As dusk fell yesterday, I set out for Griffith Observatory. Which is at the top of Griffith Park. Which was given to the city of Los Angeles by – who else? – Col. Griffith J. Griffith. And the appropriate response is Thank you! because this park and everything in it is spectacular.
The 4,300 acre park sits at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains – better known as the Hollywood Hills – which run forty miles west and into the ocean past Malibu. This is a vast wilderness – more than 250 square miles – bisecting the city: LA to the south, “the Valley” to the north. Mulholland Drive twists and turns along the crest of the hills, all the way to ocean. Much of it is protected terrain, wild and rugged, especially west of Topanga with deep canyons accessible only on foot. The eastern portion is a bit more manicured, home to the “We don’t hike, dear” denizens of Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills. It’s not the Upper West Side, though. There are mountain lions and rattlesnakes, bears and coyotes. And as the environment becomes more stressed by the drought, trash cans and swimming pools increasingly look like convenience stores for the four-on-the-floor set.
The Observatory is only about five miles from home, so it took me more than an hour to get there. Sunset Blvd through Hollywood on a Saturday evening is not a speedway. And the turnoff on Vermont that leads up the slopes of the park also takes you past the fabled Greek Theater. There was a concert last night, which meant rather legendary traffic. Even when the Greek is dark, the one-lane road snaking up to the Observatory can be a slow crawl (as my friend Brian & I found on last weekend’s aborted attempt to get up there). Last night, though, I lucked out with a parking space just a 10-minute walk from the top.
While it’s a great place to go any time of day, any time of year, the Observatory is at full power as a tourist magnet on summer weekend nights. It is an awesome destination for kids and adults alike. The Observatory itself, all its exhibits and tours, are open until 10pm. It’s free! And as the sun sets, the city begins to glow, spreading out to the horizon.
Griffith Observatory is an Art Deco masterpiece. Built in 1935 (because we used to build things like this during economic downturns) and completely renovated in 2006. While it was designed and still functions as an astronomical observatory, most folks come up here for the views of Los Angeles and the surrounding mountains. The building sits on the edge of a promontory and obliges the looky-loos with multiple levels of wide terraces, and curving stairways leading up and up all the way to the flat roofs and the dome parapets.
There were hundreds of people at the Observatory last night, tourists and locals, including plenty of children. Not my usual scene. But what you notice is that there is a sort of hush, a reverence, the same as in a cathedral or museum. People talk in whispers – when they talk at all. No one has to say, “Look at that view!” because everyone is looking at that view. In every direction. From every location. It is spellbinding. And I spend as much time looking back at this magnificent edifice as I do at the surrounding world. (The next few pix are mine.)
And even a crappy quality photograph can take on a painterly aspect with the help of a filter or two. This is the sunset sky behind Griffith Park’s Mt Lee and its famous Hollywood sign.
And here’s a shot I took on a wintry day a few years ago, from a trail below the Observatory. You can see this gleaming white structure from all over Los Angeles, and the closer you get to it, the better it gets.
To learn more about this remarkable place, visit their website http://griffithobs.org
The End (so far)