Yerkes Observatory Gala Celebrates Ongoing Restoration of Wisconsin Historic Site and Venue

The birthplace of astrophysics welcomed guests for an evening of festivities showcasing modern renovations.
Written by
Emily Sweet

We've come back to life as a classic observatory with a mission of connecting astronomy to art and culture.

Walt Chadick of Yerkes Observatory

Yerkes Observatory recently celebrated its grand reopening in Williams Bay with a vibrant gala and evening of exploration. The observatory was initially envisioned by scientist George Ellery Hale as a hub of astrophysics research and learning that was actualized in 1897. As a professor at the University of Chicago, Hale was deeply invested in creating an innovative observatory in a beautiful locale, and eventually, his observatory attracted visits from renowned scientists including Albert Einstein. Over a century since its opening, Yerkes still claims the title of the world’s largest refracting telescope, which was on full display throughout the gala for guests to view. Architecture and landscaping are equally compelling reasons to visit Yerkes Observatory aside from its rich history; the grounds sprawl over 50 acres featuring stone columns and gothic architecture. Science-based programs and events and speakers centered around the arts have attracted many visitors over the last 18 months, and the observatory continues to celebrate its ongoing reimagination. The landmark site debuted some of their modern updates with a recent gala surrounded by a blooming, elevated design concept. 

2020 marked the beginning of a series of restorations and renovations for the historic site and this gala was aimed at celebrating the progress and updates thus far. Decorative terracotta stonework is one of the building's most charming original features, carefully preserved by construction crews in the process of replacing surrounding bricks. A restoration to the grounds of the property is also underway, as well as additions like EV charging stations, updated restrooms and new contemporary décor. For events, indoor spaces in the venue can accommodate up to 60 guests, and the Olmsted South Lawn can host up to 250. Private rentals are also available in the Hagenah Rotunda and the Anne M. Drake Family Library, both charming spots for rehearsal dinners or cocktail hours. To celebrate updates on the property, a night of celebration brought crowds in to enjoy the new spaces surrounded by a luxurious design.

The design of the gala transformed the scientific site into a whimsical fête with opulent displays of florals, décor and food. Dishes by Blue Plate Catering were a highlight of the evening, which included a sit-down dinner during a short presentation. On full display was the modern allure of Yerkes Observatory, perhaps an unlikely add-on to the birthplace of astrophysics, but a delightful fusion of intellect and style. The updates across the property were naturally emphasized by design choices, which highlighted the modernized history of the venue. A celestial theme was an apt choice for the evening which incorporated nods toward astronomy in signage and menus with bold hints of blue. One of the standout details included a hanging floral arrangement that floated over the dance floor, where fall florals found themselves taking center stage with refined neutrals and dried elements woven into the mix alongside geometric light fixtures. Gold accents brought the glisten of the night sky seen through telescopes to tablescapes with undeniable celestial glitz. The gala was a showcase of inspiration for event design at Yerkes Observatory, and the reopening of the venue offers couples from Wisconsin and beyond an elevated setting that pays homage to curiosity and intellect with a contemporary edge. 

City State:

Williams Bay