Griffith Observatory Celebrates 85 Years of Public Service!
In May 2020, even though closed, the Observatory celebrated its 85th anniversary with a social media campaign marking one decade of service each day.
1935 - 2020
On May 14, 1935, Los Angeles civic, scientific, and cultural leaders gathered on the side of Mt. Hollywood to celebrate the opening of Griffith Observatory. Only the third planetarium in the U.S. – and the first along the Pacific Rim – the Observatory was the vision of Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who believed in the transforming power of astronomical observation and cosmic inspiration. Review some of the notable moments in the Observatory’s history.
That day also marked the transfer of the completed building and grounds from Colonel Griffith’s trust to the City of Los Angeles. In the last 85 years, Griffith Observatory has become the most visited public observatory in the world. Owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the Observatory has welcomed more than 73 million visitors and is an icon of southern California.
Each day leading up to the Observatory’s 85th birthday on May 14, we’ll celebrate a decade of our public operation. In the 1930s, both the Observatory (1935) and the neighboring Greek Theatre (1930) opened in Griffith Park (with a lot fewer trees). Our sister institution in the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, opened in 1935 as well.
In the 1940s, during World War II, the Observatory had to close most weekday evenings for safety. Military pilots learned to navigate by the stars in what is now the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Later in the decade, the Observatory pioneered planetarium shows about space travel.
The population of the Los Angeles region increased dramatically in the 1950s. Overlooking Hollywood, the Observatory was already an icon of the city when it was featured in the 1955 classic “Rebel Without A Cause.” The building became a star among the stars.
Apollo astronauts had no time for lounging in the 1960s, when they came to the Observatory to learn celestial navigation in what is now the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Though LA’s lights lit up the night sky, the public still got stellar views through the historic Zeiss telescope.
The Observatory gathered the stars together in the 1970s to celebrate America’s bicentennial. We hosted a special time capsule, still on display, made from the propellant tank of a planetary probe. Our essential partner, Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO), was established in 1978 by Observatory Director Dr. E. C. Krupp and Debra and Harold Griffith (he was the grandson of Observatory benefactor Griffith J. Griffith).
The Observatory celebrated its 50th birthday in the 1980s with newly-polished copper domes. More people saw Halley’s Comet through telescopes here than anywhere in the world. The comet “torch” was passed from a 1910 viewer to one encouraged to return with the comet in 2061.
The 1990s began with City approval for the Observatory’s renovation Master Plan and ended with architects drafting designs. In between, huge crowds came for weeks in 1997 to see comet Hale-Bopp and for an evening in 1994 to watch comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slam into Jupiter.
From 2002-2006, the Observatory closed for renovation and expansion. The $93 million project, a public-private partnership with Friends Of The Observatory, restored the historic building, re-imagined the Samuel Oschin Planetarium (including a new interior dome), and doubled exhibit space by excavating under the lawn.
Observatory attendance nearly doubled during the 2010s. Astronomical events (solar & lunar eclipses, transits of Venus & Mercury) and space milestones (Mars landing) drew huge crowds. None were larger than for the 2012 flyover of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
On May 14, 1935, Griffith Observatory opened its doors. For 85 years, the City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks has operated the building, day and night, for the public. Thanks also to Friends Of The Observatory, our invaluable partner.