IN THE BEGINNING
Jim Russell came to Telluride in the fall of 1972, after finishing a tour of Vietnam with the Navy. He wanted to build a place similar to something he had seen in Breckenridge. After buying a Silver Mountain Mining Company mining claim with a partner, Russell designed The Observatory on a bar napkin at the Sheridan Bar. George Greenbank, a new architect in Telluride, drew up the plans and construction began in 1975.
It took Russell and his self-proclaimed hippie crew three summers to build The Observatory. Due to the remoteness of the site and the character of the crew, they all lived in the ghost town of Alta during the summers. A cook was onsite and they had generators because none of the homes had electricity.
The Observatory was built to last. It is made of stone (from the nearby talus fields), concrete and timber. The foundation is attached to the bedrock, the walls are composed of 12-foot logs, the interior is constructed of cedar and Douglas fir and the exterior logs are from the Wilson Mesa (these trees were not chopped down but killed by beetles).
THE DETAILS OF HISTORY
When you visit The Observatory today, you turn right at the 1941 Army truck that was used to haul whatever materials that were needed that Russell could not find onsite. It is still there, marking the “driveway” to The Observatory, although it is slowly sinking into the ground.
When you visit The Observatory, there are many details that will catch your eye. One thing that is immediately noticeable is the custom ironwork throughout...hand-forged on site during construction. Another example is the window frame over the agate-lined hot tub. It is actually a bull wheel from a mining tram that operated above The Observatory many years ago. The handcrafted stain glass windows, which are even more beautiful with the sunshine streaming through them, definitely are one of the features of The Observatory that contribute to its uniqueness.
THE EARLY DAYS
It did not take long for the locals to catch onto the heart and soul of The Observatory. By the early to mid 1980s, The Observatory had been rented out for weddings, full moon parties, end of ski season celebrations, workshops and retreats. It was during this time that The Observatory earned its name…being at 11,300 feet puts you so close to the moon and stars!