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Monday, November 5, 2007 Griffith Observatory

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The Hollywood Sign looms over us here, at the head of Beachwood Canyon (more on that here), but one hill over to the east so does the Griffith Observatory, high in Griffith Park.  The land on which the observatory stands was donated to the City of Los Angeles by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith in 1896, and 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 exhibits were opened to the public on May 14, 1935.  Since the observatory opened in 1935, admission has been free, in accordance with Griffith's will.

You can visit the observatory's website and read their version of the history of the place, but it is a bit sanitized. There's another story. After successfully investing in mining, Colonel Griffith purchased Rancho Los Feliz, near the Los Angeles River, in 1882, and started an ostrich farm there, but that was a ruse he created the farm primarily to lure folks to his nearby property developments. After the property rush peaked, and supposedly spooked by the ghost of Antonio Feliz, a previous owner of the property, he donated over three thousand acres of the land to the city of Los Angeles on December 16, 1896 thus the park.  But then Griffith was tried and convicted for shooting and severely wounding his wife.  When released from prison he attempted to fund the construction of an observatory, planetarium, and amphitheater in the park to prove he wasn't that bad a guy or something.  The city at first refused his money, but finally, on December 12, 1912, they took his one hundred thousand to fund an observatory to be built on the top of Mount Hollywood but to be fully owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles. He was back in the good graces of everyone the first real Hollywood comeback.  The City Council appointed him head of a three-person Trust committee to supervise the construction of the observatory and a Greek theater performing arts thing (still in business). Griffith died on July 6, 1919, and missed it all of course.

The recently restored observatory is once again open to the public, and you have seen it many a movie, including Rebel Without a Cause you know, James Dean, Natalie Woods, the fight with the switchblades early on, the shootout at the front door as the movie ends.  There's even a bust of James Dean up there - created in 1958 by West Hollywood portrait painter and sculptor, the late Kenneth Kendall.

Given all that, Griffith Observatory is best seen in the fog on a November morning.

Griffith Observatory, architect John C. Austin, based on preliminary sketches by Russell W. Porter, 1933-19
Griffith Observatory, architect John C. Austin, based on preliminary sketches by Russell W. Porter, 1933-19

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[Griffith Observatory]

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 - Alan M. Pavlik