When the first visitors walk through the renovated Griffith Observatory next month, they will see more of a corporate presence at the iconic hilltop structure owned by the City of Los Angeles.
From the Boeing Co. Education Center to the Wolfgang Puck Caf & #233; at the End of the Universe, corporation logos appear alongside the typical foundation names in the expanded observatory exhibition halls, with more to come.
What's more, corporations also put up a significant portion of the $26 million in private sector contributions towards the $93 million total cost of the project. This is a departure from the historical model for the observatory, which was deeded to the city as a completely public entity by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith.
"What's so special about this renovation and expansion is the extraordinary public-private partnerships that have emerged," said L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the Griffith Park area.
Of course, publicly-owned and run science museums and institutions in recent years have increasingly tapped corporations and other private sector entities for funds. The California Science Center at Exposition Park has the Disney Science Court while the nearby Natural History Museum at Exposition Park has the Times Mirror Hall of Native American Cultures, just to name a couple.
But the Griffith Observatory hasn't had the need to tap the private sector until now, for the simple reason that from the time it first opened its doors in 1935 until it closed in Jan. 2002, it hadn't undergone a major renovation or expansion. It was in preparation for this first major renovation that the Friends of the Observatory was organized in the late 1980s specifically to pursue private sector funds.
"This was an unprecedented cooperation between the public and private sectors," said Ed Krupp, director of the observatory.
Krupp noted that the observatories and planetariums in both Chicago and New York are not municipally-owned and operated, so that private sector participation there has a much longer tradition.
For this effort, Friends of the Observatory secured cash and in-kind contributions from such corporate giants as Toyota Motor Sales USA (for the East Telescope Dome) and Northrop Grumman Corp., and from other corporations like Towers Perrin, Prudential John Aaroe Realty Associates.
At the request of the donors, Observatory officials have declined to publicize the amount of the gifts, save one: financier H.F. Ahmanson's $4.5 million donation, which was the single largest contribution towards the renovation effort.
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