Art Deco Meets Science at the Griffith Observatory

Last weekend, a dear friend was visiting from out of town. She used to live in the LA area, and when asked what she wanted to do with her short time here she didn’t hesitate to answer that she wanted to visit the Griffith Observatory!

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

One of the many great things about it is that it’s located in Griffith Park, which some call the Central Park of Los Angeles. Lots of trails for hiking and running, one of which goes directly up to the observatory. (You can also drive right up to it from the other side, but there’s something satisfying about hiking up that steep hill to the reveal of this nugget of Los Angeles history.)

Hiking in Griffith Park

A little backstory of the observatory from the official site:

Exploring the Observatory’s past starts with namesake Griffith J. Griffith, whose plan for a public observatory was as visionary as it was audacious. From Griffith’s bequest in 1919 to the Observatory’s dedication on May 14, 1935, the story shifts to the astronomers, architects, and public leaders who made his vision to reality. From there, the Observatory welcomed 70 million visitors and became the world’s leader in public astronomy, a story told in the context of the building’s four Directors.

In 2002 they closed it down for a few years for some major renovations, and when it opened back up people were so excited that you had to make arrangements in advance just to get in. (Don’t you just love it when people get so excited about science?) Now that the withdrawal symptoms have subsided, it’s easy to go, although still crowded on the weekends.

the front entrance to the observatory

Designed by John C. Austin and Frederick M. Ashley, the building acts as a science museum and planetarium, hugged by art deco perfection! Geometric art deco design details are everywhere, and the beautiful restoration has left the building crisp and pristine so you can clearly see all of the careful work that was put into designing it. And since art deco was all about honoring the classic themes in architecture while also celebrating the age of the machine, it’s the perfect backdrop for the history of the world as viewed with new, ever developing technologies.

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art deco dentals

These art deco styled dentals frame the front entry way into the building. And radiating horizontally outward are geometric S-like embellishments, familiar in many deco designs of the time.

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art deco detail

This detailing follows the building all the way around to the back side, where you can see more of the familiar embellishments and tapered lines so familiar to the style.

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art deco design and detail

The observation dome atop the building fits with the age of the machine.

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a view of the observatory from behind

The first thing you see when you walk through the front door is this incredible Foucault Pendulum. “The 240-pound brass ball, suspended by a cable 40 feet long, swings in a constant direction while the Earth turns beneath it.”

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Foucault Pendulum

Gradually it will knock over each of these pegs, in demonstration that Earth is indeed moving all the time.

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pegs demonstrating Earth’s rotation

And then when you look up, an incredible mural of astronomy, philosophy, myth, exploration, and art.

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mural on the ceiling above the pendulum

Inside, they have an entire wall dedicated to the periodic table of elements.

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periodic table of elements

Each glass square contains the actual element. So if you were ever wondering Scandium looks like, now you know.

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actual elements on display

They also have an actual working Tesla coil.

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Tesla Coil

It is VERY loud when it fires off, but it’s still super cool to be able to see and hear the power of electricity.

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Tesla Coil in action

And for the amateur astronomers out there, wouldn’t you just love to take home this you? Pretty!

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an astronomer’s dream telescope

There is so much more to see than just these little nuggets. There are exhibits demonstrating the earth’s rotation, the solar system, geological phenomenons, and even a live image of the sun on which you can see solar storms happening in real time! What more can I say except that you must see this place for yourself.

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deco design and astronomy symbols in the main lobby

On your way out, one more nod to the art deco design of the building, a back lit display of symbols of astronomy.

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Hollywood sign right next door

I always like to take a moment before I leave to enjoy the views. The observatory sits a top a hill with views in almost all directions, and the famous Hollywood sign is right next door!

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the view of downtown Los Angeles

In the other direction you can see downtown LA.

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the view of the ocean

And on a really clear day, you can even see the ocean from here! It seems so close by!

Have you been to the Griffith Observatory? What was your favorite thing about it?

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3 thoughts on “Art Deco Meets Science at the Griffith Observatory

  1. body{font-size:10pt;font-family:arial,sans-serif;background-color:#ffffff;color:black;}p{margin:0px;}…thanks for taking me back to the Griffith! Very deja vu in terms of our prior visit with you and Glenn…wonderful seeing it through your eyes. Photos great as always. Your Blog would be an interesting place to consult for those folks planning a visit to LA…you’d offer an “insider’s view” of interesting places to check out during their stay.Pa Porter

  2. Love this post! Of course Griffith is at the top of the must-see list in LA. It’s so beautiful, and it always sends me back in time. Not only that, but on the hike up there, you can almost forget that you’re in the middle of a giant city.

  3. Pingback: Historical Downtown Los Angeles | The Anecdotal Goat

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