Lick Observatory Interior Roof Photograph by Ginger Stein


This is an image of the interior domed ceiling of the historic observatory building. Lick Observatory is the world’s first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory. The observatory, was constructed between 1876 and 1887, from a bequest from James Lick of $700,000 (approximately $22 million in 2014 dollars). Lick, originally a carpenter and piano maker, chose the site atop Mount Hamilton and was buried there in 1887 under the future site of the telescope, with a brass tablet bearing the inscription, “Here lies the body of James Lick”.

Lick additionally requested that Santa Clara County construct a “first-class road” to the summit, completed in 1876. All of the construction materials had to be brought to the site by horse and mule-drawn wagons, which could not negotiate a steep grade. To keep the grade below 6.5%, the road had to take a very winding and sinuous path, which the modern-day road still follows. Tradition maintains that this road has exactly 365 turns. The full story of Lick’s life, the logistics of getting the huge telescope up the mountain side, the many discoveries made by the astronomers who utilized this observatory are fascinating and worth exploring. The site includes several modern observatory buildings where ongoing astronomical research is supported by the University of California system. In August 2020, the entire complex was under major threat from the southern California SCU Lightning Complex Fires..

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