50 grand designs: the griffith park observatory, 50 pictomat essays
August 28, 2010, 10:17 am
Filed under: 50 grand designs, 50 pictomat essays

the griffith park observatory, built 1935. archects: john c. austin and russell w. porter

not a trip is made to this city without a ritualistic and almost sacred walk to the griffith park observatory. it sits majestic, simple and sublime atop the hollywood hills, and keeps a watchful eye over this city of fallen angeles. built in 1935, it is celebrating 75 years of showing the heavens to the stars and lesser mortals. remodeled, but somehow keeping its quaintness behind a facade that is some crazy mixture that a hollywood set director could have created. neoclassic, and deco-moderne, its colorful marble floors and w.p.a. style murals still intact, it remains one of only a few buildings not subject to los angeles' continual reinvention of itself. its alcoves, like alters in a gothic cathedral, are dedicated to the earth's moon, its sun, its elemental building blocks. the same tesla coil machine that thrilled us as a child still emits its lightning bolts of electricity to the steel cage that it is encased.

once, many years ago, we got to push the button to release that clatter of white heat, now it is done on a schedule. tesla is dead, this rare relic, old and prone to shorting out, and the people with the knowledge to keep this chancy machine jolting like something from james whale's classic "the bride of frankenstein" are a rare lot. we feel little tingles of energy on the hairs on ours arms, every time a thunder of lightning is loosed, just as we did 40 years ago. what a blessed relic, this little lighthouse to the heavens. we exit precisely at dusk, where we still hear lucinda williams sing about her "red suns" and watch tonight's red sun sink into the hills above the ocean covered in haze at malibu.

we walk down the mountains, the Hollywood sign above us, the front doors of the observatory behind us, where sal minio was gunned down by the cops while james dean and natalie wood stand helplessly at the end of "rebel without a cause". further down the hill we pass all the elderly california girls, who are hopelessly tan, and sluttishly dressed. they still "just wanna have fun" and are filing into the once famous outdoor venue in griffith park, the greek theater, that now feels more like an indian gambling casino. the distinctive voice of the new yorker, cyndi lauper, though muffled in its little canyon, urges those california girls to do what they have always done, but to "keep having fun" seems redundant. it has been decades since brian wilson and his brothers started writing songs about those girl and their cars. oh, l.a. you city of too tanned bodies and too many cars.

we remembered, as we hopped up the stairs, almost back to our l.a. home, a father talking to his son at a display in the observatory, as the son alternately hit buttons that lit up elements that were present in humans and then stars. "see" his dad said, "you are made up of carbon, just like a star." we finished up the last few steps as joni mitchell filled our head again ... "you are stardust, you are golden, you are million year old carbon, you are caught in the devil's bargain, and you've got to get yourself back to the garden." it seems as if it was some ancient poem now. pop songs are no longer written like prayers today.

[our pictomat font is malfunctioning on non-apple products. excuse our inconsistency.]


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my dear, you are waxing eloquent! what a lovely post; what a lovely, sentimental view of los angeles you offer. thank you for sharing this jewel, this bijou with us.


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