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.
There could be a couple more corporations joining the roster.
"We still have two naming opportunities at the Observatory," said Camille Lombardo, executive director of Friends of the Observatory.
The naming rights are still open for the "Big Picture," the largest astronomical image ever displayed, which was assembled by California Institute of Technology astronomers from images taken by the giant telescope atop Mt. Palomar. That image takes up an entire wall of the major underground exhibition gallery.
Also open for naming: a gallery containing exhibits relating to the use of telescopes and other astronomical aids throughout history.
All this is in addition to the companies that actually performed the renovation construction work including Pfeiffer Partners Inc., Levin & Associates Architects and S.J. Amoroso Construction. or have supplied the new equipment or exhibition management.
Among this latter group are: C & G; Partners LLC (exhibition designers); Maltbie Inc. (exhibit general contractor); Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH (which supplied the star projector inside the Samuel Oschin Planetarium); Evans & Sutherland Computer Corp., (the digital laser projectors) and Spitz Inc. (the planetarium dome).
Meanwhile, corporations will have more of an opportunity to hold events at the observatory, starting next year. Such events were rarely held at the observatory before the renovation.
"We're going to start small, with things like corporate meetings inside the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theatre or cocktail receptions on the terrace," Lombardo said. "The key is the event must be small enough so that set-up and dismantling only takes a few hours, since those rooms must be ready for public visitors the next morning."
Since the observatory will be closed on Mondays, that day would be "prime time," for any kind of corporate event, she said, adding rental fee rates for these events have not yet been set.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.