Monday, October 30, 2006

Galactic Gala at Griffith Observatory

L.A.: Luminaries mark attraction's reopening this Friday.

Stars gazed upon stars Sunday at a Galactic Gala at Griffith Observatory to honor this week's re-opening of Los Angeles' No. 1 landmark.

Hollywood stars, city officials and supporters of the $93 million makeover sailed across a heavenly blue carpet to hail the observatory's Friday public launch.

"We've been waiting five years and are really excited to be here tonight," said Leonard Nimoy, who played "Spock" on the epic "Star Trek" series and who has donated $1 million toward a 200-seat theater built in his name.

VIPs - from Buzz Aldrin, the second human to set foot on the Moon, to actress Angela Bassett - were awed by the observatory that shone atop Mt. Hollywood.

Built in 1935 as a gift to Los Angeles by Griffith J. Griffith, the art deco observatory has become one of the city's most cherished icons.

Now, after four years of meticulous restoration, what has been dubbed "the hood ornament of Los Angeles" will re-open its doors to the public on Friday.

"To all the people of Los Angeles: One of the greatest buildings in the world is coming online," said Councilman Tom LaBonge, an observatory booster. "This is the greatest spot in the whole universe."

Outside, the historic observatory gleamed in ivory, its bronze solar and planetary telescopes guarding its green rotunda and copper planetarium dome.

A terrace now surrounds the movie icon and home to 2 million visitors a year, for the best views of Los Angeles. An outdoor transit marks the seasonal path of the sun.

Inside, the 40,000-square-foot observatory is now twice its former size with a new planetarium, theater, cafe, classroom, bookstore and more than 60 exhibits.

But with less than 200 parking spaces and a crush of expected visitors, the observatory will allow no drive-in access in the first months after re-opening.

Instead, visitors must make advance timed reservations to shuttle up the hill for a fee. Hikers and cyclists can visit free with a 48-hour advance reservation.

At Sunday's gala, guests walked toward the bust of James Dean, with views of the Hollywood sign and a glorious sunset over the Pacific Ocean. The party, which was hosted by Friends of the Observatory and organized by the Los Angeles Sports Entertainment Commission, included such local celebrities as James Spader, Courtney B. Vance, Lucy Lawless, Art Linkletter and Stefanie Powers.

"I adore this place," said Powers, who visited the observatory as a child. "It has all the grace and elegance of the age in which it was constructed - it was the Golden Age of Hollywood."

But it was Aldrin who commanded the galactic celebration.

"We've been coming to the Griffith Observatory for 35 years" the astronaut said, gazing at the moon above the planetary dome. "This is the place to come for L.A. night life."

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