Griffith Observatory (Tony Millionaire)

18 02 2013
Griffithus vs. Gettyus, Tony Millionaire Comic.

Griffithus vs. Gettyus, Tony Millionaire Comic

Well, I can’t get behind Millionaire’s assessment of the Getty Center, but I like the idea of the two buildings having a laser fight. You can visit the image on Millionaire’s blog.

Roger Hayward’s Moon (Griffith Observatory)

29 08 2012

Sculpting the moon’s surface, Griffith Observatory, 1939.

As I was sifting through images of the moon this morning, I found this photo taken at Griffith Observatory in 1939. Shown is Roger Hayward, the artist commissioned in 1934 to create a model of a section of the moon for the observatory. Hayward was trained as an architect, earning his degree from MIT before relocating to Pasadena to pursue a career as a designer. He served as chief designer for the Los Angeles Stock Exchange (1929), designed by his MIT classmate, Sam Lunden, and also contributed to Lunden’s design for the Doheny Library at USC (1930). If you recognize his name, however, I doubt it’s because you’ve been studying his architectural designs. It’s more likely you remember the illustrations he did for the “Amateur Scientist” column in Scientific American magazine between 1949 and 1974, or even more likely, the drawings he did to illustrate Linus Pauling’s research.

How does one make the leap from architect to illustrator of science? In Hayward’s case, it involved a brief stop at the moon. Moving to Pasadena worked out well for him, even though the Great Depression shut down his career as an architect almost as soon as it had begun. When the Stock Market crash put an end to large-scale design projects in southern California, Hayward kept himself busy with painting, puppetry, and physics. Pasadena sits just below Mount Wilson, so when Hayward’s interests expanded to include astronomy and mathematics, he was able to take advantage of the Caltech minds at work at the Mount Wilson Observatory. Various Caltech associates tutored him in atomic theory and he built a few smaller instruments—a 6-inch reflector telescope, a quartz spectograph—by way of educating himself in the field.

The various strands of his formal and self-education came together in 1934, when the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium commissioned him to design “the world’s largest” model of a section of the moon (more images here). As reported in The Literary Digest the next year,

“Most spectacular of the exhibits [at Griffith Observatory and Planetarium] will be in the south gallery—a thirty-eight-foot plaster model of the moon, made to scale from Mt. Wilson Observatory photographs by Roger Hayward, of Los Angeles, an architect by profession and an astronomer by preference, and Caspar Gruenfeld, a sculptor. It will be illuminated by moving lights to produce the effect of sunlight.”[1]

Hayward was given access to the 100-inch telescope on Mount Wilson so he could supplement the observatory’s photographs with first-hand observation of the moon. His design (and Gruenfeld’s sculpting work, Gruenfeld is always left out of the story) was apparently well-received, as the observatory commissioned him to design and build models of Oregon’s Crater Lake and Arizona’s Meteor Crater as soon as he finished the moon section.[2] Adler Planetarium was eager to get in on the action and hired Hayward to design a scale moon model with a 6-foot diameter. Walt Disney eventually saw the financial potential in the projects and commissioned Hayward to duplicate his moons for the “Man in Space” television show and Tomorrowland exhibits.

Although he worked in other fields after finishing the models (he designed a commercial nutcracker, for god’s sake), Hayward continued to advance his studies in astronomy and physics. He partnered with a Caltech associate to design a movie projection screen and write a physics textbook. He must have thought he’d died and gone to heaven when he was offered a position as an optical engineer at Mount Wilson Observatory in 1941. Much top secret stuff in support of the war effort ensued.

After the conclusion of the war, Hayward partnered with Sam Lunden once again, forming the firm of Lunden, Hayward & O’Connor. For architectural historians, Hayward’s story tends to end here: the firm designed the Los Angeles City Health Building, the Mira Costa High School, a VA  hospital in Arizona, the Temple Israel of Hollywood, and several other mid- to high-profile projects in the LA basin. However, although the partnership looked successful from the outside, from the inside, it was obvious that it was flawed almost as soon as the papers were signed by the trio. Hayward and O’Connor in particular didn’t get along and the partnership was dissolved in 1957.[2]

The tension between Hayward and O’Connor probably had something to do with the fact that Hayward’s attention was always directed elsewhere. Specifically, he was more concerned with his delineating work for Scientific American than he was with the success of Lunden, Hayward & O’Connor. He had completed his first job for the magazine in 1948, illustrating George Beadle’s “The Genes of Men and Molds”. The quality of Hayward’s drawings pleased the magazine, the paycheck pleased Hayward. Although he worked on many projects throughout the rest of his career—collaborating with Linus Pauling, for instance—Hayward continued to draw for Scientific American until his health and vision failed him.

The burning question of the day: what happened to the lunar section Hayward and Gruenfeld built at Griffith Observatory? Many (mistaken) bloggers attribute the moon currently on display at the observatory to the hand of Hayward, but that’s a much more recently produced object and at any rate, not a section model, but a smallish moon (there’s no way Hayward could perch on top of it and sculpt the Mare Imbrium region). According to a comment that appears to have been written by someone associated with Griffith Observatory, the Crater Lake and Meteor Crater models are in storage.[3] But where’s the lunar section? Contacting the observatory is on my list of things to do, but in two days, I’m moving halfway across the country, so that list is going to have to wait awhile. If you know, drop me an e-mail and I’ll update this with the information.

ETA: Here’s a link to a few construction photos of Griffith Observatory and Planetarium. You’re welcome.


