Save Yerkes!
September 14, 2005 10:15 AM   Subscribe

The Yerkes Observatory owned and operated by the University of Chicago, and home to the world's largest refracting telescope, is in danger of being sold to a real estate developer. Find out what is being done to save this national treasure and how you can help.
posted by achmorrison (9 comments total)
It's too old to be of any use for modern research and it is too far away to serve as a teaching instrument.

If I was on the board of governors I would have pushed for getting rid of it eons ago. If someone wants to manage it for historical purposes, let them buy it.
posted by Qubit at 10:22 AM on September 14, 2005

Well if they just Kelo the damned thing then no one can do anything about it.
posted by MrLint at 10:24 AM on September 14, 2005

I'm a huge fan of astronomy, but there are many institutions like this who have been overrun by city lights and whose instruments are no longer state-of-the art research instruments. I would hate to see it torn down, but I would think that part of what makes the property valuable to a developer is the aesthetic appeal of the building and observatory. I really doubt it would be torn down, and imagine that it has become a bit of a white elephant to its parent institution.

Like the historic Sydney Observatory, it would best be used as a museum and for educational activities for the public.
posted by spock at 10:42 AM on September 14, 2005

Wasn't the Observatory a gift built by Charles Tyson Yerkes? The same who built Chicago's EL trains and who was kinda regarded as a swindler? I remember the answer to that being a yes, and I also remember that he had an awesome moustache.
posted by mrs.pants at 12:07 PM on September 14, 2005

Having done my time at the UofC as a student and then as a staff member, I'm disappointed to see the University of Chicago being so careless with our nation's history. There's nothing that says it needs to be kept in use or even kept by the UofC but care should be taken in just whom it is sold to. It deserves landmark status and preservation, IMNTBHO.

Really, though, this is just a continuation of a lack of concern for the greater community on the part of the University of Chicago. Dig a bit and you'll find many examples of the UofC's disregard for the communities its land holdings (including campus) are located in, except inasmuch as their land value or security are concerned.
posted by incongruity at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2005

I think the point of the preservation is for education, outreach, historical purposes and for preservation of the architecture, which having only seen the pictures, I find to be quite striking. As for "far away", it's centrally located in the middle of the continent. Closer to most places than Hawaii or Chile.

UofC was offered 10 million for the place, which is pennies to a place with a 3.6 BILLION dollar endowment. To me, it's a symptom of our country's declining interest in science in technology. Which is a shame.
posted by achmorrison at 2:03 PM on September 14, 2005

The 36 inch refractor at Lick Observatory, overlooking the
now quite bright San Jose, CA, is right now doing modern
posted by the Real Dan at 4:05 PM on September 14, 2005

That's really horrible. My mother lives in Lake Geneva, and since I studied physics, she arranged for me to take a tour there, once.

The technology of the telescope may be outdated, but the history of that observatory is priceless. If you look at the list of some of the folks who did work there, it's full of Nobel Prize winners like Albert Einstein and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, along with many other influencial astronomers from the early 20th century.

It was a wonderful feeling to look at the sky through that eyepiece and know that on that same spot a young Einstein did the same.

Thanks for this, achmorrison. I'm definitely going to do my part to help.
posted by Gamblor at 9:29 AM on September 15, 2005

You're welcome, and thank you for your comment. I too believe the history is priceless for the reasons you give.
posted by achmorrison at 4:27 PM on September 15, 2005

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