Our Visit to the Griffith Observatory

I’ve long wanted to visit the Griffith Observatory, it’s one of those iconic American landmarks that I’ve been aware of thanks to it’s many appearances in art and culture I’ve enjoyed in my life. In 2010, Linkin Park performed a brief set for a thousand fans onsite, “The Catalyst” from this performance was later shown by MTV for that night’s Video Music Awards. It also featured in Brothers and Sisters, a series that I think is severely underrated that I’m hoping with be added to Netflix one day soon, for me to enjoy all over again. It popped up in the epic 24 too,  and watchers of E! and Hayu will have seen it as LA signpost in various episodes of annoying addictive Keeping up with the Kardashians. Before it became a most urgent visit to tick off my bucket list after seeing it in that magical dance sequence in La La Land, I’d admired its Greek and Beaux-Arts influenced architecture movies like Back to the Future, The People Vs Larry Flint and Terminator.

On the day of our holiday we decided to make The Griffith Observatory dream happen, I planned a LA LA Land themed day where we, (Si and our friend Sam) would find as many of the locations from the film as possible – the ones that didn’t involve a long drive to Long and Hermosa Beaches at least. I wanted to see where they filmed the tap dancing scene for the original song ‘A Lovely Night’ (the one I did at Pineapple studios that featured in a blog which was in support of the DVD release). The location overlooking the Valley is called Cathy’s Corner. Locals may have noticed a different to what they drive past and that’s because the producers brought in the street lamps and park bench. Another location that wasn’t too far afield was the the Hollywood Walk of Fame mural, depicting such famous actors as Richard Pryor, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and James Dean, sitting in a theater. In the movie this serves as the exterior of the fictional restaurant from which Sebastian is fired. Although I’ve seen The Rialto theatre on previous trips to LA I wanted to fit it in to my themed day if I could so I could really immerse myself in to the movie and imagine that I might be Mia to Ryan’s Sebastian. Built in 1925 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the single-screen theater where Mia and Sebastian catch Rebel Without a Cause has been closed since 2007. In its heyday, in addition to flicks, it also staged vaudeville acts. In the movie it’s the romantic setting for their first date. I thought Colorado Street Bridge might make for a nice setting for an outfit shot (even if I was wearing an old Rat and Boa dress you’ve seen in 2/3 holiday’s worth of content before). Spanning nearly 1,500 feet over the Arroyo Seco and built in 1913, it made its first movie appearance eight years later in the silent hit The Kid. And another film location we wanted to see whilst on site was the Fern Dell, which is in the lower part of Griffith Park’s western entrance, is one of the city’s better kept secrets. It’s secluded but lush with foliage, although minus of the pastel flowers you see blooming when Mia and Sebastian walk through the parklet.

Plans are good and well intended, but life doesn’t always act accordingly. Unfortunately a day that I thought was going to be glorious and joyous, where I’d visit the locations, while skipping, singing and reenacting as many scenes as possible without losing a boyfriend, I was feeling pretty unwell and pretty blue as a result. But we were running out of days in LA so I was determined to push through and make this extravaganza of a day happen, only to arrive at the observatory step out the car and see a tyre that looked like it had melted. It wasn’t the sort of slightly deflated tyre you could drive on and get away with for a few hours, it was completely dead – we think it was a slow death that started during our unscheduled off roading adventure to Bodie Ghost Town during the road trip part of our holiday. Immediately Si’s mood shifted as a result, and I knew this day of proposed fell-good activity was doomed. But we were still there, so we decided to have a mooch round the exterior, take in the views and take some shots before embarking on a stressful conversation with the car rental guys at Alamo. We were due to meet our friend Ben and his lovely parents there too, but alas when they arrived we were in full on stressed mode. After a fairly heated conversation with the female operator from Alamo who didn’t know what the Griffith Observatory was or where it was located (yes, really!) we decided we’d change the tyre ourselves. That’s the royal ‘we’ buy the way I just watched, and moaned on my vlog while Si sweated his guts out securing on the temporary tyre. The difficulty was that there is no signal where we parked on the side of the road on the hill that leads up to the building, so even if they sent somewhere out to help us we wouldn’t necessarily be able to find each other and they’d have no way of contacting us if they struggled to locate us.

Due to the events that shaped the structure and success of our visit to the observatory we weren’t able to explore further than a quick scope of the exterior so my personal experience of this amazing place is limited. After taking the car back to the airport to get a new SUV with fresh tyres we were’t really in a ‘musical theatre’ mood. We decided to scrap out plans so grabbed some delicious vegan median at Doomies (see my food review post for more on that) and then chilled in our pool for the rest of the day. So lacing in further anecdotes from our time at the Griffith Observatory I’ve turned to Wikipedia to help inform you about what can be found inside this impressive building and more.

