Griffith Observatory Revived
High atop Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles, California, Griffith Observatory reopening in early November of 2006 after being closed and under construction for four long years of extensive renovation, this historic landmark will take the spotlight once again and enter into a new and exciting era.
Originally constructed in 1935, the historic building was always intended to expand and enhance the public's understanding of the sky. By interpreting the sky through the Hall of Science Astronomy Museum, viewing the sun, moon, stars and planets through a variety of solar and refracting telescopes, and offering special lectures and shows, the Observatory has long fulfilled its mission of bringing the cosmos closer to home.
Wonderfully located overlooking Los Angeles, the Observatory itself, as well as all of Griffith Park, was a gift to the city by Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith. The Department of Recreation and Parks of the City of Los Angeles oversee operations, but per the request of the Colonel, admission and telescope use remains free to the public.
With over two million visitors a year, the Observatory has been long overdue for much needed revitalization. Faced with insufficient space to accommodate its annual visitors, outdated technology and structural damage from the Northridge earthquake of 1995, the Observatory finally began renovation in October of 2002.
The original 1935 architectural plans included an underground area with an amphitheater, classrooms and a conference room. Extensive granite and limited excavation technology encountered at the time made it impossible to realize the original plans, but today's modern technology was able to fulfill the original vision and successfully double the size of the Observatory without changing the classic appearance of the original building.
While the original, 1935 construction cost of $655,000 was covered by Colonel Griffith himself, funding for the $90 million renovation project came from public sources, which accounted for nearly $40 million of the costs, and private contributions from individuals, foundations and the Federal government.
S.J. Amoroso Construction Co., Inc., founded by Salvatore J. Amoroso in 1939, prepared for the renovation by focusing on three main strategic goals; updating and rehabilitating all systems and elements to their original grandeur, renovating the Planetarium Theater, and tackling the two level, underground expansion under the front lawn area and a portion of the western terrace.
The Planetarium Theater was completely gutted. All historic features, including an existing 100-foot wide plaster dome, floors, walls, lighting fixtures, metal work and seating were removed and restored to their original appearance. Insulation was added to the existing walls to alleviate visual reflection from the projectors, marble flooring was added to the newly expanded areas, and to prevent leaking and water damage - extensive waterproofing was completed on the dome and roof.
Spatially, hidden areas were utilized for new special effects technologies, the sound system, computerized controls, the original sky projector and the new all-dome laser projection system. Additionally, the 300-seat floor arrangement has been slightly altered from concentric to unidirectional and the Planetarium has been renamed to The Samuel Oschin Planetarium Theater in honor of one of the private contributors. The underground addition was carefully excavated and elegantly designed by Pfeiffer Partners. Named after another private and famous contributor, the 200-seat proscenium arch-style Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater is located in the new expanded area, along with additional 11,000 square feet of new exhibit space, gift shop, cafeteria, offices and production areas.
The excavating of granite rock under the existing western terrace, where part of the expansion was added, proved to be the most precarious challenge during the construction. Due to various non-active fault lines, the site's sloping nature, and different natural soils encountered, this part of the expansion was the most time consuming. Individual building sections were hoisted up onto hydraulic jacks, and steel supports were added while the under-footing was dug out with miniature excavating equipment. The deepest footing excavated was approximately 57 feet below grade.
After the area was dug out, new under-footing was poured and surrounding areas were dry-packed with concrete. Once the concrete was set, the steel posts were removed and the building sections were released off of the hydraulic jacks. The remaining underground sections that were added under the main front lawn were simply uncovered, built and then resurfaced with new landscaping.
In addition to the main mission of the renovation, the main entrance area, known for its massive Foucault Pendulum, custom marble, travertine and mosaic work has been beautifully restored to the original elegance and architectural grandeur of the 1930's. Furthermore, the Observatory has also added new ramps and elevators for improved accessibility, additional restrooms, windows to reintegrate natural light, and two additional copper plated domes, each roughly 30 feet wide, fitted with new motors, control systems and new waterproofing.
Four long years in the making, this historic renovation had to take many carefully planned steps and had to pay extra special attention to details and to the capabilities of the companies that were selected for the job.
Krieger Specialty Products was among the specialty companies brought in to contribute to the renovation. Proud to be on board for this historic endeavor, Krieger provided four acoustical doors, rated STC 50, in various areas of the building. The most interesting of the doors contributed was placed on the main dome of the Samuel Oschin Planetarium Theater. The door leads from the roof area into the dome above the theater, where projection equipment is located. To preserve an extra piece of history, the iron cladding was carefully removed from the original door, meticulously restored and then veneered over Krieger's custom manufactured door.
The Observatory reopened on November 3, 2006. Everyone who has seen the observatory in its previous condition will be in awe of the magnificent transformation that has taken place. With visitor traffic expected to continue to rise, the observatory is now ready to satisfy the demand of those who come to visit and re-visit this truly remarkable place to experience the past, glimpse the future and wonder at the possibilities that lie just beyond our universe.