The land on which the observatory stands was donated to the City of Los Angeles by Col. Griffith J. Griffith in 1896. In his will, Griffith donated funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium on the donated land. 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. Today, Dr. Ed Krupp is the Director of the Observatory.
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.
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.
The planetarium theater was renovated in 1964 and a Mark IV Zeiss projector was installed.
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. 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" (http://bigpicture.caltech.edu), 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.
Since the observatory opened in 1935, admission has been free, in accordance with Griffith's will. Tickets for the show Centered in the Universe in the 290-seat Samuel Oschin Planetarium Theater 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.
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.
A wildfire in the hills came dangerously close to the observatory on May 10, 2007.
On May 25, 2008, the Observatory offered visitors live coverage of the Phoenix landing on Mars.
The observatory was featured in a number of scenes in the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause; a bust of James Dean was subsequently placed at the west side of the grounds. It has appeared in several movies:
- The Cosmic Man
- Rebel without a Cause
- The Terminator (revisited as a ruin in 2009's Terminator Salvation)
- Dragnet (1987)
- The Rocketeer
- The End of Violence
- Midnight Madness
- Flesh Gordon
- War of the Colossal Beast
- The People vs. Larry Flynt
- Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
- House on Haunted Hill (1999 remake)
- Queen of the Damned
- Transformers (2007 live-action film)
- Yes Man
- Funny People
- Earth Girls Are Easy
- Terminator Salvation
The Observatory has appeared in episodes of the following TV shows:
- 24 (Day 1 3:00pm–4:00pm; 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.)
- 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", episode 13)
- Danny Phantom (The Amity Park Observatory modeled on The Griffith Observatory.)
- The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (appears at the beginning of the opening title sequence, 2009 to present)
- MacGyver (pilot episode)
- Mission: Impossible (opening pilot episode)
- Quantum Leap (Goodbye Norma Jean)
- Remington Steele
- Rocky Jones, Space Ranger
- Star Trek: Voyager (two-part episode "Future's End")
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E
- The New Adventures of Wonder Woman between 1977 and 1979.
- The Simpsons (duplicated as Springfield Observatory)
- The Wonder Years.
- 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.
Popular culture referencesComics
The James Dean memorial at the Griffith Observatory is an important landmark that memorializes Dean's classic movie Rebel without a Cause.
In Bill Griffith's comic strip Zippy the Pinhead, the cynical Griffy can occasionally be found in Griffith Observatory, aiming its telescope down into the valley to afford himself a view of the comings and goings in Hollywood.
In the Marvel series Runaways, the James Dean memorial is often used as a meeting point for the six teenagers, as it is the same distance from all of their houses. In a later issue, it was destroyed in a fight.
In the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game this landmark is featured and is very similar to the real life Griffith Observatory. The observatory is a playable area in the Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines video game. Also, in the Future Cop: LAPD video game, the observatory and the whole Griffitth Park are the setting for the first mission of the game, on which the observatory was taken over by a villain and the telescopes turned into plasma cannons. In the game Red Alert 3, Griffith Observatory appeared in the Rising Sun campaign during the invasion of Santa Monica as a heavy artillery cannon that could be destroyed as an optional objective.
The song Observatory Crest by Captain Beefheart may refer to the location of the Griffith Observatory. The song includes the lyric "...drive up / and watch the city / from Observatory Crest." The front cover of The Byrds' (Untitled) album features a photograph of the band on one of the stone staircases leading up to Griffith Observatory.
A Lego model of this building is on permanent exhibit at Legoland California in the Southern California section of Miniland. It has also been featured in the comic strip "Spiderman." In "Macross Frontier," Episode 03, two characters hold a conversation in a future replica of the Griffith Observatory.
In the movie Bowfinger with Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, film producer Bowfinger (Martin) has been secretly filming a movie without Kit Ramsey (Murphy) knowing about it. The film climaxes as Ramsey is running through the Griffith observatory. The camera crew follows him by filming the shots from the surveillance room, trying to catch him saying the phrase, "Gotcha Suckers!" to end the film.
The Observatory makes an appearance in The Rocketeer as the setting for a showdown between Nazi spies and The Mob.
In the Star Trek Voyager episode Future's End, Voyager is pushed back in time to 1996, to try and correct errors to the time line. Rain Robinson, played by Sarah Silverman, is working for the SETI project in the Griffith Observatory, and notices Voyager in orbit, and tries to contact them with the standard SETI greeting, and eventually helps the crew to recover what was stolen, and escape from earth. In the "ALIAS" episode "The Coup" (Season 1/Ep.13) Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) meets her CIA handler, Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) at the Observatory to exchange information, and Vaughn tells her that he would like to become closer to her than just her handler. They stand on the walkway used in "Rebel Without A Cause." Later in Episode 22, "Almost Thirty Years," Vaughn goes looking for Sydney in the places that help her relax, one of which is the Observatory.
In the novel The A-List by Zoey Dean, the marriage of Samantha Sharpe's father, Jackson Sharpe, and Poppy is held at the Griffith Observatory. The inside is transformed with gold and red decorations.
- Dinsmore Alter
- Ed Krupp
- Laura Danly
- Don Dixon
- Russell W. Porter
- Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments in Hollywood and Los Feliz
- Griffith Observatory Home Page
- Friends Of The Observatory
- Collection of articles on the observatory at the LA Times
- Live Lecturers sent into a Black Hole by Danny King at Bloomberg News
- Make Astronomers the Stars Op/Ed by Margaret Wertheim in the LA Times
- Light Pollution in L.A. Area
- Review of "Centered in the Universe"
- Article about "Centered in the Universe" at Arroyo Monthly
- Public weekend shuttle to Griffith Observatory from the subway station