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Issue: Issue Spring 2011
Hollywood's Enduring Superstar - The Griffith Observatory
By: Rena LeBlanc

One of Hollywood's most enduring "superstars" has yet to win a coveted star emblazoned on Hollywood Boulevard.  This "celebrity" is the Griffith Observatory, which has been a featured location in hundreds of movies and TV productions.  It opened in 1935.  Its motto is,  "Inspiring the future, one imagination at a time."

The observatory enables visitors from all over the world to explore the universe with high quality astronomical and scientific information and programs. 

According to astronomer and author Dr. E. C. Krupp, who has been director of the Griffith Observatory since 1974, "There really is no place on earth quite like it.  It's the most visited observatory in the world."  More people have looked through its telescope than any telescope on the planet, he said.  The internationally recognizable icon of Los Angeles has approximately one million visitors including 50,000 school children annually.   

The reason, he explained is "Location, location, location!  Griffith observatory occupies the best piece of public observatory real estate in the world.  It overlooks Hollywood.  Now that's perfect.  You have this mythic realm that Hollywood creates around it." 

The Observatory is a national leader in public astronomy and one of the city's most popular attractions, he pointed out. Our goal is primarily the same as it's always been, which is to direct innovative programming to areas and events that capture the mind and imagination of the public.  "This is where the stars are the stars.  We should have a star on Hollywood Boulevard because we've been in so many movies.

"You have this building that lets you go eyeball to the universe.  More people have looked through that telescope than any telescope on the planet.  And more people have seen the sun live on our solar telescope than anywhere else on earth.

"That's what this place is about-observing.  To be turned from a visitor into an observer is really the foundation of the Observatory.  That process alters the way people behave.  The idea is there's something valuable and remarkable about letting everybody have the opportunity to experience the greater cosmos.  What this has to do with is not knowledge but with a kind of a transforming of an individual perspective and consciousness." 

Dr. Krupp said, "I know astronomers from other parts of the world who have come here have said this is the best public observatory in the world because of the way it looks, is executed, cared for…it has to do with a a zillion different things. Our Planetarium is the best in the world." 


The first exhibit visitors encountered in 1935 - and still do today - was the Foucault pendulum, which was designed to demonstrate the rotation of the earth.

The Observatory, which opened in 1935, has had 67 million visitors.  It is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park and is operated by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. 

People from around the world recognize the impressive architectural landmark not only from its film and television roles but also from its appearances in commercials, student productions, advertisements, comics, painting, street banners, souvenir postcard and more. For 70 years reporters have come to the Observatory to announce breaking discoveries in astronomy. 

Actor Leanord Nimoy`, best known for his Emmy-nominated role as Mr. Spock in the television and film versions of "Star Trek", embarked on yet another outer space venture when he and his wife Susan Bay Nimoy contributed $1 million to the Observatory Renovation and Expansion Project which began in 2002 and was completed in 2006.

Nimoy said, "By observing the sky and pondering our place in the universe, people gain a new perspective on their daily lives."

The Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon 200 seat hall provides a venue for lectures, demonstrations and other activities that compliment the programming offered in the Planetarium Theater.

Other observatory attractions include:

 The Samuel Oschin Planetarium features state-of-the-art technologies to support scientific educational programming for audiences of all ages.  Live planetarium programs are presented with a lecturer who can convey astronomical knowledge with enthusiasm and passion. 

The Star Projector is the most advanced in the world.  It uses fiber-optics technology to deliver the most accurate and awe-inspiring planetarium dome full of stars anywhere.  The computerized system provides a detailed view of the night sky filled with thousands of stars, and can be oriented to show what the sky looked like at any moment in human history.

The dome of the planetarium creates a uniquely immersive experience and true-to- life recreation of a remote, luminous, and pristine sky.  Theatrical consultants were used to design light and sound systems.

Hugo Ballin Murals on the vaulted ceiling and upper walls of the W. M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda are the observatory's greatest artistic treasure.  The murals celebrates classical celestial mythology with images of Atlas, the four winds, the planets as gods, and the twelve constellations of the zodiac.

On clear days each of the observatory's three solar telescopes provides a different real-time view of the sun, including sunspots and solar flares.

Free Public Star Parties are held monthly at the Observatory enabling visitors to try out a variety of telescopes and look at the sun, moon, visible planets, and other objects.     

Griffith Observatory started as one man's vision for inspiring people through astronomy.  Griffith J. Griffith gave Griffith Park to Los Angeles in 1896.  He left money in his will in 1919 to build the Observatory and the Greek Theatre. 

Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) is a non-profit membership organization established to support and promote the Observatory.  FOTO's Executive Director Camille Lombardo said the Observatory is like the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal.  It has that kind of status and appreciation in Los Angeles.  It really speaks to the power of transforming people's perceptions.  It's kind of a sacred space.  The knowledge and information shaping imaginations at Griffith Observatory are actually shaping future lives and culture." 

As for Griffith Observatory's further ties to Hollywood, it is perhaps best known for its appearance in the movie "Rebel Without a Cause" starring James Dean and Natalie Wood.  There's a bronze sculpture of Dean on the front lawn.    


The "Rebel Without a Cause" monument sits on the lawn of Griffith Observatory with the Hollywood sign in the background.

In the pilot episode of the television show "Adventures of Superman" the Observatory was shown as being on the planet Krypton.  In the movie "The Terminator" in 1984 Arnold Schwarzeneggar materialized from the future and walked across the Observatory's front lawn. 

All that is fantasy.  But, as Griffith J. Griffith reportedly said after looking through the largest telescope in the world at Mount Wilson Observatory, "Man's sense of values ought to be revised.  If all mankind could look through that telescope it would change the world. DH