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Reopened Observatory Offers Hollywood View of the Stars

Visitors to Hollywood often hope to catch a glimpse of the stars on the silver screen. Now, they can also get a peek at the stars in the sky at the Griffith Observatory, a longtime Hollywood landmark. Mike O'Sullivan reports, the hilltop facility recently reopened after a $90 million makeover.

The Griffith Observatory was established in 1935, and director Ed Krupp says the public soon fell in love with the hilltop building, with its geometric art deco motifs and three big domes.

At the heart of the observatory are two professional telescopes, which Krupp says, offer the public a close-up view of the stars.

"The Zeiss telescope on the east side of the building has been observed through by more people than any other telescope on the planet," said Ed Krupp. "The solar telescope on the west side, which provides a magnified image of the sun, a live image of the sun, also has provided that image for more people than any place else in the world."

Krupp says the observatory became a landmark for its visual appeal, as well.

"Very early on, the motion picture industry also found Griffith Observatory, and it started using the observatory as a set for all kinds of things, eventually in Flash Gordon to the Palace of Ming the Merciless, or Jor-EL's castle on the planet Krypton [in Superman] - all over the place," he said. "And, then, of course, in the 1950s, with James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause, Griffith Observatory actually starred as Griffith Observatory."

There have been many screen appearances since then.

But like any aging star, the Griffith needed a facelift, and, five years ago, it closed for a major expansion. Now, it has reopened. The outside looks the same, but some 3,500 square meters were added underground to make room for 60 new exhibits.

"And those exhibits range all over the cosmos in terms of what they cover, everything from the most fundamental things we see in the sky - the moon and its phases and the seasons that we experience, to the extraordinary discoveries that have transformed our view of ourselves and the universe," explained Ed Krupp.

Human journeys to the moon, robotic missions to Mars and unmanned planetary probes are all part of the story that is told here. Samples of meteorite and moon rock are on display, and mechanical models show how the solar system works.

Visitor Eleanor Harris is impressed with the design and the exhibits.

"I think it's a wonderful place," she said. "There are a lot of educational things here, and I'm glad I came out today to visit."

Visitor Dawn Maurer, who came with a group of youngsters, was also impressed.

"I've never learned so much about meteorites," she said. "I've always been interested, but I'm a teacher, and I'm here taking The Lion King cubs on a field trip today."

She is visiting with a group of young performers from The Lion King, the Broadway musical, now onstage in Hollywood.

Jordan, 11, and Diamond, 10, say the observatory is fun. Kenisha, 11, is learning more about the cosmos.

"It's nice," she said. "I like the moon and all the stars. I'm learning about the solar system."

The observatory has a 300-seat planetarium, where constellations and planets are projected on the ceiling. Ten-year-old Cameron enjoyed the show.

"It's cool," he said. "I kind of made me motion sick, but it was awesome."

Over its 70 years, the Griffith Observatory has hosted 70 million people. Krupp says the expanded facility will continue to offer a window on the cosmos from the hills above Hollywood.