist attraction with an excellent view of the Hollywood Sign, and an extensive array of space and science-related displays. Since the observatory's opening in 1935, admission has been free, in accordance with the benefactor's will, after whom the observatory is named – Colonel Griffith J. Griffith.
3,015 acres (12.20 km2) of land surrounding the observatory was donated to the City of Los Angeles by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith on December 16, 1896. In his will Griffith donated funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium on the donated land. Griffith's objective was to make astronomy accessible by the public, as opposed to the prevailing idea that observatories should be located on remote mountaintops and restricted to scientists.
Griffith drafted detailed specifications for the observatory. In drafting the plans, he consulted with Walter Adams, the future director of Mount Wilson Observatory, and George Ellery Hale, who founded (with Andrew Carnegie) the first astrophysical telescope in Los Angeles.
As a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, construction began on June 20, 1933, using a design developed by architect John C. Austin based on preliminary sketches by Russell W. Porter. The observatory and accompanying exhibits were opened to the public on May 14, 1935. In its first five days of operation the observatory logged more than 13,000 visitors. Dinsmore Alter was the museum's director during its first years.
During World War II the planetarium was used to train pilots in celestial navigation. The planetarium was again used for this purpose in the 1960s to train Apollo program astronauts for the first lunar missions.
Renovation and expansion
The observatory closed in 2002 for renovation and a major expansion of exhibit space. It reopened to the public on November 3, 2006, retaining its art deco exterior. The $93 million renovation, paid largely by a public bond issue, restored the building, as well as replaced the aging planetarium dome. The building was expanded underground, with completely new exhibits, a café, gift shop, and the new Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater.
A wildfire in the hills came dangerously close to the observatory on May 10, 2007.
Dr. Ed Krupp is the current director of the Observatory.
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The first exhibit visitors encountered in 1935 was the Foucault pendulum, which was designed to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. The exhibits also included a twelve-inch (305 mm) Zeiss refracting telescope in the east dome, a triple-beam coelostat (solar telescope) in the west dome, and a thirty-eight foot relief model of the moon's north polar region.
Col. Griffith requested that the observatory include a display on evolution which was accomplished with the Cosmochron exhibit which included a narration from Caltech Professor Chester Stock and an accompanying slide show. The evolution exhibit existed from 1937 to the mid-1960s.
Also included in the original design was a planetarium under the large central dome. The first shows covered topics including the Moon, worlds of the solar system, and eclipses.
The planetarium theater was renovated in 1964 and a Mark IV Zeiss projector was installed.
The Café at the End of the Universe, an homage to Restaurant at the End of the Universe, is one of the many cafés run by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. One wall inside the building is covered with the largest astronomically accurate image ever constructed (152 feet long by 20 feet (6.1 m) high), called "The Big Picture", depicting the Virgo Cluster of galaxies; visitors can explore the highly detailed image from within arm's reach or through telescopes 60 feet (18 m) away. The 1964-vintage Zeiss Mark IV star projector was replaced with a Zeiss Mark IX Universarium. The former planetarium projector is part of the underground exhibit on ways in which humanity has visualized the skies.
Centered in the Universe features a high-resolution immersive video projected by an innovative laser system developed by Evans and Sutherland Corporation, along with a short night sky simulation projected by the Zeiss Universarium. A team of animators worked more than two years to create the 30-minute program. Actors, holding a glowing orb, perform the presentation, under the direction of Chris Shelton. Tickets for the show are purchased separately at the box office within the observatory. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Children under 5 are free, but are admitted to only the first planetarium show of the day. Only members of the observatory's support group, Friends Of The Observatory, may reserve tickets for the planetarium show.
The observatory is split up into six sections: The Wilder Hall of the Eye, the Ahmanson Hall of the Sky, the W.M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda, the Cosmic Connection, the Gunther Depths of Space Hall, and the Edge of Space Mezzanine.
The Wilder Hall of the Eye, located in the east wing of the main level focuses on astronomical tools like telescopes and how they evolved over time so people can see further into space. Interactive features there include a Tesla coil and a "Camera Obscura", which uses mirrors and lenses to focus light onto a flat surface.
The Ahmanson Hall of the Sky, located in the west wing, focuses on objects that are normally found in the sky, like the Sun and Moon. The main centerpiece of this section is a large solar telescope projecting images of the Sun, using a series of mirrors called coelostats. Exhibits here include a periodic table of the elements, a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, and several alcoves showing exhibits about topics like day and night, the paths of the Sun and stars, the seasons, the phases of the Moon, tides, and eclipses. The W.M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda features several Hugo Ballin murals on the ceiling and upper walls restored since 1934, a Foucault pendulum that demonstrates the Earth's rotation, and a small exhibit dedicated to Griffith J. Griffith, after whom the observatory is named.
