Top 12 Awesome Griffith Observatory Facts

One of the most astounding landmarks in Los Angeles, California, is free to visit and offers some of the most spectacular views of the entire Los Angeles area and the universe.

In this article, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting facts about the Griffith Observatory, one of the most popular tourist attractions in LA.

1. It’s located on a hill in one of the largest parks in North America

The Griffith Observatory is one of the most iconic structures in Los Angeles, mainly because of its location on the southern slope of the famous Hollywood Hill.

This amazing location allows you to get an amazing view of Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, the world-famous Hollywood sign to the northwest, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest.

The complex is located at an elevation of 346 meters (1,135 feet) and is situated within LA’s Griffith Park. This enormous public park covers an area of 1,740 hectares (4,310 acres) which makes it one of the biggest urban parks in North America.

Other famous tourist attractions located within this park are the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, and the Hollywood Sign.

Hollywood sign from Griffith Observatory
View towards the Hollywood sign from the Observatory / Wiki Commons

2. It was built according to the will of a Welsh-American industrialist

The history of the Griffith Observatory started on December 16, 1896. This was the day that rich Welsh-born American industrialist and philanthropist Griffith Jenkins Griffith (1850-1919) donated 12.2 square kilometers (3,015 acres) of land to the city of Los Angeles.

Money was donated to the city of Los Angeles as well following his will, which stated that an observatory, an exhibit hall, and a planetarium were to be built on the donated land.

Eventually, the Greek Theater (1929) and Griffith Observatory (1935) were built with an estimated $1.5 million that was bequeathed to the city, and the man was given a statue in the park that bears his name as well.

Griffith statue in Griffith Park
Statue of Griffith in the park / Minnaert / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

3. The observatory opened its doors in the year 1935

He already tried to donate the money while he was still alive, but the city refused his money because he had served 2 years in prison for seriously injuring his wife with a gunshot to the head.

That’s why it took much longer than expected to start the construction project. He did, however, included detailed plans in his will as to how the Greek Revival observatory featuring Beaux-Arts elements should be constructed.

The construction of the buildings eventually began on June 20, 1933, and was completed less than 2 years later. The observatory first opened its doors on May 14, 1935.

Sideview of Griffith Observatory
View of the observatory / Prayitno / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

4. The monument next to it honors the 6 greatest astronomers

On the front lawn of the observatory, there’s a huge monument referred to as the “Astronomers Monument.” This large concrete sculpture was erected at the same time as the construction of the building and ended up being completed in 1934, 6 months before the observatory actually opened.

The monument features 6 sculptures that commemorate the 6 greatest astronomers in history:

  • Hipparchus (around 150 B.C.)
  • Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543)
  • Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)
  • Johannes Kepler (1571–1630)
  • Isaac Newton (1642–1727)
  • William Herschel (1738–1822)
Sculpture and Griffith observatory
The sculpture and the observatory / Matthew Field / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

5. A $93 million renovation transformed it in the early 2000s

The observatory was closed for about 4 years in the early 2000s for a renovation that ended up costing a whopping $93 million. Nothing changed to the exterior of the building, though, but multiple features were added during this major expansion project.

The main dome of the building was replaced and the building was seriously expanded underground, adding entirely new facilities such as the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, as well as a café and gift shop.

The complex eventually opened its doors again on November 3, 2006, and millions of people have visited this iconic structure ever since.

Griffith observatory aerial view
Aerial view of the observatory / Pixabay

More interesting facts about the Griffith Observatory

6. The architect of the building was a man named John C. Austin (1870-1963). He also designed multiple other famous landmarks building in Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles City Hall, the Hollywood Masonic Temple, and the Shrine Auditorium.

7. When the Griffith Observatory opened its doors it was only the third planetarium in the United States. This instantly turned it into one of the most popular attractions in LA as over 13,000 people visited the complex during its first 5 days of operation.

8. The building was designed in the Greek Revival architectural style and its exterior is heavily decorated with the Greek key pattern, a distinctive decorative border.

Griffith Observatory greek key decoration
Detail of the structure’s dome and decorations / Pixabay

9. The observatory is more than a tourist attraction as it has been used for both training pilots during World War II and astronauts of the Apollo missions during the 1960s as they were preparing to travel to the moon.

10. The first-ever exhibit at the observatory was that of the so-called “Foucault pendulum,” a device that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth. It was named after French physicist Léon Foucault (1818-1868) who first introduced it in 1851 and it served as the first evidence of the Earth’s rotation.

11. One of the most remarkable features inside the observatory is the so-called “Big Picture.” It depicts the Virgo cluster of galaxies and is considered to be the largest astronomically accurate image ever created. It has dimensions of 46.32 by 6.1 meters (152 by 20 feet).

12. The Griffith Observatory is split into 6 different sections for people to visit. These are:

  • The Wilder Hall of the Eye
  • The Ahmanson Hall of the Sky
  • The W. M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda
  • The Cosmic Connection
  • The Gunther Depths of Space Hall
  • The Edge of Space Mezzanine

That’s more than enough to spend the entire day learning about the mysteries of the universe. To make it even better, the entrance to this amazing facility is completely free as well.

Griffith Observatory fun facts
Astounding view from the observatory / Gustavo Gerdel / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en