Exterior ExhibitsVisitors don't need to enter Griffith Observatory to become observers; the exterior of the building offers a mix of compelling favorites and new features to draw the eye and imagination.
Greeting visitors upon their arrival at Griffith Observatory, the fully restored Astronomers Monument is a large outdoor concrete sculpture on the front lawn that pays homage to six of the greatest astronomers of all time:
- Hipparchus (about 150 B.C.)
- Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543)
- Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
- Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
- Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
- William Herschel (1738-1822)
The monument is an enduring product of the great economic depression of the 1930s, when New Deal initiatives created federally funded work programs to employ skilled workers in many fields at a time when they would otherwise remain idle and without income. One of the first of these programs, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), began in December 1933. Soon thereafter, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Park Commission, PWAP commissioned a sculpture project on the grounds of the new Observatory (which was under construction). Using a design by local artist Archibald Garner and materials donated by the Women's' Auxiliary of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Garner and five other artists sculpted and cast the concrete monument and figures. Each artist was responsible for sculpting one astronomer; one of the artists, George Stanley, was also the creator of the famous "Oscar" statuette.
On November 25, 1934 (about six months prior to the opening of the Observatory), a celebration took place to mark completion of the Astronomers Monument, which had proven to be the most ambitious creation of the PWAP. The only "signature" on the Astronomers Monument is "PWAP 1934" referring to the federal agency which funded the project and the year it was completed.
Solar System Lawn Model
Mounted in the front sidewalks of Griffith Observatory is a scale-model of our solar system. One-quarter-inch-wide bronze lines mark the orbits of the planets, which are indicated with bronze plaques also embedded in the sidewalks. Each orbit is properly scaled around the Sun, a half-inch circle centered at the base of the historic Observatory front steps. In this model, each foot roughly equates to 20 million miles in the real solar system, which is roughly 110 billion times larger than this model.
Sunset and Moonset Radial Lines
Seven stone and bronze lines embedded in the lower West Observation Terrace radiate out from the building toward the western horizon. Each line points toward a notable sunset or moonset position on the horizon. Visitors can look at oval stone plaques embedded along each line for a description of the specific positions. Sun positions are the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes. Moon positions are major and minor northern and southern standstills.
West Observation Terraces
The redesigned outdoor terraces on the west side of the building provide stunning vistas. The upper terrace offers spectacular views of downtown Los Angeles, the Pacific Ocean, and everything in between. Telescopes on the terrace give visitors the chance to observe their favorite landmarks up close, while benches allow them to rest and contemplate what they have seen. The lower terrace overlooks the new Gottlieb Transit Corridor and includes the sunset and moonset lines.
East Observation Terrace
This new observing terrace, which is accessible both from the Hall of the Eye and a new ramp from the front lawn, provides visitors with panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles, Mount Wilson, and the knife-fight parking lot scene in the famous movie Rebel Without a Cause.
Rebel Without a Cause Monument
Although hundreds of films, television shows, and commercials have used the picturesque surroundings of Griffith Observatory, none have featured the building more prominently or brought as much international attention as the Warner Brothers production of Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. This landmark motion picture, which immortalized James Dean in the most remembered of his three films, captured both the interior and exterior of the Observatory in several key scenes and marked the first time a planetarium theater was used in a film.
In 1955, James Dean went to the studio of Hollywood-based artist Kenneth Kendall after seeing a sculpture he had done of Dean hero, Marlon Brando, and requested that Kendall do a bust of him. Kendall began the sculpture the night that Dean was killed. Decades later, in commemoration of the use of the Observatory in the film, Rebel Without a Cause, a monument featuring the bust Dean commissioned was placed on the west side of the Observatory lawn (a second copy of the bust can be seen at the James Dean Memorial Park in the actor's hometown of Fairmount, Indiana). The monument has now been restored and reinstalled in its new location, where visitors will now be able to snap pictures of the monument with the iconic Hollywood Sign in the same frame.
Roof Observation Deck
The roof of Griffith Observatory is known for offering one of the most stellar views of Los Angeles. Open until 10 p.m. nearly every evening, the Roof Observation Deck serves as a free gathering place for visitors as well as an observation platform of our own landscape. The roof is accessible from the outside by the restored stairways on the east and west ends of the building and from the inside via the new elevator in the W.M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda.