Hollywood's brightest star

A fabled classic made new, the Griffith Observatory is a must-see

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Timberline Lodge

Griffith Observatory’s triple domes and sleek Astronomers Monument are Hollywood landmarks.

Joe Schmelzer

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Info: Griffith Observatory is open Tuesday through Sunday, with timed-entry reservations that include a seat on a shuttle bus that runs to the site. Free admission, planetarium show $7, shuttle bus $8, reservations required; 888/695-0888.

Looming high above Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory looks to some like a classical temple, to others like the mysterious compound of a mad genius in a vintage science-fiction movie.

The newly renovated observatory's three copper-clad domes top a building of exquisite grace that rises from the Hollywood Hills. The central dome is home to a planetarium; inside the two smaller domes are the observatory's public telescopes. There are larger and more advanced instruments, even within Southern California.

But a telescope's significance can't always be measured by its reach into space so much as its reach here on Earth: More people, some 7 million in all, have looked into the heavens through Griffith's Zeiss refracting telescope than any other on the planet.

Few institutions can literally reveal new worlds to its visitors like the Griffith Observatory. And it is the rare observatory that becomes a cultural icon. As a movie and television location, it has come to symbolize Los Angeles. Its greatest prominence came in the 1955 film classic Rebel Without A Cause. Plenty of astronomical facilities may honor Galileo, but only Griffith Observatory has a monument ― in the shadow of the Hollywood sign ― that honors a star of a vastly different firmament, James Dean.

After a five-year-long, $93 million restoration and expansion, the observatory's being unveiled, and the public again has access to this window on the galaxy. So the question, in show business terms, is this: Are we talking blockbuster?

 

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