The Cosmic Connection is a 150 ft long hallway connecting the main building and the underground exhibition areas (see below) that depicts the history of the universe, and dramatizes the amount of time that has passed from the Big Bang to the present day using, hundreds of individual pieces of astronomy-related jewelry.
The Gunther Depths of Space Hall is the lower level of the observatory, dominated by "The Big Picture," and scale models of the Solar System. The planets (including dwarf planet Pluto) are shown relative to the size of the sun, which is represented by the diameter of the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. Below each planet are listed facts, as well as scales indicating a person's weight on planets having a solid surface (or weight at an altitude where atmospheric pressure would equal one bar otherwise). In addition, beneath the Earth's model, there is a small room containing a large model Earth globe, an older Zeiss planetarium projector, and a set of seismograph rolls, including one tracking room motion caused by occupants. The other rolls are attached to seismographs monitoring movement at the bedrock level, and indicate actual seismic activity. On the north wall of the Depths of Space is "The Big Picture", a 150 feet (46 m) by 20 feet (6.1 m) photograph (the largest astronomical image in the world) showing a portion of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. This image was taken over the course of 11 nights by the 48-inch Samuel Oschin telescope at Palomar Mountain. There is also a bronze statue of Albert Einstein sitting on a bench in the Depths of Space. Einstein is holding his index finger about 1 foot (0.30 m) in front of his eyes, to illustrate the visual area of space that is captured in The Big Picture.
The Edge of Space Mezzanine, which overlooks the Depths of Space Hall, focuses more on astronomy related topics that involve celestial bodies much closer to Earth, with exhibits including meteorite displays, an asteroid impact simulator, a cloud and spark chamber, and a large globe of the Moon, and with telescopes that allow a closer inspection of The Big Picture.
The Griffith Observatory's Tesla coil was built in 1910 by Earle Ovington. Ovington, who would go on to fame as an aviator, ran a company which built high voltage generators for medical X-ray and electrotherapy devices. In public demonstrations of his generators, the spectacular displays drew crowds. Ovington designed the Observatory's coil to surpass a coil made by Elihu Thomson in 1893 which generated a 64-inch spark. (Nikola Tesla had produced much larger sparks in 1899.) The project caught the attention of an Edison Electric Illuminating Company official, who offered $1,000 if the coil were displayed at an upcoming electrical show in Madison Square Garden, with the stipulation that the machine would produce sparks not less than ten feet long.
The machine, dubbed the Million Volt Oscillator was installed in the band balcony overlooking the arena. At the top of each hour the lights in the main hall were shut off, and sparks would shoot from the copper ball atop the coil to a matching coil 122 inches away, or to a wand held by an assistant. The chief engineer of the General Electric Company estimated that the discharges were at least 1,300,000 volts.
Ovington, who died in 1936, gave the matching Tesla coils to his old electrotherapy colleague Frederick Finch Strong, who in 1937 donated them to the Griffith Observatory. By this time the machine was missing parts, so Observatory staffer Leon Hall restored it with the notable assistance of Kenneth Strickfaden who designed the special effects for Frankenstein (1931) among many other movies.
Admission to the building and grounds of Griffith Observatory is free of charge. Planetarium shows at the Observatory are generally from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. A nominal fee is charged for admission to the planetarium shows. There is a small parking lot next to the Observatory, with additional parking is along the steep road leading up to the observatory. Parking is free of charge. On weekends, there is also a public bus that leaves from the Vermont/Sunset Metro station. The observatory is closed on Mondays.
The observatory was featured in two major sequences of the celebrated James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which helped to make it an international emblem of Los Angeles. A bust of Dean was subsequently placed at the west side of the grounds.
It has also appeared in a number of other movies:
- The Phantom Empire (1935)
- Phantom from Space (1953)
- Tobor the Great (1954)
- Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
- War of the Colossal Beast (1958)
- The Cosmic Man (1959)
- The Spy with My Face (1964)
- Flesh Gordon (1974)
- Midnight Madness (1980)
- The Terminator (1984)
- Dragnet (1987)
- Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
- The Rocketeer (1991)
- Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
- The Power Within (1995)
- The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
- The End of Violence (1997)
- Bowfinger (1999)
- House on Haunted Hill (1999 remake)
- Queen of the Damned (2002)
- Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
- Transformers (2007 live-action film)
- Yes Man (2008)
- Terminator Salvation (2009)
- Valentine's Day (2010) (In the opening scene of credits in the theater version a quick shot of the Observatory is shown)
- The tunnel entrance to the Observatory on Mount Hollywood Drive is the entrance to Toon Town in the movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988).
- Love and Mercy (2014)
- McFarland, USA (2015) Final cross-country race winds past the Observatory
- San Andreas (2015) (It is seen briefly in a shot of L.A.)
