Original Chabot Observatory, known then as the Oakland Observatory, Lafayette Square.

The original building was erected in 1883, under the direction of Hon. J. C. Gilson, who was Superintendent of Schools at the time, and Hon. Wm. H. Jordan, member of the Board of Education, and it was due to the influence of these gentlemen that Mr. Chabot was induced to build and equip the Observatory, and the school children of Oakland will always owe them a debt of gratitude.
Excerpt form Charles Burckhalter's article in 1894 Astronomical Society of the Pacific Journal titled

A beautiful example of '2nd Empire Baroque' architecture.

Chabot Observatory, Lafayette Sq., Oakland CA
Front entrance on 10th Street - note that the landscaping has not yet been completed.
Corner of of 10th Street (left) and Jefferson Street - the landscaping seems to be completed.

                Observatory, Lafayette Square

Chabot Observatory, Lafayette Square
Completed landscaping - sign probably reads 'keep off the grass."
Back side of observatory seen from corner of 11th Street (left) and Grove Street.

Burckhalter with young student, Chabot Observatory
Charles Burckhalter with grade-school student Margaret de Lacy at the eyepiece of the 8 inch telescope - date unknown
photo courtesy Ben Burress, Chabot Observatory archive

Chabot Observatory was rebuilt at the same location in May of 1892.

Chabot Observatory, 2nd building
The former building consisted essentially of a transit room, reception room and the equatorial room (14 feet in diameter) at the top of the tower, and it was reached by 4 flights of zigzag stairs of 52 steps, the entrance being through a trap-door in the floor -- a most awkward arrangement.  Of the old building, the transit room remains as before, the reception room, 11 x 15, is now occupied as an office and library, and the remainder was torn away.

Upon the site of the old tower the new equatorial room, 20 x 20, has been erected, 15 feet lower than the former one, and, while not only larger and more accessible, the reduced elevation has cut out about 200 arc lights scattered for miles around from Berkeley to Alameda.  That these lights are a most serious evil from an astronomical point of view, it is only necessary to mention the fact that Professor Barnard, at the Lick Observatory, is compelled to close his window blinds to shut out the electric lights of San Jose, distant 13 mile in a straight line, when engaged upon faint comet work.

On the first floor, in addition to the office and transit room there is a reception room 20 x 20, the lecture room 20x30, vestibule 6 x 10, hat room, battery room, etc., while in the second story, besides the equatorial room there is a bed room, upper hall, and an exceedingly useful little workshop, where alterations and repairs and special apparatus are made.

Excerpt from "THE CHABOT OBSERVATORY", Burckhalter, ASP Journal, 1894
  The above photo is dated 1897.

Chabot Observatory, north side
This photo of the north side of the building shows the architectural mix of the original building done in 2nd Empire Baroque with arch roof and pointed arch windows, and the new construction to left done in Victorian Italianate style.  Photo courtesy Ben Burress, Chabot Observatory archive.

                Observatory, Lafayette Sq,. 2nd building
Oakland High School on 11th Street can be seen to right of the observatory.
This older photo, without the high school building which was
built in 1895, shows both domes open

The Observatory is situated in the middle of Lafayette Square, which is bounded by Tenth, Eleventh, Grove and Jefferson Streets.  The use of the square was donated by the city.  Its exact geographical position is Lat. 37 degrees 48 minutes 5 seconds north ; Long. 122 degrees 16 minutes 39.3 seconds west from Greenwich, or in time 8 hours 9 minutes 6.62 seconds west from Greenwich ; 3 hours 0 minutes 54.58 seconds west from Washington [DC], the longitude having been determined telegraphically by Professor George Davidson of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Assistant Burckhalter, in connection with Messrs. Marr and Sinclair, United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, the latter gentlemen exchanging signals from the Davidson Observatory, San Francisco.

Excerpt from "THE CHABOT OBSERVATORY", Burckhalter, ASP Journal, 1894

Charles Burckhalter at 8" telescope eyepiece, Lafayette Square observatory ~1911
Charles Burckhalter, Leah, Chabot
                Observatory, Lafayett Square
Charles Burckhalter viewing through the Alvan Clark 8" telescope.   This is a particularly exciting image because it shows the inside of the 8 inch telescope dome in the remodeled Chabot Observatory at Lafayette Square.  The date is unknown, but would  have to be on or after 1892 when the tower was removed, the equatorial room now on the second floor of the main building.  Photo courtesy Ben Burress, Chabot Observatory archive.

Phot of glass negative,
                Burckhalter and Leah
This is a photograph of the 5" x 7" glass dry plate negative credited to Eward Rogers and used to make the photograph above.  The negative is from the Oakland Tribune collection, which is now part of the Oakland Museum historic collection.  The text (below) on the envelope containing the glass negative, suggests this photograph was taken in 1911, as Burckhalter was put in charge of Chabot Observatory in 1886, the text indicating that he had been director of the observatory for 25 years.