Inside is a large Tesla coil, dubbed “GPO-1”, one of a pair which were built in 1910 by Earle Ovington. Ovington, who would go on to fame as an aviator, ran a company which built high voltage generators for medical X-ray and electrotherapy devices. In public demonstrations of his generators, the spectacular displays drew crowds. Ovington designed the Observatory’s coil to surpass a coil made by Elihu Thomson in 1893 which generated a 64-inch spark. (Nikola Tesla had secretly produced much larger sparks in 1899.) The project caught the attention of an Edison Electric Illuminating Company official, who offered $1,000 if the coil were displayed at an upcoming electrical show in Madison Square Garden, with the stipulation that the machine would produce sparks not less than ten feet long.

The machine, dubbed the Million Volt Oscillator was installed in the band balcony overlooking the arena. At the top of each hour the lights in the main hall were shut off, and sparks would shoot from the copper ball atop the coil to a matching coil 122 inches away, or to a wand held by an assistant. The chief engineer of the General Electric Company estimated that the discharges were at least 1,300,000 volts.

Ovington, who died in 1936, gave the matching Tesla coils to his old electrotherapy colleague Frederick Finch Strong, who in 1937 donated them to Griffith Observatory. The Observatory had room to exhibit only one of the pair. By this time the machine was missing parts, so Observatory staffer Leon Hall restored it with the notable assistance of Hollywood special effects expert Kenneth Strickfaden who designed the special effects for Frankenstein (1931) among many other movies.

I’d advise you to head to their website to find out about the amazing things you can do at the observatory. Whether you are a teacher wanting to plan a fun trip for your students, an avid star gazer, or someone looking to put on a party that is out of this world (almost literally) than then the Things to Do tab on the site should have something for you.

Colonel Griffith J. Griffith left funds in his will to build a public observatory in Los Angeles because he believed in the transformative power of observation. After looking through the research telescope at Mt. Wilson he said: “If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world!” Since opening in 1935, Griffith Observatory has fulfilled his vision by offering public telescope viewing through the historic Zeiss telescope, historic coelostat (solar telescope), and portable telescopes on the lawn. More people have looked through the Zeiss telescope than any telescope in human history. More people have viewed the filtered disk of the Sun on the Observatory coelostat than any solar telescope on Earth.

Free public telescopes are available each evening the Observatory is open and skies are clear. Knowledgeable telescope demonstrators are available to guide visitors in observing.One Saturday a month, the Observatory hosts a public star party.

Free public star parties are held monthly at Griffith Observatory from 2:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. with the assistance of volunteers from the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, the Los Angeles Sidewalk Astronomers, and The Planetary Society. They are a chance for the whole of your family or group of pals to look at the Sun, Moon, visible planets and other objects, to try out a variety of telescopes, and to talk to knowledgeable amateur astronomers about the sky and their equipment.

If you’re lucky enough to be planning a visit soon, I urge you to check to see if any of their upcoming events coincide with your trip. Each time the seasons change, unless the building is closed (i.e. on a Monday), the Observatory presents brief talks at local noon* (in the Gottlieb Transit Corridor) and sunset (on the West Terrace). These events marking the winter and summer solstice and spring and fall equinox are free and open to the public.The Winter Solstice Eclipses seems to be one of the next possible events, taking place on December 21st at 2.23pm. The Observatory also holds public viewing events for most lunar and solar eclipses.The next total lunar eclipse visible from Los Angeles is Wednesday, January 20, 2019.The next partial solar eclipse visible from Los Angeles is October 14, 2023 (morning).The Observatory also often marks major astronomical or space exploration anniversaries with a special program. They did this in 2009-2012 for the 40th anniversaries of each of the Apollo missions. There’s also there’s those one off things that might be lucky enough to be in LA for – previous ones including an evening discussing the photography of astrophysicist Brian May. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk with Dr Brian May in London this year, at the Space Rocks event at the Indigo O2 and I can confirm it was an absolute delight! He was so passionate and informed about it all, as well as having his own definite theories on certain myths and debates related to the universe.

Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to re-do my Griffith Observatory experience but if not I can at least encourage any of you guys due to visit LA to head here for its impressive views of the Los Angeles Basin, including Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, Hollywood to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. For now my LA LA Land fantasy will just have to wait….

Photos taken by me on my LUMIX GM1 (aside from the ones that I’m in which were taken by Si)

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