LOS ANGELES — From rooftops, open fields, street corners and office windows, Angelenos turned their eyes to the sky Aug. 21 to catch a glimpse of the first solar eclipse visible in the United States since 1979.
At the Griffith Observatory, thousands of star-gazers waited hours to view the eclipse, even though Southern California was treated only to a partial blocking of the sun by the moon. Although the eclipse reached “totality” in a roughly 70-mile-wide path stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, the Southland saw only about 62 percent of the sun obscured.
But the celestial event still didn’t disappoint.
In West Los Angeles, dozens of people took a break from their work day and gathered on a parking garage roof to take in the spectacle, even though lingering clouds obscured the view.
Hundreds gathered at viewing parties across the Southland, most notably at the observatory, but also at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, city and county libraries, Caltech, UCLA, USC and the California Science Center.
The lawn in front of the Griffith Observatory was transformed into a sea of humanity in what became a massive sky-watching party.
“It’s surreal. It’s so bizarre,” West Los Angeles sky-gazer Gail Carter told City News Service. “I thought it would be darker to be honest, more of a cloudy feeling day.”
Fellow eclipse-watcher Jonathan Levy summed up the importance of catching the spectacle.
“It’s probably once in a lifetime,” he said.
In reality, another solar eclipse is expected to reach totality across some of the United States in April 2024. A less sun-blocking “Ring of Fire” eclipse is expected on Oct. 14, 2023, and is expected to be visible from parts of California.
“It’s such an uncommon event, that I wanted to experience it,” one sky-gazer said while holding two pieces of paper, one with a pinhole in it, outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters downtown.
One LAPD officer continued to warn people not to stare at the celestial event and damage their eyes — even if they do have eclipse glasses.
“I hope people don’t get hurt,” the officer said. “The light is stronger than you think. Why would you risk your million-dollar eyes on a $1.99 pair of glasses?”
The observation deck on the 27th floor of Los Angeles City Hall was a popular viewing post, as dozens of tourists and city workers jammed into the east side of the deck to get a view.
Sandra Shields of Palmdale was on a day trip to Los Angeles for sightseeing and said one of her friends suggested the observation deck, which is free and open to the public any time City Hall is open.
“A friend of ours, she had been here before and she was taking us around town and mentioned that there is an observation deck here at City Hall, so we decided why not. And since it’s eclipse day, we’ll always remember that,” Shields said.
Kevin Jew, who works for Project Restore with the Board of Public Works, came prepared and brought a few welding masks and shared them with anyone who needed a safe way to view the eclipse.
“I brought all the welding masks that I had at home, said Jew, who added that he was on a break from work.
Not all city workers were on a sanctioned break. One man with a city badge identified himself as Leon but did not want to state his last name or what department he works in because he was technically supposed to be working.
“I just wanted to witness history,” he said. “I don’t think any of us up here have ever seen this before, so I just wanted to get a quick glimpse,” he said.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, describing himself as a “nerd” for astronomy, said he watched it with another group outside the courthouse. He had his own sunglasses left over from the Transit of Venus in 2012 when the planet could be seen over the sun.
“It was awesome,” he said of the eclipse. “What’s funny is you see defense attorneys and prosecutors together, everybody suddenly human. No one at odds anymore.”
More than 1,000 students and staff members at Rio Hondo College in Whittier stared at the magnificence of the solar eclipse.
Dean of Mathematics and Sciences Vann Priest hosted the viewing. For more than two hours, students, staff and faculty crowded the school’s quad area to get a glimpse of the eclipse.
The college purchased 800 solar eclipse viewing classes — twice the number it originally ordered — that were scooped up by 9:30 a.m. Those who got the glasses shared them with dozens of people who did not. Others waited in line to view the event through astronomical binoculars or checked out the moon’s shadow via a pinhole projection.
“I thought 800 would be enough,” Priest said. “But we could have ordered another 400.”
When the eclipse reached its peak at 10:21 a.m. Rio Hondo College Observatory Director Christopher Soto urged viewing party attendees to put on their solar filter glasses.
“It was great to have so many students show an interest in the eclipse because we think it could stir up enduring interests in studying astronomy, the school’s observatory and for science in general,” Soto said. “It’s a huge boost on campus to see this many students get excited about science.”
During the event, Soto positioned an observatory telescope fitted with a special solar filter. Nearby, a kiosk provided information about the eclipse, including how eclipses work, where to see the eclipse throughout the U.S. and astronomy classes available at Rio Hondo.
Computer science major Chilong Zhou, 32, said a teacher dismissed class early to allow students time to see the eclipse at its pinnacle. Zhou was one of the hundreds of students who lined up to view the eclipse through the telescope.