REAL ESTATE: Old Man on a Mountain

The top of California's Mount Wilson, on which rests the world's largest telescope, was for sale. The price: $425,000 to nearby Los Angeles County; $600,000 to anyone else.

Mount Wilson* was not always worth that much. In 1890 a syndicate of California hotelmen bought 1,500 acres of peak timberland for $4,500. But the small hotel they built burned down and the syndicate broke up.

When Albert C. Childs first went to Mount Wilson in 1922, the mountaintop was owned by James H. Holmes, whose daughter Childs had met and married in Hawaii. The observatory, for which the Carnegie Institution had leased 15...

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