Autopsy of Architecture

Stories Behind the Nation's Historic Buildings & Structures

Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio

Warner and Swasey Observatory

Education
Locations
Ohio
The observatory on the right was dedicated in 1941 and housed the Burrell Schmidt, c. 1941

This abandoned observatory was built in the early 20th century by Worchester R. Warner and Ambrose Swasey, owners of Warner & Swasey Company, a manufacturer of machine tools, precision instruments, and special machinery such as telescopes. They became trustees of the Case School of Applied Science, later renamed to Case Institute of Technology, and built an observatory for the school in 1919, located in East Cleveland four miles east of the university campus. The observatory originally housed a 9.5-inch refractor, and in subsequent years the observatory grew to house several more telescopes and instruments, such as the 24-inch Burrell Schmidt telescope, as well as an astronomical library and public lecture hall.

Observers using the Warner and Swasey Observatory have made important contributions to astronomical research. The observatory’s then-director, Jason Nassau, worked on the classification of carbon stars and M-type stars in 1949. By the 1950s, it became apparent that light pollution from Cleveland was making it impossible to conduct research at the East Cleveland facility, so a new site was constructed 30 miles to the east in Geauga County, known today as the Nassau Station, and the Burrell Schmidt telescope was moved to this location. In exchange, a new 36-inch telescope was installed at the East Cleveland location.

In 1978, the Astronomy Department of Case Western Reserve University made a deal with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy to build a new observatory at Kitt Peak National Observatory to house the Burrell Schmidt. In May 1979, the Burrell Schmidt telescope was moved from the Nassau Station in Ohio to Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, and in 1980 the 36-inch reflector at the Warner And Swasey Observatory in East Cleveland was moved to the Nassau Station. As a result, no further astronomical research was conducted in East Cleveland and all resources were moved to the main campus of Case Western Reserve University in 1982. The 9.5-inch refractor was later reinstalled in a new dome on the roof of the A.W. Smith building and remains in excellent condition today.

As for the old Warner and Swasey Observatory, it was sold in 1983, abandoned, and laid vacant for decades until 2005 when it was sold to real estate mogul Nayyir Al Mahdi who planned on converting the building into a residence. The plans were stalled indefinitely when Mahdi was convicted of mortgage fraud, among other charges, and sent to prison in 2007.

  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
  • Photo © 2019 David Bulit, Warner and Swasey Observatory - Cleveland, Ohio
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