An enduringly impressive building that brings the beauty of the stars to Earth! Situated atop the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, Griffith Observatory’s architecture and mission make it one of the most famous and most visited icons of Los Angeles.
An observatory, its goal is to fulfill Griffith J. Griffith’s vision of making an observation of the universe accessible to all. Its Art Deco architecture with a mix of Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts and Moderne elements, bridge the real world we observe around us and visions of the dimly glimpsed edges of the universe.
As we drove the road that winds up the sides of the Hollywood Mountain, the stunning bright white walls of the observatory and copper-plated domed roofs can be seen perched majestically high above. Colonel Griffith J. Griffith donated the 3,015 acres of land surrounding the observatory to the City of Los Angeles on December 16, 1896. In his will, Griffith donated funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium on the donated land. His objective was to make astronomy accessible to the public, as opposed to the existing idea that observatories should be located on remote mountaintops, and restricted to scientists.
Construction began in 1933, using an Art Deco design developed by architect John C. Austin, who also participated in the design of several landmark buildings in Southern California, including Los Angeles City Hall and the Shrine Auditorium. The mix of old and new is what characterizes Art Deco architecture - a “jazzed” zigzag design approach popular in the late 1920’s and 30’s. The observatory closed in 2002 for renovation and a major expansion of exhibit space. It reopened to the public in 2006, retaining its Art Deco exterior.
Greeting us on the front lawn, a fully restored large concrete Astronomers Monument pays homage to six of the greatest astronomers of all time. Mounted in the sidewalks towards the observatory’s front entrance, is a scale-model of our solar system. Seven stone and bronze embedded lines radiate out from the building toward the western horizon; each line points toward a notable sunset or moonset position on the horizon.
Upon entering through the spectacularly elegant bronze and glass front doors, we immediately noticed the surrounding walls and ceilings within the rotunda under the center cupola (home to the 40-foot-tall Foucault pendulum) were decorated with striking murals painted by Hugo Ballin, depicting great figures and moments in science history. There is a Heinsbergen Mural brilliantly covering the entire ceiling in the South Gallery, painted by A.B. Heinsbergan, portraying the Sun with outward emanating rays. Greek Revival, Beau-Arts and Moderne influences are present throughout, including bronze elements, wall moldings, ornaments, light fixtures, vent grills, travertine walls and marble floors.
Once outside, we marveled at the spectacular views from the West and East Observation Terraces, and Roof Observation Deck.
The exterior concrete walls are painted a “warm white”, and adorned with decorative iron-grill windows, which contribute to the decorum of the façade. The domes are fashioned with copper panels, which most are a bight green color, reflecting 71 years of patination. The walkway around the south side of the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, is crowned with concrete arches characteristic of Greek Revival and Art Deco architecture.
What’s so appealing about the Griffith Observatory is its versatility. Angelenos and tourists alike can go to this magical-looking mountaintop place to pursue their own wishes, from architectural exploration to hiking, viewing the city from above or star-gazing, both celestial and celluloid. What could be more L.A. than that?
For visiting information, please ‘click’: Griffith Observatory