On February 7th I made the hour trip from Long Beach to the Griffith Observatory. Having known of it’s deep rooted connections to Los Angeles as well as the solar system, I knew I had to go and visit. The Griffith Observatory is testament to human curiosity and innovation at it’s finest.
Resting on a high on Mount Hollywood, near to the actual Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory has been around for close to a hundred years. It was built in 1935 with funds donated by Colonel Griffith Griffith. Griffith had made his fortune from the mining industry and in 1896, he and his wife donated 3,015 of his land to the city of Los Angeles, what he called a “Christmas present.” This land became known as Griffith Park, and gave birth to the Greek Theater and The Griffith Observatory that reside within it.
Built with an influence of Art Deco architecture, as was popularized by the French during this time, Griffith Observatory is filled with exhibits, monuments, and some impressive telescopes and scientific instruments. The designs of the building itself was overseen by Griffith with help from Walter Adams of the Mount Wilson Observatory and George Hale, who helped bring the first telescopes to Los Angeles. The actual construction began in 1933 and was overseen by John C. Austin, who also designed Los Angeles City Hall and the Shrine Auditorium. One could say this observatory was built by the people of Los Angeles for the people of Los Angeles.
Since it’s inception, Griffith Observatory has always been free to the public, both in admissions and nearby parking, although some may chose to pay a small fee to view one of the shows in the planetarium. The exhibits themselves are striking, ranging from outdoor Solar System Lawn Model and Astronomers Monument, to the history of space exploration known as the Hall of the Eye and the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, paying homage to late actor and his role as Spock in Star Trek.
The two main telescopes of the Griffith Observatory are massive both in their size and the depths to which they can view the stars above. The first telescope, that has actually been at the Observatory since it’s opening, is the Zeiss Telescope and has allowed for thousands of visitors to look at the nigh time heavens above. The second more modern telescope, is the coleostat, a telescope that only operates during the daytime due it’s use of sunlight to find planets and solar flares.
The Griffith Observatory has stood as an iconic member of buildings deeply rooted in Los Angeles History, appearing in several movies and often in music videos (there is actually a bust of the late James Dean, as the observatory can be seen in his movie Rebel Without A Cause). The Observatory, a lone pillar overlooking Los Angeles, is a representation of Southern California’s architectural and astrological history, and a launching point for future generations who wish to explore the stars.