Re-open after 20 years. You can only see it on the new Excavator Tour, which is free with La Brea Tar Pits Museum admission!
Starting March 2, explore the Observation Pit with your students! To experience this special exhibit as part of your school visit, just ask for the Observation Pit when you fill out your visit request form.
Architect Harry Sims Bent began his career with the firm Bertram Goodhue and worked on L.A. Central Library, various buildings at Caltech, and received praise for his aesthetically sensitive work in Hawaii (Honolulu Academy of Arts, Ala Moana Beach Park, Univ. of Hawaii). Bent settled stateside in Pasadena following WWII, partnered with Millard Sheets, and worked on some interesting county projects which included the L.A. County Arboretum and the restoration of the Reid Adobe and Baldwin Cottage. He was hired to design the Observation Pit, which opened to the public in 1952.
In the original design for the Observation Pit, the upper section of the south-facing portion of the circular wall was open to the outside, and the skylights (the fixtures themselves) didn't exist, although the circular openings were present. Because of vandalism to the fossils, panels with drawings and text replaced the windows; and skylights were affixed. Although staged (a la 1950s interpretation), the Observation Pit contains mostly real bones, including those of saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, and dire wolves.
It was the only museum in the area in the '50s, and certainly the only fossil museum in the park until 1977, when the George C. Page Museum (now the La Brea Tar Pits Museum) opened. Our archives contain correspondence between paleontologist Chester Stock, Bent, County officials and engineers, and landscape architects including R. D. Cornell and even the then-aging (now iconic) horticulturalist Theodore Payne, who advocated lush, woodsy Pleistocene grounds. All had different ideas about what the parks should be.
The Observation Pit remained open, but stopped being staffed in the mid-1990s -- programming and tours centered around the Page Museum and Pit 91, primarily because the interpretation of the science had shifted from a staged setting in the 1950s to linking the visitor experience in situ with real time discoveries of Pit 91 and the Fossil Lab inside the museum. This year, in an effort to activate an indoor/outdoor circuit (through the park and into the museum), we're re-staffing Pit 91 with excavators, after hiatus due to demands of Project 23, once again for the summer season and we are re-opening the Observation Pit as a stop on the daily "Excavator Tour" -- representing our cultural and scientific past, present and future.
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