Inside the houses scoop

Dear Ace: Can you find out who lives in those houses around Observatory Hill?—Jess Wundring

Jess: Ace thinks you must be referring to Alden House, named for University of Virginia alumnus and former astronomy professor Harold Lee Alden, and Vyssotsky House, the Cape Cod-style house found on Observatory Mountain near UVA.

While the latter is still used to, well, house faculty, the former, as far as Ace could tell while trolling the Internet for answers, is mostly a ramshackle meeting place for UVA astronomy students. Well, that and the venue for one rockin’ Halloween party in 2001. (Ace heard it was out of this world.)

To make sure he wasn’t completely off track (he perishes the thought), Ace called UVA’s astronomy department to get the scoop. He already knew Alden House was at one time used to house the director of McCormick Observatory, but Ace also wanted to check on assistant astronomy professor Ed Murphy’s plans to turn it into a "science outreach center." In a C-VILLE cover story in 2006 about the Observatory, Ed told writer Will Goldsmith that he wanted to use Alden House to put on educational programs for all the sciences. Ace wanted to see if this was still a possibility.

Ed says the proposal to turn Alden House into an outreach center is still in the works. Right now, they’re just trying to raise funds to renovate the building. After the astronomy department stopped using the house for directors of the Observatory (now the directors of the Observatory are "chairmen"), it was used as general housing for graduate students. Then, about five years ago, after surveying the structure, the department found out that it would take over 100 years of rent-paying tenants to make up the cost to fix and maintain Alden House. Thus, the fundraising.

Ace also asked Ed about Vyssotsky House. Ace was right—Vyssotsky House is still used for faculty. In fact, a research scientist for the astronomy department lives there right now. Ed says there was also a smaller structure on the other side of O-Hill called "South Cottage," but it was torn down eight or nine years ago because it was beyond repair.

Even so, Ed made sure to tell Ace that the Alden and Vyssotsky houses are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That name sounds a little made up to Ace, but still, that’s pretty far out.

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 18 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to

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