Astronomers Monument and Sundial
Greeting visitors upon their arrival at Griffith Observatory, the Astronomers Monument is a large outdoor concrete sculpture on the front lawn that pays homage to six of the greatest astronomers of all time.
The monument is an enduring product of the great economic depression of the 1930s, when New Deal initiatives created federally-funded work programs to employ skilled workers at a time when they would otherwise remain idle and without income. One of the first of these programs, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), began in December 1933. Soon thereafter, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Park Commission, PWAP commissioned a sculpture project on the grounds of the new Observatory (which was under construction). Using a design by local artist Archibald Garner and materials donated by the Womens' Auxiliary of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Garner and five other artists sculpted and cast the concrete monument and figures. Each artist was responsible for sculpting one astronomer; one of the artists, George Stanley, was also the creator of the famous "Oscar" statuette.
On November 25, 1934 (about six months prior to the opening of the Observatory), a celebration took place to mark completion of the Astronomers Monument, which had proven to be the most ambitious creation of the PWAP. The only "signature" on the Astronomers Monument is "PWAP 1934" referring to the federal agency which funded the project and the year it was completed.
The six astronomers featured on the monument are among the most influential and important in history. The six figures represent the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (about 125 B.C.), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and John Herschel (1738-1822). Albert Einstein was considered for inclusion, but planers ultimately decided it would be inappropriate to feature someone still alive (the monument was completed in 1934; Einstein died in 1955).
On top of the Astronomers Monument is a 900-pound, hollow bronze armillary sphere that was installed in 1991 (replacing the original cement-cast and copper-covered sphere which had degraded). An armillary sphere is an astronomical instrument composed of rings representing celestial latitude, longitude, and the ecliptic. Prior to the invention of the telescope, it was the main instrument used by astronomers to determine celestial position.
Our equatorial sundial was created and installed by Observatory staff (Leon Hall and Joseph Frame) in 1957. The ring is made of high-nickel bronze and has an outside diameter of 34 inches. Engraved markings on the ring allow one to track the movement of the shadow and, thus, to keep the time using the Sun. The ring is held in position by a clamp, which can be loosened to allow staff to rotate the ring when adjustments are needed (such as when Daylight Saving Time begins and ends). The heavy wire passing through the center of the ring, and at right angles to it, is made of a nickel-copper alloy. It is parallel to the Earth's axis, being accurately mounted in a north-south direction and pointed to the north pole of the sky. The angle it makes with the horizon is 34 degrees, which is equal to the latitude of Los Angeles. The Sundial gives us a better appreciation of the role of our rotating Earth as the fundamental timekeeper.