The Griffith Observatory is situated on land that was donated to the City of Los Angeles in 1896, by Col. Griffith J. Griffith. In his will, Griffith donated money to build an exhibit site, observatory and planetarium. Construction on the Griffith Observatory began in 1933, using designs provided by architect John C. Austin and sketches by Russell W. Porter. Building was completed and the observatory was opened to the public on May 14th, 1935. In its five days alone, it welcomed over 13,000 visitors.
The observatory is nestled on a slope, facing Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, it has views of the Los Angeles Basin, downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean, the views are breathtaking. When visitors first arrived in 1935, they encountered an exhibit of the Foucault Pendulum, which was designed to simulate the earth's rotation around the moon. The exhibit also included a Zeiss telescope, designed by 19th century German optician, Carl Zeiss. There was also a solar telescope, and a 38 ft. tall model of the moons north polar region.
Col. Griffith also made another request in his will, that the observatory include an exhibit about evolution. This was accomplished by using a Cosmochron exhibit, which included a narrative and a slide show. The evolution exhibit remained a part of the observatories regular exhibits until the mid 1960's. The observatory also contained a planetarium, which covered topics like the moon, eclipses and the solar system.
During World War II, the planetarium was used to train pilots for celestial navigation. It was also used to train the astronauts for the Apollo mission in the 1960's. In 2002, the observatory closed for renovation and expansion. The $93 million was just what the aging observatory needed, it reopened its doors on November 3, 2006, new and yet still retaining its original art-deco appeal. There were expansions made underground which includes new shops and exhibits, the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, and one of the restaurants is run by famous chef Wolfgang Puck.
Ever since it opened back in 1935 and even now, the Griffith Observatory has never charged a fee for admission in accordance with Griffith J. Griffith's will. Through the years the observatory has also served as a backdrop for some famous movies, such as; The Terminator, Dragnet, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Transformers, and many others. It is also featured in the movie, "Rebel Without A Cause'', starring James Dean, and a bust of James Dean is located on the grounds. For many years, the Griffith Observatory has served as focal point in Los Angeles and it has only expanded and grown over time.