LOS ANGELES - The landmark Griffith Observatory overlooking the city from atop the Hollywood Hills is about to re-emerge from a nearly five-year restoration and renovation.
The $93 million project has restored the once-peeling exterior of the triple-domed building to its original state, updated its exhibits and doubled floor space by adding an underground level.
"It was a world-class facility when it was opened in 1935 — it now is again in the 21st century," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a recent press conference announcing the observatory's Nov. 3 reopening date.
The observatory has provided a backdrop for many movies, hosted generations of school groups and drawn crowds of star-gazers for celestial events. It closed in January 2002 for repair of decades of wear and tear.
Designers also sought to modernize and expand the observatory and its exhibits without changing the way it looks from the outside. Work was also done on tile work, murals and other decorative flourishes in the building.
The Zeiss telescope in the eastern dome is the same instrument that the estate of the observatory's original benefactor, silver and real-estate magnate Griffith J. Griffith, bequeathed to the city some 70 years ago.
"More people have looked into that telescope than any other telescope in the world," observatory director E.C. Krupp said.
The solar telescope, or coelostat, in the western dome, meanwhile, funnels sunlight into the same vintage instruments that generations have used to safely view the sun's fiery surface up close.
The Foucault pendulum still swings in the center of the building beneath restored neoclassical murals by Hugo Ballin, and a bust of the late actor James Dean remains on the observatory's grounds, where part of "Rebel Without a Cause" was filmed.
But the observatory building, which was expanded by 40,000 square feet, also has plenty of new attractions. They include scale models of planets (including recently demoted Pluto) that hang in the bunker-like underground level, and exhibits on tides, optics, electricity and other natural phenomena line the corridors.
The projector that throws stars and planets onto the planetarium's domed ceiling has also been replaced with a newer model that can more accurately replicate the heavens.
The combination of old and new embodied in the renovated observatory continues Griffith J. Griffith's mission of helping people understand their place in the world through a knowledge in the stars, Krupp said.
"He said, 'If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world,'" Krupp said.
Some 7,000 people are expected to visit the observatory when it reopens next month. Visitors are required to make online reservations before visiting and must ride a shuttle bus between offsite parking lots and the observatory grounds.
___ If You Go...
GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY: Opening Nov. 3 in Los Angeles. Admission is by reserved, timed-entry tickets only. No drive-up access; guests arrive by shuttle bus.
or 888-695-0888 (8 a.m.-6 p.m., Pacific time). Beginning Oct. 30, reservations also may be made in-person at the Griffith Observatory Satellite (4800 Western Heritage Way, next to the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Griffith Park). Reservations fee: Adults, $8; children 5-12, $4; children 4 and under, free. Tours offered Tuesday-Friday, noon-10 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
GETTING THERE: Park your car at the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex in Hollywood and take a shuttle bus from Orange Court, the circular bus driveway on Orange Drive just north of Hollywood Boulevard, or park at the Griffith Observatory Satellite and take a bus from there. HIKERS AND BIKERS: A limited number of free, timed-entry reservations will become available 48 hours in advance for hikers and cyclists who want to visit the Observatory the next day.