Located on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, this observatory commands a view of the Los Angeles Basin, including Hollywood to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, and Downtown Los Angeles o the southeast. The Griffith Observatory is a well-recognized famous tourist attraction with an amazingly close view of the Hollywood Sign and an extensive array of science and space-related exhibits. Over 7 million visitors have been able to view through the 12-inch Zeiss refractor since the observatory’s opening; this is the most people to have viewed through any telescope!
This observatory got its name from its benefactor, Griffith J. Griffith. On December 16, 1896, Griffith donated 3015 acres of land that surrounded the Griffith Observatory to the City of Los Angeles. In accordance with Griffth’s will, admission has been free since the observatory opening in 1935, and funds have been donated to build an observatory, a planetarium, and an exhibit hall on the donated land. The benefactor’s objective was to make astronomy accessible to everyone, as opposed to the prevailing idea that observatories should be restricted to scientists and located on remote mountaintops.
Griffith had drafted very detailed specifications for the observatory. During the plan’s drafting, he consulted Walter Sydney Adams, the Mount Wilson Observatory’s future director, and George Ellery Hale, who founded the first astrophysical telescope in LA with Andrew Carnegie.
As a Works Progress Administration project, the observatory construction began on June 20, 1933, using a John C. Austin and Frederic Morse Ashley’s (architects) developed design based on the preliminary sketches by Rusell W. Porter. The Griffith Observatory opened to the public on May 14, 1935, as United States’ third planetarium. In its first five days of opening, it logged over 13,000 visitors.
The Griffith Observatory building combines Beaux-Arts and Greek influences, and the exterior is embellished with a Greek key pattern. During World War II, the observatory was used to train pilots in celestial navigation. And it was later used again in the 1960s to train Apollo program astronauts for the first lunar mission.