Trekking down in the dark, they got another jolt when they reached their cars — $45 tickets on their windshields, for parking past sunset. And it got worse: The lot was gated shut and padlocked, stranding their cars. The infuriated Immediato moved trash cans and drove off-road, between trees and other obstacles, to free her car. Her uncle ended up scraping his car on a fire hydrant.
“The observatory’s big telescope is open until 10 p.m.,” she says, “so I assumed I would be able to stay and appreciate all the observatory had to offer. I was really pissed off.”
Some people have bought shuttle tickets, joined weekend crowds numbering 5,000 to 6,000, and been shut out trying to get into the featured attraction — the planetarium show in a theater that holds about 400. Those tickets, $7 for adults, are sold only at the door, no reservations allowed.
One afternoon last week, a typical scene unfolded: Several visitors showed up at the L.A. Zoo shuttle stop after trying to drive to the observatory, only to be turned away. One was Hector Martinez, 20, of Mission Hills, accompanied by his friend Janet Vega. “Let me tell you, it sucks,” Martinez said, preparing to fork over $16 for the bus. “With gas prices this high, and tickets this high, it may be the last time I come.”
Nearby, a sign said, “GRIFFITH PARK SHUTTLE, Next Bus Departs at: ______.” Blank. The uncertainty sent people scurrying 150 yards to the ticket counter in 90-degree heat, lest they have to wait for another bus.
Disabled school teacher Sharon Smith hobbled toward the shuttle on a cane. “I feel it’s elitist,” she said of the restricted access to Griffith Observatory. “A lot of people can’t afford $8 to go five miles.”
She remembers driving to the planetarium with her ex-husband, a prominent artist. The mixed, kick-back crowds relaxing in the parking lot and on the lawns and broad stairways were part of a uniquely L.A. scene: street vendors, people buying snow cones, car clubs with their old Chevys. Now, Wolfgang Puck provides the eats. “The ambiance is gone,” Smith says.
A short time later, seven young friends drove up, part of a missionary group called Hope for Homeless Youth. They had been rebuffed by roadway guards and now got the bad news that the shuttle would cost the bunch of them $56. “Are you serious?” one said. “That’s crazy,” another moaned.
They voted unanimously for Plan B: “We’ll probably just go somewhere else,” said 21-year-old Crystal Hernandez. “We’ll just have to admire it from afar.” She had never been to the observatory. She laughed, but a moment later she and her friends trudged solemnly across the scorching zoo parking lot asphalt to the car.