AKA: Mt. Wilson Snow Telescope, Mt. Wilson, CA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: Burnham, Daniel H. and Company (firm); Hunt and Grey, Architects (firm); Daniel Hudson Burnham (architect); Elmer Grey (architect); Myron Hubbard Hunt (architect)

Dates: constructed 1904

Red Box-Mount Wilson Road
Mount Wilson, CA 91023

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Mount Wilson Road off Angeles Crest Highway;


Located near the peak of 5,712-foot Mount Wilson, plans for the Mount Wilson Observatory complex began in 1904. Famed University of Chicago solar astronomer George Ellery Hale (1868-1938), a key organizer of the Yerkes, Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, first visited the Mount Wilson site on 06/25/1903, and became enamoured about its possibilities as a telescope location. A very focused individual, Hale contacted the Carnegie Institution of Washington to provide funding. Architects Daniel H. Burnham of Chicago and Hunt and Grey of Pasadena were engaged to provide plans for buildings to shelter the equipment and scientists in 1904. Over 92 years, seven astronomical instruments were erected at the Mount Wilson site, including the Snow Telescope (1904), the 60-foot Solar Tower Telescope (1908), 60-inch Hale Telescope (1908), the 150-foot Solar Tower Telescope (1912), Hooker 100-inch Telescope (1917), the two, 65-inch, trailer-based telescopes comprising the University of California Berkeley's Infrared Spatial Interferometer (1988), the six, 40-inch telescopes configured in a Y-shape comprising Georgia State University's Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) Array (1996).

attracted the funding from Carnegie to erect a 60-inch (1.524 m.) telescope--known as the "Hale Telescope"-- that became operational by 1908. In 1910, a 150-foot-tall telescope was set up nearby, and by 1917, the 100-inch (2.54 m.) Hooker Telescope was completed. The Hooker instrument remained the world's largest optical reflecting telescope until the completion of the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar in 1948.

Building History

Plans for the construction of an earlier telescope on neighboring Mount Harvard had begun in the early 1890s. President Charles William Eliot assembled a small group to finance the construction of a Mt. Harvard telescope in 1892, although the death of one of his subscribers scuttled the effort. It wasn't until Hale's rediscovery of the region's potential to house telescopes that activity could begin. Hale had remarkable determination to see projects through to completion and the connections to finance them.

On 07/03/1904, the Los Angeles Times reported that Pasadena architects Hunt and Grey were at work designing the "minor buildings" of the Mount Wilson Observatory complex. At this time, the paper wrote: "Architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey have under way the first of the minor buildings in connection with the new observatory which has just been established on the peak of Mt. Wilson, and are getting out drawings for the 300-foot telescope house. The foundations for the instruments themselves are now being set. George E. Hale, the professor of astronomy of the University of Chicago and the head of the Yerkes Observatory, has the work under his care. The observatory itself is a joint enterprise of the Carnegie Institute and the University of Chicago. It is reported that a ninety-nine-year lease on thirty acres, covering the five principal crests of Mt. Wilson, has been secured from the owners of the property. (See "By Builders and Architects Observatory Buildings," Los Angeles Times, 07/03/1904, p. D2.)

Building Notes

The Mount Wilson Snow Telescope was one of D.H. Burnham's last designs, finished posthumously.

In 08-09/2009, a huge fire in the Angeles National Forest threatened the buildings of the Mount Wilson Observatory research complex as well as the television, radio and cellphone transmission towers located there. By 09/01/2009, 164 square acres had been charred, including 53 houses, many of which were weekend cabins.

PCAD id: 3667