observatory building

Amateur astronomer Noble Asa Richardson wanted an Observatory at San Bernardino Valley College. The first president of the San Bernardino Valley College’s Board of Trustees realized that dream when the Observatory was completed in fall 1930.  Richardson lived long enough to see the Observatory’s popular use before he died suddenly in May 1931.

In the fall of 1932, this building, which cost a total of $3,130 (including the sum of $1,091 for the metal dome), was christened the N.A. Richardson Observatory.

SBVC Planetarium specialist Chris Clarke authored a book titled “A History of the N.A. Richardson Observatory” which is available in the SBVC Library. The book includes a comprehensive look at the facility—including his involvement with the facility since 1978.

In the spring of 1930, the college acquired a used 16-inch Newtonian telescope from an amateur astronomer in Chicago for $350.  The Newtonian is a reflecting telescope invented by scientist Sir Isaac Newton in 1668.

In 1931, a local amateur astronomer, H. Page Bailey, re-designed the original telescope into a Newtonian-Cassegrain on a split-ring horseshoe mount.

It was the largest telescope at a junior college during the early 1930s. The telescope even caught the attention of members from California Institute of Technology, who visited SBVC as they were planning for what would become a 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory in San Diego County.

Four Astronomy courses were offered at SBVC during the 1930-31 academic year and famed astronomer Dr. Edwin Hubble gave a lecture on the campus in 1931.  The observatory also offered star-gazing on Monday evenings for the public and students.

SBVC’s Observatory remained open for 20 years until interest waned and light pollution in the area increased, limiting its use. The telescope also was vandalized in the mid-1950s, so it was removed from the Observatory.

By the mid-1970s, the telescope returned to the dome for student and public viewing. In the late 1980s, Robert Wilson, head of the Physics and Astronomy Department, spent approximately $30,000 on upgrades, including a new stairwell, heating and air conditioning, and tables. The Observatory re-opened in spring 1990, closed again in 1998, then re-opened in the fall of 2005, with the telescope again available for viewing the night sky.

Over the years, the college has used the downstairs portion of the Observatory for offices for the Recreation Department, Disabled Student Services and College Police.  Since 2012, the first floor of the Observatory has housed a science museum featuring a collection of vintage scientific equipment.

Clarke said that he is available to take visitors to the Observatory to see the museum and the telescope inside the oldest building on the SBVC campus. (Map to location on campus).