Preliminary Sketch of Structure by Architects John C. Austin and Fred M. Ashley
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Griffith Through the Decades

Preliminary Sketch of Structure by Architects John C. Austin and Fred M. Ashley
PRELIMINARY SKETCHES: Caltech physicist Edward Kurth created the preliminary plans for the observatory before architects John C. Austin and Frederick M. Ashley were hired to draw up the final design. The preliminary sketches were approved by the board and the architects were nearing completion on the working plans in January 1932, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the exterior walls of terra cotta tile included in the initial designs were changed in favor of thicker concrete walls in the wake of seismic concerns after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. (LAT)
BUILDING’S INCEPTION: Civic leaders attended the observatory’s ground breaking ceremony on June 20, 1933. The building opened to the public about two years later. Pictured from left to right -- Orra E. Monnette, W.D. Longyear, Parks Commission President Mabel E. Socha (with spade), John C. Austin, Mayor John Porter, L.A. Roseberry and Harry L. Harper. (LAT)
UNDER CONSTRUCTION: The observatory’s steel frame was well underway when this photo was taken in late 1932, more than 15 years after Col. Griffith J. Griffith, a Welsh immigrant who amassed a fortune in mining, died and left money in his will to start construction. The central dome, the largest of three, would house the first planetarium west of the Mississippi. (LAT)
Distinguished Astronomers
DISTINGUISHED ASTRONOMERS: . The Astronomers Monument, which was dedicated in November 1934, was built as part of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration’s art program. The monument features the likenesses of six prominent astronomers: Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Hipparchus, Kepler and Herschel. (John H. McCrory / LAT)
From the Air
FROM THE AIR: A trio of copper domes cap the Art Deco-style observatory in this undated aerial photo taken during the project’s construction. ()
FROM BELOW: It’s prominent location in the hills above Hollywood helped establish the observatory, pictured here in 1937, as one of the region’s most popular attractions for locals as well as tourists. Before it closed for renovations, an estimated 70 million people had visited the observatory, according to officials. (LAT)
GRIFFITH AT NIGHT: The broad, north-south avenues of Los Angeles appear to converge at the base of the observatory in this May 1942 photo. ()
PRACTICAL DEMONSTRATION: Army Air Force officers were given planetarium demonstrations at Griffith Observatory as part of their training in celestial navigation. Here, in this 1943 photo, they get a close look at the observatory’s 12-inch refractor telescope. (Geo. R Watson / LAT)
CLASSICAL TOUCHES: More than 13 million people have watched night sky shows at the planetarium theater, which is housed under the observatory’s largest dome, pictured in this 1947 photo. World War II aviators and moon-walking Apollo astronauts learned how to navigate using the stars inside the dome. (Martin Litton / LAT)
CLOSE-UP: The colorful rings of Saturn are projected on the ceiling of the planetarium in a preview of a new show in May 1949 that depicted a future space voyage. ()
READY FOR A TRIP: Dinsmore Alter, director of the Griffith Park Observatory, adjusts the huge Zeiss projector for the planetarium’s new space travel show in May 1952. The observatory has used projectors and telescopes made by the Geman company Carl Zeiss since the facility opened. ()
PROOF EARTH ROTATES: A visit to the Griffith Park Observatory has been a rite of passage for generations of Southland schoolchildren. An estimated 50,000 students a year visited the observatory before it was closed for renovations. In this March 1953 photo, a group of schoolchildren watches a replica of a Foucault pendulum, one of the observatory’s original exhibits. (LAT)
SIMULATED ROCKET: The observatory has long capitalized on the public’s interest in space travel. In this June 1955 photo, observatory associate directory Clarence H. Cleminshow greets two city Recreation and Parks Department employees dressed as spacemen in preparation for a trip to the moon. (LAT)
TO THE MOON: This painted lunar scene was projected on the dome of the planetarium theater as part of the observatory’s 1958 “Trip to the Moon” show. (LAT)
25TH ANNIVERSARY: The observatory, pictured here during its 25th anniversary in 1960, and its grounds have served as a popular backdrop for film and television productions, including the classic “Rebel Without a Cause” starring James Dean and Natalie Wood. (LAT)
REPAIRS MADE: Scaffolding surrounds the observatory after it was given an exterior face-lift in the fall of 1960, shortly after its 25th anniversary. (LAT)
LANDING SITE: The observatory was ready with exhibits and displays after the 1969 lunar landing of Apollo 11. Kathleen Bates, age 9 of Studio City, checked out the moon landing site during an August 1969 visit to the observatory. (Joe Kennedy / LAT)