Welcome to
Young's Photo Gallery

James W. Young, Professional Photographer

A Photographic History of Table Mountain Observatory


Part 2: Smithsonian Field Station Buildup at Table Mountain;
Solar and Astronomy Research Conducted - 1925-1962

By James W. Young
retired astronomer from Table Mountain Observatory

By the late fall of 1925, Table Mountain had the necessary buildings, equipment, instrumentation,
and staff to begin their full solar research programs for this newest field station.  Equipment from
Mt. Harquahala had been transported to Table Mountain, and Harquahala was phased out of the
active Smithsonian stations.

 This is a reconstructed drawing of the original Smithsonian building placement at Table Mountain. 
Drawings and site plans made by and after JPL acquired the site in 1962, were used to produce
this rendition of the exact position of these buildings, and additional renditions will show further
developments throughout Smithsonian's occupancy, all to the same scale.

Although not a part of Table Mountain, the 'Big Pines - L. A. County Camp' (also known as the 'Big
Pines Recreation Camp) was used in the 1920s and 30s by Smithsonian for supplies and the mail.
In fact, this area actually became the town of Swartout (later correctly spelled as Swarthout).
The Recreation camp and Swartout became a bustling business for skiers, tobogganers, and even
ice skaters in the winter, along with camping and outdoor recreational activities in the summer.
The road from Wrightwood to the Big Pines Recreation Camp. Unknown source.

View of Big Pines looking west. Unknown source.

The 'camp' snowplow clearing the parking area of fresh snow. Unknown source.

The dedication of the Davidson 'Arch' in 1926. LAPL

The Table Mountain Road where it joins the road junction at Big Pines. FF

Snowplayers and vehicles at Big Pines. Unknown source.

Parking at a premium; looking east from the bottom of the Table Mountain Road. LAPL

The 'playground' with the Table Mountain Road in the background. USC

The Table Mountain Raod up from Big Pines.  LAPL

The campground for summertime vacationeers. Unknown source.

The original sign at the Swart(h)out Post Office. RM

Most communications between the Table Mountain field station and Smithsonian in Washington DC
were done by mail, but there needed to be a faster method of reporting data back 'home'.  Soon,
negotiations were completed in 1926 for a telephone line to the recreations camp area; from the
camp to Wrightwood, down Lone Pine Canyon to Keenbrook, and on into San Bernardino.  Nearly all
of the following material (documents, drawings,  and pictures) came courtesy of the Smithsonian
Institute Archives (SIA), with those others credited accordingly.

    Communications between the field station and Washington DC soon became possible
   with this new line, at least from Swartout.  It wasn't until 1935 that an actual line was
made from the camp to Table Mountain itself.

We will now look at the history of the various buildings that Smithsonian utilized during their 36 year
occupany of Table Mountain.  The building construction dates, who built them, and where the building
materials came from was poorly documented at best.  From record inspections of the Arizona field
station at
Mt. Harquahala, only equipment was transported to Table Mountain.  It is very likely most
of the building materials came from local sources, and in some cases was used timber (when one of
the original Smithsonian buildings was torn down in the 1970s, several 'stud' pieces showed signs of
prior use, just as was found by current owners [ABM] of McClellan Flat buildings in 2010).

After the Jet Propulsion Laboratory acquired the site from Smithsonian in 1961, all then current and
future buildings were deginated by a simple number system; ie, 1-29, which is still in use today.  For
the sake of clarification throughout the remainder of this historical material, these numbers will be
used as necessary to distinguish individual buildings, especially since many transistions, modifications,
and removal of many took place after 1962.  This will aid the reader as the history continues into the
21st century.  Furthermore, these numbers were started in 1962 after the first 'JPL' building was
constructed, but extended to all buildings still standing on the site.  Therefore, understand that the
assigned numbers were/are NOT necessarily chronological in nature.

BUILDING 1 and 2 (see part 3)


During Smithsonian's tenure at Table Mountain, two different partial underground 'bunkers' were
constructed to house various solar related scientific instrumentation.  The 'underground' purpose
was to help control the daily temperature fluctuations on the instrumentation and their subsequent

The underground bunker, or tunnel enclosure, was designed after the successful use of them at
Montezuma and Harquahala.

The original 'bunker' hand drawing.  The following drawing was published in a Smithsonian report
found in the Smithsonian archives material.

This was the first of 2 bunkers built at Table Mountain; the second one was built in the early 1950s.
By placing the most temperature sensitive instruments inside the bunker, accurate measurements
could then be compared and calibrated to data obtained at other 'field' sites,  with similar setups.
However, methods of calibration proved to be extremely difficult, and it wasn't until Smithsonian
researchers found new methods to quantify their work that final results could be published.

The excavation for the first bunker, with R. F. McClellan (L. A. County Board of Supervisors) on the
left, and Alfred F. Moore of the Smithsonian Institute, taken in 1925.  Mr. Moore became the first
'field' director for this site.  LAPL

The new Table Mountain bunker (tunnel) setup in 1926. SIA

The bunker in wintertime. SIA

Researchers using the instruments at the bunker. SIA

Additional instrumentation at the first bunker.  SIA

The coelostat and a Smithsonian assistant and wife (presumed).  SIA

Instrumentation inside the bunker.  There was no description of what these items were. SIA

Two pyrheliometers on the right side, with a pyranometer in the center.  These instruments were
used to measure the solar irradiance (amount of radiation coming from the sun), or flux density, in
watts/meter2. The pyrheliometer made direct measurements, whereas the pyranometer made
indirect (180O field of view) measurements.  Note these types of instrumentation in the following
two photographs. SIA

A Smithsonian assistant using the instruments outside the bunker door. SIA

Smithsonian staff (and wife?) at bunker.  SIA

The full array of instruments at the Table Mountain bunker.  Note the mirrors in the foreground,
used to send a beam of sunlight into the bunker, and the more temperature sensitive instruments.

In 1952 a second bunker was built just to the west of the first one, as shown in the following three
SIA images



In this 1962 image, the number '3' appears for the first time, as the numbering system begins.


A storage shed built in the late 1930s for the assistant director's residence (building 5), but
little is known about the use of this building.

1930s. SIA

Sometime prior to 1961, some sort of heating 'stack' vent was added to the west side of the roof,
as is seen in the following two images.

1961. JPL

Building 4 on the far left front, with Building 5 in the back center taken in 1962.  JPL

The heating 'stack' vent was later removed somewhere between 1966 and 1967.  The entire shed
along with Building 5 was removed in 1974 in preparation for new building (#21).  JPL

End of Part 2   (Part 3 under construction)
Return to Part 1


e-mail astroyoung@verizon.net

You are visitor numbersince December 7, 2009

Page last updated August 15, 2011 (under construction)

Return to Specialties