A Great City Needs a Great Park
Colonel Griffith J. Griffith got rich through mining and real estate. In return, he decided to give something back to his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. Inspired by his travels in Europe, he declared that great cities had great parks, and he wanted Los Angeles to have the greatest one in the U.S. So, he donated 3,015 acres for use as a free public park.
Looking North to Hollywood Hills, 1900
When Colonel Griffith made his offer to Los Angeles in 1896, the city’s population was roughly 100,000. The land he wanted to donate was a sparsely developed area a mile outside of the city limits. The Los Angeles City Council worried people would not travel that far and new roads would cost too much. Fortunately, the council voted to accept the gift. Today Griffith Park sits at the center of a busy metropolitan area of 10 million people.
Changing People’s Perspectives
Colonel Griffith loved astronomy. He often met with local astronomers, including George Ellery Hale, who had established an observatory on Mount Wilson in 1904. When he looked through its 60-inch telescope (then the worlds’s largest), Colonel Griffith realized that telescopes and astronomy could alter a person’s perspective on the world.
He decided to construct an observatory and give it to the people. It would enable everyone to have an experience similar to his own. Although Colonel Griffith was unable to fulfill that vision during his lifetime, his will helped others make it happen.
Colonel Griffith wanted his facility built on Mount Hollywood, overlooking Los Angeles. It was intended to provide an unobstructed view of the sky and a panorama of the growing metropolitan area. It was to feature free public telescopes, a “Hall of Science” filled with exhibits, and a theater for educational films (this was before planetariums were invented). Colonel Griffith also left funds to build the Greek Theatre, where the public could enjoy musical and dramatic performances.