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Renewing a World-class Institution:
The Renovation and Expansion of Griffith Observatory

After nearly 67 years of heavy public use, Griffith Observatory closed its doors in 2002 for its first comprehensive renovation and expansion. This ambitious $93-million project renewed the Observatory's world-class standing and restored and enhanced the Observatory's ability to pursue its public astronomy mission, all driven by a commitment to excellence and enabled by a successful public-private partnership.

Four goals guided all planning for the project:

  1. Renovate all elements of the existing building. All elements of the iconic building have been restored to their original grandeur and improved for the current level of public use. For a detailed description of the renovation efforts, click here.
  2. Develop a state-of-the-art, immersive planetarium environment. With a new dome, star projector, digital laser projectors, seats, sound system, and lighting, the 300-seat Samuel Oschin Planetarium theater is the finest planetarium in the world. For a detailed description of the development of the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, click here.
  3. Expand public space to improve the visitor experience. Nearly 40,000 square feet of public space have been added to the existing building primarily by excavating under the front lawn and west terrace. Additions include a large, multi-level exhibit gallery, a 200-seat presentation theater (Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon), classroom, café, bookstore, and new entrances and ramps to improve access to/in the building. For a detailed description of the expansion efforts, click here.
  4. Design and develop an inspiring new exhibit program. More than 60 new exhibits inspire, inform, and enable the visitor to become an astronomical observer. For a detailed description of the exhibit program, click here.

A Commitment to Excellence

Griffith Observatory was originally conceived by some of the finest scientific minds of the 1930s and built with the finest materials of the day. The City of Los Angeles and Friends Of The Observatory were committed to that spirit of excellence in every aspect of the renovation and expansion project. This has involved taking the time, spending the money, and getting the people necessary to do the job right, so that the result is something the people of Los Angeles can celebrate with justified pride.

Project Timeline. This was the first major capital improvement to Griffith Observatory since it opened in 1935. Planning for the renovation and expansion project began in 1990 with development and approval of a Master Plan.

May 14, 1935 Building opens to public
December 1978 Formation of Friends Of The Observatory
January 6, 2002 Building closes for renovation and expansion
October 30, 2002 Groundbreaking for construction
November 2004 Exhibit fabrication begins
December 2005 Exhibit installation begins
March 2006 Construction substantially complete
July 2006 Exhibit installation substantially complete
November 3, 2006 Building reopens to the public

For a more detailed timeline of the renovation and expansion project, please click here.

Budget and Funding. The total cost of the renovation and expansion project was $93 million. Roughly 70 percent of this total went toward construction-related costs, which include architectural design and drawings. Both public and private sources provided funds for the project. Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) directly raised nearly a third (over $30 million) of the required funds and also participated actively in securing much of the other funding for the project.

Project Budget ($93.0 million)

  • Building construction (including design work) - $66.5 million
  • Exhibit program (design and fabrication) - $14.8 million
  • Planetarium (equipment and show production) - $ 8.5 million
  • Other expenses - $ 3.2 million

Project Funding ($93.0 million)

  • Public Funds - $67.4 million
  • Private Funds - $25.6 million

Operations. The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks provides all resources for the ongoing operation, staffing, and maintenance of Griffith Observatory.

A Successful Public-Private Partnership

The renovation and expansion of Griffith Observatory is a singularly successful public-private partnership between the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, which owns and operates the facility, and Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO), the Observatory's non-profit support organization. Major participants (and primary roles) in the renovation and expansion project include:

Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (project management, building operation)
- Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners

Los Angeles Department of Public Works (construction management)
- Bureau of Engineering
- Bureau of Contract Administration
- Board of Public Works Commissioners
- Pfeiffer Partners, Inc. (principal architect)
- Levin & Associates Architects (associate architect)
- S. J. Amoroso Construction (building construction general contractor)

Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) (fundraising, specialized equipment acquisition, exhibit program management and acquisition)
- FOTO Board of Directors
- C&G Partners LLC (exhibit designers)
- Maltbie, Inc. (exhibit general contractor)
- Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH (star projector)
- Evans & Sutherland Computer Corporation (digital laser projectors)
- Spitz, Inc. (Samuel Oschin Planetarium dome)

Elected Public Officials (representing Griffith Observatory)

City of Los Angeles
- Honorable Antonio R. Villaraigosa (Mayor of Los Angeles)
- Honorable Tom LaBonge (Councilmember, 4th Council District)

U.S. Government
- Honorable Adam B. Schiff (U.S. Congressman, 29th District)
- Honorable Dianne Feinstein (U.S. Senator)
- Honorable Barbara Boxer (U.S. Senator)

State of California
- Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger (Governor of California)
- Honorable Dario Frommer (Assemblymember, 43rd Assembly District)
- Honorable Jack Scott (State Senator, 21st Senate District)

County of Los Angeles
- Honorable Zev Yaroslavsky (Supervisor, 3rd District)