Following a sharp drop in visitors over the last year, Griffith Observatory announced Friday that it was lifting an unpopular parking ban at the landmark tourist attraction.
Beginning today, visitors once again can drive to the observatory's hilltop parking area and jockey for position in the 200-space lot.
Good luck though. Before the observatory's five-year renovation and expansion project, caretakers counted more than 1.8 million visitors a year.
The change in policy comes after a 60% drop in attendance since the observatory reopened Nov. 2, 2006.
At the time, observatory directors worried that they would be overwhelmed by a crush of sightseers intent on visiting the attraction's new multimedia theater, Wolfgang Puck cafe and fresh array of permanent exhibits -- all elements of a $93-million refurbishment.
In order to reduce traffic, directors instituted a temporary parking ban at the summit. Visitors were required to park several miles downhill. To get to the summit, they had to make reservations for a shuttle ride, which cost $8 for an adult and $4 for a child or senior.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, November 09, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Observatory parking: An article in Saturday's California section about Griffith Observatory's lifting of its parking ban reported that limited weekend bus service to the observatory will begin Nov. 24 and originate at the Metro Red Line station on Vermont Avenue. There are four Red Line stations along Vermont Avenue. According to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the service will originate at the Vermont/Sunset station.
The ban worked all too well. Instead of nearly 2 million visitors over the last 12 months, only 650,000 people made the trek up the side of Mt. Hollywood.
The lifting of the parking ban marks a return to decades of tradition. "We had 67 years where the way people accessed the observatory was to drive to it," said deputy director Mark Pine.
He acknowledged, however, that the parking free-for-all is still less than ideal. For that reason, there now will be traffic officers. "Instead of letting people sit in unmoving lines of cars waiting to park, we will close access to the bottom part of the lot when it's full and make cars move through the park," Pine said.
Returning to the lot will be more complicated than going around the block: "You're on top of a hill and the roads are what they are," he said.
Friday's official announcement came only one day ahead of the change. "We didn't want a giant crush of people coming, because we do have limited space," Pine said. "We want to let people know, but I would hope everyone who wants to drive up would not choose to do so tomorrow."
City officials also didn't want visitors to wait out the shuttle in its final days, because the service was funded by the rider fees.
The operator said he would have been happy to continue the shuttle on weekends.
"During the week, it was very obvious parking would be sufficient," said Maurice Vanegas, head of Sun Valley-based Transit Systems. "Overall, we did make money, but not as much as we had hoped."
The other ways to get to the 1,134-foot elevation are walking, biking and hiking. The Boy Scout Road and Fern Dell trails are open. The Mt. Hollywood trail and some others are closed for fire restoration work. Limited weekend bus service will begin Nov. 24, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a traditionally busy weekend.
The bus will originate at the Metro Red Line station on Vermont Avenue and make several stops, Pine said.