Envelope reads, "Professor Charles Burckhalter (sic) at work on the telescope of the Chabot observatory, of which he has been in charge of the last twenty-five years, and which may be moved to avoid the strong lights of the city streets." Photo of the Professor looking into a large telescope (only part of shown). He is standing with one foot up resting on something on the floor.

Burckhalter, Brashear, Swasey,
                Chabot Observatory, Lafayette Square
Charles Burckhalter (Chabot Observatory Director), John Brashear (optician), and Ambrose Swasey (Warner & Swasey) at the front steps of Chabot Observatory, Lafayette Square - likely discussing the construction of the 20" telescope for the yet to be built Leona Heights (Mountain Blvd.) Chabot Observatory.  Date uncertain - very possibly 5 January 1889 as it is on record that Brashear visited Chabot on that date.   Photo courtesy Ben Burress, Chabot Observatory archive.

Chabot Observatory, 2nd building
This view from the corner of Jefferson Street (left) and 11th street shows that the building
also had a basement, the door leading down can be seen below the window at right.

Further expansion of Chabot Observatory in 1900

                Observatory, 2nd building
In 1900 the Grove Street end of the building was rebuilt and extended to include a large auditorium.  The
dome for the transit telescope was removed, the roof slit now cutting diagonally across the main building roof.

Chabot Observatory, 2nd building
The building front to rear, from Jefferson Street to Grove Street, ran roughly northwest.

The equipment of the Observatory is as follows:

An 8 inch equatorial telescope, with micrometer and spectroscope, by Alvan Clark & Sons.  The chronograph and the 4 1/8-inch  transit [telescope] were made by Fauth & Co., Washington.  The mean-time clock, also made by Fauth & Co., has a gravity escapement, with 60-pound pendulum, and break-circuit arrangement.  The siderial clock was made by E. Howard & Co.  The sidereal break-circuit chronometer was made by the Messrs. Negus of New York.

Correct time is furnished to the city twice daily, the mean-time clock automatically breaking an electrical circuit by which the bells in all the engine houses and the City Hall bell are rung every day at precisely 12 o'clock noon (3 strokes) and 9 P.M. (9 strokes), Pacific Standard time; the first stroke indicating 12 noon and 9 P.M.

Excerpt from "THE CHABOT OBSERVATORY", Burckhalter, ASP Journal, 1894

Charles Burckhalter's Private Observatory on Chester Street, Oakland
Charles Burckhalter's home
This is an amazing(!!) photo of Charles Burckhalter's private observatory at his residence at 962 Chester Street, Oakland.  The telescope is a 10 1/2 inch aperture Newtonian on a massive German equatorial mount, the entire instrument built by John Brashear and Company.  A splendid case of serendipity; Burkckhalter took delivery of his instrument on the same day that the 8 inch Alvan Clark and Sons refractor 'Leah' was delivered to Chabot Observatory.   Note the dress jacket covering the window or vent immediately behind the telescope.  A most luxurious amateur observatory.  Photo courtesy Ben Burress, Chabot Observatory archive.

Leona Heights, Rachel and Leah

Chabot Observatory, Leona Heights
Chabot Observatory, Leona Heights, Oakland CA   Early 1920s  Photo Chabot Observatory archive

The New Telescope for the Chabot Observatory. – The new telescope of 20-inch aperture for the Chabot Observatory is now in actual progress of building.

After the necessary legal advertising for bids, the offer of the Warner & Swasey company was accepted and the telescope ordered.  The optical parts are to be furnished by Brashear.  The objective is to be of Yena glass with a focal length of 28 feet, two finders, of 4 ½ and 3 inches, micrometer, sidereal dial, quick motion in R. A., coarse and fine graduation of the circles, driving clock wound by electric motor, full electric illumination of the circles, etc.
   The disks for the objective have already been ordered and the Warner & Swasey Company are at work on the mounting, which the Company will exhibit at the Panama Pacific Exposition.  It is expected that the objective will be furnished before the exposition closes, when the telescope will be taken to Oakland and installed in the new Observatory, which will be built the coming autumn, on a site several miles from the business part of the city, where the present observatory is located.



Published by Goodsell Observatory of Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA


Rachel, Warner
                & Swasey, Pan-Pacific Expo 1915
Rachel, Warner
                & Swasey, Pan-Pacific Expo 1915
Lithograph brochure by Warner & Swasey,
Rachel on display at Panama-Pacific International Exposition
  Circa 1915
Jim Ferreira Collection

Charles Burckhalter & Rachel, 20 inch refractor
Charles Burckhalter at the eyepiece of Rachel, Chabot Observatory.  Unknown ~1915-1923
Chabot Observatory archive

Ansel Adams' photo of Chabot 20" refractor
Ansel Adams photograph of Chabot's 20 inch refractor Rachel
Debra Medlock suggests late 1920s or early 1930s, as Adams was based out of Oakland at that time with Group f/64

Unless credited otherwise, the photos on this website are from the City of Oakland Historical Archive / Oakland Museum Collection
or, the Bancroft Library Collection, Berkeley

Chabot Observatory, Mountain Blvd.