- Terminator Genisys (2015)
- La La Land (2016)
The Observatory has appeared in episodes of the following TV shows:
- 24 (Day 1 3:00–4:00 pm; aired on March 19, 2002)
- Adventures of Superman (first episode, as Jor-El's laboratory on Superman's home planet Krypton; some other episodes, as the Metropolis observatory)
- Alias ("The Coup")
- Agent Carter (aka Marvel's Agent Carter) Season 2 episode 2: "A View in the Dark" January, 2016
- Angel (episode "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been," with Angel wearing a red jacket in homage to James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause character).
- Beverly Hills, 90210 ("Rebel with a Cause")
- BoJack Horseman (in animated form in "The Telescope")
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer (episode "Shadow")
- Brothers and Sisters ("The Road Ahead")
- Criminal Minds ("Nanny Dearest")
- Dragnet ("The LSD Story" aka "Blueboy" episode)
- Danny Phantom (The Amity Park Observatory modeled on The Griffith Observatory.)
- Jonas (Date Expectations)
- Logan's Run (episode 10 "Futurepast" January 1978)
- MacGyver (pilot episode)
- Melrose Place ("Till Death Do Us Part")
- Millionaire Matchmaker (shown in random episodes)
- Mission: Impossible (opening pilot episode)
- The Monkees (footage incorporated into musical sequences)
- Quantum Leap ("Goodbye Norma Jean")
- Keeping up with the Kardashians on E! shows shots of Griffith Observatory on a regular basis.
- Remington Steele
- Rocky Jones, Space Ranger
- Star Trek: Voyager (two-part episode "Future's End")
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- 90210 (location shots of the Observatory many times)
- The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (appears at the beginning of the opening title sequence, 2009 to present)
- The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (Season 3 episode "Time Bomb" 1979)
- The Simpsons (duplicated as Springfield Observatory)
- The Wonder Years
- 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Linkin Park performed their single "The Catalyst" at the Observatory
- The Amazing Race (starting line for the 22nd season)
- Dancing with the Stars (opening performance for season premiere of U.S. season 23)
- Other media
- The song "Observatory Crest" from Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band's album Bluejeans & Moonbeams is about two lovers spending a romantic evening at the Griffith Observatory. Lead vocalist Don Van Vliet lived nearby and frequently visited it in his youth.
- It was a filming location for the music video for "Rush Rush" by Paula Abdul which starred Keanu Reeves and was directed by Stefan Würnitzer. This video was based on Rebel Without a Cause.
- An image of the observatory is shown in a 2Pac music video, "To Live And Die In L.A.". The video pays homage to Los Angeles and its best known landmarks.
- Some interview segments with rock musician Ringo Starr for the "Beatles Anthology" video were conducted on the observatory grounds during the mid-1990s. Starr and Neil Aspinall are shown viewing Los Angeles from the Observatory.
- It appears in the video games Mafia II, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto V, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, and Wasteland 2.
- On September 12, 2010, Linkin Park performed a brief set for a thousand fans onsite. "The Catalyst" from this performance was later shown by MTV for that night's Video Music Awards.
- The photographs on the cover of The Byrds' album (Untitled) were taken on the staircase of Griffith Park Observatory.
- In the comic Runaways, the Runaways battle Geoffrey Wilder at Griffith Observatory, which is destroyed in the fight.
View from a trail in Griffith Park from the south, looking north
View of the Hollywood Sign on a clear day.
Lawn at entrance and Griffith Park trails, looking north from atop the observatory.
View of the Los Angeles Basin looking south, with Little Armenia in the center.
Foucault Pendulum in the center of W. M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda.
- Don Dixon
- Joy Picus, Los Angeles, California, City Council member, 1977–91, president of Friends of the Griffith Observatory
- Laura Danly
- Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments in Hollywood and Los Feliz
- A History of Griffith Observatory. Retrieved on 2014-12-11.
- Harnisch, Larry. (2013, February 25). A cosmic gift to L.A. The Los Angeles Times: retrieved 2013-02-26.
- Kennedy, David (1999). Freedom From Fear, pp. 252–253, Oxford University Press, USA
- "Griffith Observatory Building Features-Gunther Depths of Space". Lacity.org. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- "Griffith Observatory - Building Features: The Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon". Lacity.org. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- "Firefighters get L.A. blaze under control". CNN.com. 10 May 2007. Archived from the original on 13 May 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
- "Calendar of Events". Griffith Observatory. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- "Swinging Pendulum Shows Rotation of Earth" Popular Mechanics, April 1935
- Broder, John M. (2006-05-11). "Observatory Reopens in Fall". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- "Benefit Popup-Friends of the Observatory". Friendsoftheobservatory.com. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- Campbell, Robert D. Reminiscences of a Birdman Living History Press, LLC, 2012.
- Cover page caption The Griffith Observer, August 1965, p. 109
- “Cowboys And Robots: the Birth of the Science Fiction Western” by Jeffrey Richardson. Crossed Genres (1935-02-23). Retrieved on 2013-08-25.
- "TV Locations - part 7". Gary Wayne. Retrieved 2007-08-04.
- Runaways (vol. 2) 18, Marvel Comics
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