Rediscovering Griffith Observatory in the Whittington Collection

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/12/13

As part of a NEH-funded project, the USC Libraries are digitizing nearly 40,000 negatives from the "Dick" Whittington Collection. Many of these negatives are at-risk, so this project restores a portion of the vanishing visual record of Los Angeles during the 1920s and 1930s.

Metadata cataloger Gordon Spates has been responsible for reviewing the digitized images from the Whittington Collection with a team of USC students. Using information recorded by photographers from the "Dick" Whittington studio, Spates and the team labeled the images so they can be found easily in the USC Digital Library. Through the project, Spates saw many familiar L.A. landmarks in a new and unfamiliar light.

Griffith Observatory under construction in 1934

Among Spates' favorites were early photographs of Griffith Observatory under construction in 1933 and 1934. “I particularly enjoy this group of photographs of the construction of Griffith Observatory," said Spates. "It combines the history of the building's construction with the iconography of a famous landmark and the views of the Los Angeles basin beyond the construction site."

Identifying the images required a little informed guesswork. "Something else I love about these photographs is the discovery process," said Spates. "Some of the first images were nondescript construction photos that were not labeled very clearly....It wasn’t until we saw the fourth picture that we recognized the bare bones of a Griffith Observatory dome. All of a sudden, everything clicked into place, and I began to see these images as a time lapse sequence of the construction of one of Los Angeles’ most iconic landmarks. It’s these types of discoveries that have made working with this collection so fascinating."
You can view more images from the Whittington Collection on the USC Digital Library, including early photographs of Chinatown and other locations in downtown Los Angeles.
The Griffith Observatory construction site in 1933

The view from the future site of Griffith Observatory in 1933

The 1933 negative that led Spates to believe he was looking at scaffolding for a dome of Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory's iconic dome taking shape in 1934

A rare color photograph of the observatory from the Whittington collection

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