So what, you might ask, is James Dean doing at the Griffith Observatory? Actually the iconic actor shot some key scenes here for his classic movie Rebel Without A Cause about misunderstood youth. (Sigh, Kongo well remembers those days…) While many movies have scenes made at the observatory, there is only one star bust.
Like other large cities, Los Angeles is in debt to generous benefactors long since passed. In this case, we owe a big thanks to Griffith Griffith (sometimes called Colonel although there is no record of him ever serving in the Army) who made gobs of money in Mexican silver mines and Southern California real estate. Now Griffith was a weird duck, even by California standards. He bought over 4,000 acres of the original Los Feliz land grant in the early 1880s and a decade later, after traveling extensively, donated more than 3,000 acres of this land to the City of Los Angeles as a “Christmas present.” He also later donated $100,000 to build an observatory on the donated land after he visited the observatory at Mt. Wilson and fell in love with all things celestial. Later he shot his wife in the eye and was tried for attempted murder but it came out at trial that he was a secret alcoholic and didn’t really mean to kill his wife. The judge sentenced him to two years at San Quinten and instructed that he be given treatment for his “alcoholic insanity.” After prison, (and unsurprisingly a divorce) Griffith went on to donate funds to build the Greek Theatre and the Observatory. At first the Park Commission object to the gifts, but on his death in 1919 (liver disease) he left most of his estate to the city and this eventually became the observatory and theater that carry on today.
The observatory was built in 1935 and is a rich example of the Art Deco trend that was prevalent in architecture at the time.
The observatory offers spectacular views of Los Angeles as well as the heavens.
Besides the telescopes, which are open to the public every clear night the observatory is open, there are many scientific exhibits inside.
The original 12-inch Zeiss telescope was installed when the observatory opened in 1935. Since then, more than seven million star gazers have peered through this telescope to look at the heavens. On a typical night at the observatory, 600 people take turns watching heavenly objects.
The observatory and grounds are much loved by Angelenos and visitors alike. On the first week it opened more than 17,000 visitors toured the site and they just keep coming. Besides the classic architecture, spectacular views of Los Angeles, and the rustic park setting, the place gives off a great vibe and its just neat to look at. Numerous artists perch around the grounds trying to capture the ambience of the place.
Come visit! The observatory is closed on Mondays and national holidays. (Check the website.) Admission is free.
Travel safe. Have fun.