Most of the information included here about Roger Hayward comes from on material held in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries. See Roger Hayward: Renaissance Man for a glimpse into the archive.

[1] “An Observatory for the Public,” The Literary Digest (April 20, 1935): 28.

[2] Ben H. O’Connor, “Letter from Ben H. O’Connor to Samuel E. Lunden and Roger Hayward, 1957,” in Special Collections, Item #2356,  (accessed August 29, 2012).

[3] See “Comment on Kevin Kidney: Mr. Hayward’s Moon Model.”

Griffith Observatory

27 02 2012

Griffith Observatory, February 25, 2012. Photo credit: JR

“The Griffith Observatory is not a highly technical or scientific institution. In other words, it is designed to appeal to the masses, and in operating the Observatory we shall strive to maintain the popular appeal and make it interesting and instructive, while the seientist and the student of research will also be fascinated by the opportunities offered.”

So said Mrs. Mabel V. Socha, President of the Board of Park Commissioners, Los Angeles, California, in her Address at the Formal Opening of the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium, May 14, 1935. Perched on the south side of Mount Hollywood, overlooking the light-polluted flats of the Los Angeles basin, Griffith Observatory is poorly situated for observational astronomy. It’s perfectly situated, however, for its intended function: educating and entertaining the masses. Easily accessible by car and almost as easily accessible by footpath, the observatory is open to the public five days a week, free of charge. FREE OF CHARGE.

Almost there. Photo credit: JR

Griffith is a model institution in terms of public outreach and astronomical education. Since its opening—courtesy of Colonel Griffith J. Griffith’s money and vision—the building has been anchored by a few key exhibits and instruments. Just inside the main entrance stands a Foucault Pendulum. Even as the building opened, however, its advocates must have realized that the pendulum would often take a back seat to its surroundings, as the ceilings and walls of the entrance rotunda are alive with color thanks to the murals of Hugo Ballin. As Mrs. Socha noted, “When you enter the foyer of the building your eyes behold the beautiful muraIs painted on the walls and ceiling by Mr. Hugo Ballin. The subjects chosen for his panels are very appropriate for this observatory and display the artistic ability of this famous artist. The coloring in the pictures and the perfect execution of the subject will excite your admiration and cause you to linger and absorb the beauty of these works of art.” The ceiling depicts Classical celestial mythology, while the wall panels celebrate the “Advancement of Science” with representations of astronomy, aeronautics, navigation, civil engineering, metallurgy and electricity, time, geology and biology, and mathematics and physics.

Hugo Ballin Murals, Griffith Observatory. Photo credit: JR

Also on the main floor, in the west rotunda of the Ahmanson Hall of the Sky, is a coelostat configured so its three mirrors feed separate solar telescopes.* When the sky is clear (it was mostly smoggy when I was there, the coelostat dome only opened after I started my hike below the observatory), visitors can study different aspects of the Sun through indirect observation. I super loved the Hall of the Eye, both for its exhibits on Observing in California and its Tesla Coil (who doesn’t love a good Tesla Coil?). There are more exhibits on the lower floor, including a 38-foot-diameter model of the moon and a fascinating section on meteorites in the California landscape. And of course, there’s the observatory’s central feature, the Samuel Oschin Planetarium.

Open west dome with coelostat (left); Planetarium dome (right). Photo credit: JR

The best thing about Griffith Observatory has to be its public astronomy program, though. For daytime observing, there’s the coelostat. For nighttime observing, there’s the 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope. That’s a good size for public viewing—even with LA’s light pollution, visitors can see the moon, planets and the brighter Messier objects. My own experience tells me that people who seldom look at the sky are completely blown away by the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, so you don’t need a huge telescope to give them a good show. The bigger the telescope the more time it takes to move around and refocus, anyway. The Zeiss was well worth $14,900 the Griffith Trust spent on it.

To Telescope. Photo credit: JR

The building itself owes a debt to the Beaux Arts; its floor plan and elevations are as symmetrical and formal as could possibly be. The original design called for more of a Mission flair, but the plans for terra cotta ornament were abandoned after the Long Beach earthquake in 1933. The observatory structure was shored up, its concrete walls thickened, and the ornamental program changed to something more in the spirit of the nearby Greek Theatre (also funded by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith). The building went under a major renovation in 2002 and is now a blinding white even on the smoggiest of days.

Greek meander. Photo credit: JR

I’ve uploaded a few more photos to my flickr site.


*The dome and instrument extend above the main floor, but the viewing points are in the Hall of the Sky.

Julius Shulman

24 02 2012

Julius Shulman, Looking Over Griffith Observatory and Los Angeles From Mount Hollywood, 1936.

My students don’t know it, but they’re going to be watching Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman while I’m out of town. It’s a fantastic film about Shulman’s architectural photography, with really clever transitions and sharp cinematography (I honestly don’t think the trailer does the documentary justice). I’m hoping that I’ll get to see some of Shulman’s photography at the In Focus: Los Angeles 1945-1980 exhibit at the Getty Center this weekend. I love all of his work, but I especially love this photo of Griffith Observatory. It perfectly captures the essence of Modern space in Los Angeles—hills and horizon, light and linearity.

Wallpaper Wednesday

22 02 2012

Los Angeles viewed from Griffith Observatory

By the time this post hits the Internet, I’ll be on my way to Los Angeles. Although I was in LA relatively recently, I haven’t been up to Griffith Observatory since 1991 or 1992. I think it’s time for a return trip. Look for new photos some time next week.

Click on the image to reach the wallpaper download page.