L.A.'s Griffith Observatory reopens: If you go
CALIFORNIA: Expansion and renovation of popular Los Angeles observatory preserves its art deco design. Getting there: During the next few months, there will be no drive-up access to Griffith Observatory. All visitors must have a timed-entry reser...
Expansion and renovation of popular Los Angeles observatory preserves its art deco design.
Getting there: During the next few months, there will be no drive-up access to Griffith Observatory. All visitors must have a timed-entry reservation. Reservations can be made at www.griffith observatory.org or by calling (888) 695-0888 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Reservations also can be made in person at a reservation center at the Griffith Observatory Satellite, 4800 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles.
Cost: The charges for shuttle reservations are general reservations, $8; children 5-12, $4; children 4 and younger, free; seniors 60 and older, $4. Reservations for hikers and cyclists are free. Reservations are available 48 hours in advance.
Hours: Griffith Observatory is open from noon to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The observatory is closed Mondays.
LOS ANGELES -- If you hate big crowds, you'll love the additional elbow room you'll find at the Griffith Observatory, which has added about 40,000 square feet since a $93 million renovation and expansion began in 2002.
If you love science, you'll enjoy many of the new exhibits but could be disappointed by the observatory's inexplicable, museumlike approach to the rapidly changing fields of astronomy and astrophysics.
And if you treasure Griffith's elegant art deco design, you'll want to hug the army of people who renovated the observatory, an icon in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles since it opened in 1935.
Following various delays, the observatory reopened to the public Nov. 3. I toured the building in September and was pleased and bothered by what I saw.
Let's start on an upbeat note.
The "old" Griffith was too small to handle the crush of people who filed through its halls each day. So the expansion was not only needed, but wisely handled. Most of the new spaces were placed underground, including beneath part of the original building. That preserved the observatory's exterior and left the handsome lawn area undisturbed.
A large outdoor observation terrace was added. But it was perfectly blended with the sweep of the observatory and will enable far more people to linger in the fresh air and enjoy a look at greater Los Angeles.
I was equally impressed with the renovation and touch-up performed inside the observatory, especially the Hugo Ballin murals in the central rotunda. I'm told that workers restored part of the mural's visual impact by gently washing them. The flow of foot traffic also has been greatly improved indoors, and people in wheelchairs will now find it much easier to enter the planetarium, which features a new -- and badly needed -- star projector.
The show, called "Centered in the Universe," visually takes spectators to the far reaches of the universe and loops them through galaxies before landing them on the observatory's lawn. I haven't seen the show yet. But some of the artwork was done by esteemed space artist Chris Butler, so things seem promising. However, I'm disturbed that the observatory is taking a static approach to some of the most important issues in space science -- notably the exploration of our moon.
You'll find a large model of the moon. But it isn't very informative, and the observatory virtually ignores the fact that the United States, China and Japan are planning to send robots and possibly humans to the moon. This reveals a stunning lack of understanding of what's important to the public. I wasn't much more impressed by the observatory's treatment of Mars, where two rovers are now at work on the planet's surface.
And while I sort of like the new suspended replicas of our solar system's planets, I was surprised to learn from an observatory official that they will continue to refer to Pluto as a planet. The International Astronomical Union recently downgraded Pluto to dwarf-planet status.
Griffith is a place of science and should operate like one.