Despite re-opening in late 2006 after nearly five years of renovations and additions, Griffith Observatory remains one of LA’s relatively off-the-radar attractions, even though parking and admission is free. (The planetarium shows charge admission but they aren’t essential for an enjoyable visit.) I ride my bike up Vermont Canyon a few times a week (as part of my perpetual “health kick,” as the bf calls it) and the sparse crowds there always surprise me, especially on weekends.
Built in the early 1930s as a gift from silver mine magnate Griffith J. Griffith, the facility opened in 1935. The surrounding park was also given to the city of Los Angeles by Griffith. He was clear about it being a gift to the public, saying, “I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happy, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered.” Good words to ponder in this age of corporate jets and million-dollar office renovations by the banking sector.
Inside, the place still looks gleaming new. I venture in occasionally in hopes that I’ll catch a demonstration of the Tesla Coil, recently outfitted with a multi-colored neon sign that jumps to life as the lightening bolts jump out from the contraption’s head to the metal grid surrounding it.
The Wolfgang Puck Cafe, cantilevered out over the edge of the hillside, caused some community grumbling recently when it applied for a liquor license (It was denied.) I’ve heard some complaints about the cafe being too expensive, or “wrong” for the Observatory– maybe some lower priced options would make it more family friendly. (My feeling is, if you can afford a $4 latte, why carp about a $7 sandwich?) And design-wise, inside anyway, it’s a bit institutional cafeteria for my taste, but the food is decent and the views you can take in from the outdoor tables while eating and mulling over the cosmos exhibits you just saw are spectacular.
The camera obscura exhibit is humbling to see in the digital age. Also, time-lapse videos of the sun’s surface are a favorite, along with the amateur videos of meteors, fireballs and such that are playing on a loop in the new Gunther Depths of Space hall added during the renovation. One clip shows the Peekskill Meteor hurtling over various eastern U.S. cities, in particular, Pittsburgh, my hometown. Indeed, a small world.
Photos by CP.