Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Abandoned: Warner and Swasey Observatory

After fueling up at the Diner on 55th, and before roasting in the sun at the Rubber Bowl, JMP and I explored the Warner and Swasey Observatory in East Cleveland. The observatory was built by the owners of the Warner and Swasey instrument and telescope company, and given to Case University in 1919. The observatory originally had a 9.5 inch refractor and grew over the years to include a 24-inch telescope, library and lecture hall.

Light pollution from downtown Cleveland began to make observations difficult beginning in the 1950s, and a new facility was built 30 miles to the east. The observatory was officially abandoned in the 1980s, and plans to turn it into a residence fell through in the mid-2000s. There are a few boarded up windows and locked doors, but we actually just walked in through the back door, which was wide open.

Since the observatory has sat abandoned for so long, it's covered from top to bottom in graffiti. Most of it is run-of-the-mill, unimaginative penis drawings and swear words, but there were a few phrases that made me laugh, like "Long Live Bob Ross + Happy Trees," and the people that amended "You Will Die" with "probably" and "might."

The main observatory, despite missing a few dome panels, was such a thrill to see. I'd seen photographs of this building many times, but nothing prepared me for how cool it was to actually stand inside of the large rotunda. It must have been really extraordinary to observe the heavens from here in the early 1900s, and even though thinking about space really freaks me out, I would love to have seen the observatory in its heyday.

One of the main thoughts I left with was how large the observatory seemed from the inside vs. my expectations. It seemed as if we kept going through hallway after hallway and finding room after room. The auditorium was a last minute, A+ find, although it was so dark that we had to use flashlights just to barely make out the lecture hall. We found a classroom with a chalkboard still hanging, and some rooms with somewhat new construction suggesting plans that never fully materialized.

We almost missed the smaller observatory, but I'm so glad we stumbled on it before we left. Of course I wish that we had been able to see the observatory as it was originally, or at least not covered in layers and layers of average graffiti, but it's kind of a miracle that it's still standing at all after so many years of neglect.


  1. Ugh. That place really went down hill quick. When I first started reading your post, and it was just exterior shots I was like "Oh no, I hope she got in! I should have told her about the window we went in!" then you said it was wide open and that's quite obviously judging by all the crappy graffiti.

    That aside, it really is an awesome place isn't it!? Each time I'm in there it blows my mind just how big it really is. It's my "If I had a million dollars..." building. I would LOVE to live there.

    1. We were totally doing that thing where you're super nervous you're going to be seen and looking for anyway in, when we saw the back door hanging wide open - haha. And yes, the graffiti is a bummer but the building is SO cool that it's still worth a visit. What an insane house it would be!