To: Robert Gangewere, Author of Manuscript for History of Carnegie Institute
From: Glenn A. Walsh
Subject: Notes on Buhl Planetarium/Carnegie Science Center Manuscript Chapter
Date: 2007 February 23
NOTE: Where an Internet web link is given, hold-down the “Control” button while clicking on the link, to access the web address.
Buhl Exhibits - In your
manuscript, you state, “Those early exhibits still exist, in storage—dioramas
that moved while an audio-track played.” Do you know this to be a fact? Have you seen them? I have
heard horror stories about what has happened to these historic exhibits; I was
under the impression that most of them were long-gone. For obvious reasons, The
are actually City property (as they existed at the time of the building’s dedication, when everything was conveyed to the City from the Buhl Foundation), and, legally, should not be altered or disposed-of without approval of City Council!
Cleaning of Carnegie Institute Wall - Regarding cleaning of the exterior of Carnegie Institute about 20 years ago: mention should be made, including photographs (see my web site:
of the corner of
Creation of Buhl Planetarium - The credit for Pittsburgh receiving one of the country’s earliest planetaria belongs to the Amateur Astronomers’ Association of Pittsburgh and its co-founder Leo Scanlon (Bio of Leo Scanlon: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/bio/ScanlonL.htm >).
Astronomers’ Association was formed in 1929, and the following year several
members drove to
Great Depression, this lobbying paid-off. In 1935, the relatively new Buhl
Foundation agreed to fund a planetarium as an educational memorial to Henry
Buhl, Jr.; started in 1927, the Buhl Foundation was then the 10th largest charitable foundation
in the country (13th largest, by the time Buhl Planetarium was
built). By the time the City agreed to provide the land for the facility (in
the center of the North Side business district) in 1937, an “
Foundation Operation of Buhl Planetarium - After dedication of Buhl Planetarium, including conveyance
of building and contents to the City of Pittsburgh on 1939 October 24 (which
city leaders lauded as the beginning of a second civic center district for
Pittsburgh, the first being in Oakland), the Buhl Foundation was under legal
obligation to operate Buhl Planetarium for six years. Actually, Buhl Foundation
operated Buhl Planetarium until 1982 (coincidentally, the year I was hired at
Buhl). In 1982, new non-profit corporation, titled “
40,000 square-feet, Buhl Planetarium was admittedly a small science museum
(even in 1939, they knew Buhl was small, hence, they knew it would be important
to often change exhibits in the five exhibit galleries), it was a nice size for the current development of
In 1954, a huge revenue generator was inaugurated, with the annual exhibition of the Miniature Railroad and Village < http://buhlplanetarium3.tripod.com/MiniRR.htm >.
generated during the four months of display of this one exhibit pretty-much
paid for the rest of the year’s operation of Buhl Planetarium! In November of
1983, at my suggestion, Buhl rededicated the Railroad gallery (then, officially
known as the South Gallery) as Bowdish Gallery, in honor of Charles Bowdish who
had provided this
In the mid-1970s, another major revenue generator, laser-light concerts (originally Laserium) started at Buhl Planetarium. As most laser shows were presented in the planetarium in the evening, after the final sky show of the day, these laser shows did not displace any science programming.
With the two major revenue generators, the Miniature Railroad and laser shows, along with income from Buhl’s science programming and the new gift shop (The Discovery Shop), the relatively small Buhl Planetarium was able to continue its mission of providing science exhibitry and programs to the people of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, without having to worry whether they could pay the bills each year (remember, museum funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) did not begin until 1995).
Today, The Carnegie Science Center, and several other city museums which have insisted on expanding, have to worry (even with RAD funding!) about getting enough income to keep the doors open. Suddenly for many of these institutions, generating revenue takes precedence over their mission, because operating costs of the much larger facilities are so much higher than the original, smaller facilities.
I believe that
The Carnegie Science Center is quite fortunate that the proposed $90 million
expansion project was canceled, particularly considering that the
The $90 million expansion project was a bad joke from the beginning. In addition to, again, science being secondary to “economic development” (really, subsidized real-estate speculation) and modern art in this expansion project, they could not have actually raised the money to build the thing!
And, the State
did not contribute $17 million for science—they contributed that money so that
In regards to
Of all of the city institutions which have recently expanded, The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has done it right. Although the capital cost of their expansion is high, the expansion in square-footage is actually quite modest. Hence, the increase in operating costs will also be modest, while this particular expansion is expected to result in a huge jump in visitation and revenue.
Last August, there was an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
stating that museum attendance has stagnated for most city museums; an article in USA Today this week
states that the
Smithsonian’s Air and
The novelty of the new Children’s Museum has, very expectedly, resulted in higher attendance figures. However, this novelty will wear-off. In fact, it may have already started wearing-off.
The Children’s Museum Executive Director boasted, before the RAD Board in October, that the visitation on the “RADical Days” Sunday (their one free-of-charge day of the year, requested by the RAD Board) was the highest one-day attendance in Children’s Museum history: 2,300. This tells me that many people had heard about the new Children’s Museum and wanted to see it: but they were put-off by the high admission fees ($9 for each adult; $8 for each child). So, these people waited until the one free day to visit.
I expect that
Children’s Museum attendance will level-off, at the least, and may start to
decline in the Autumn, particularly with the opening of the “Dinosaurs In Their
World” exhibit at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History. As you know, children
love dinosaurs! I expect that The Carnegie Science Center will also take
advantage of this opening for dinosaur co-programming, as Buhl Planetarium did
in 1988 when
Buhl Planetarium Hours of Operation - Originally, Buhl Planetarium was open every day of the year except New Year’s Day; later in the 1950s or early 1960s, the one-day exception was changed to Christmas Day. Buhl was open to the general public each day from 1:00 to 10:30 p.m., although weekdays and Saturday it did close for a dinner break (5:00 to 7:00 p.m.) and it opened at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. Later, the closing time moved to 10:00 p.m.; in the mid-1980s the closing time moved to 9:30 p.m., but the dinner-break closing was eliminated. However, by the 1980s, Buhl was only open four evenings a week—Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which were also the four evenings when laser-light concerts were performed in the Theater of the Stars, after the last sky show of the evening (at 7:00 p.m.).
Due to the small size of the building, it was felt best to reserve the weekday morning hours for school groups. Although if a member of the general public sought admission on a weekday morning, they usually were not turned-away, assuming school groups were in the building; they could accompany school groups in special school planetarium shows, if there was extra space in the Theater of the Stars (with a seating capacity of 425, there usually were extra seats for the public except during the very busy school field trip months of March, April, and May, when the Planetarium Theater was often filled-to-capacity for school shows!). At certain times of the year, such as in September (when there were many days when no school field trip was scheduled), or when the mornings were reserved for Summer Science Academy classes, a member of the general public who sought admission in the morning was asked to return at 1:00 p.m. Also, there were times that school groups were scheduled in the afternoon, or even in the evening.
September was always the “deadest” month of the year at Buhl Planetarium, when few people or school groups visited. Often, people would wait until November to visit, when the Miniature Railroad and Village exhibit was open. One event that did bring people to Buhl Planetarium during September or October was the annual Tropical Fish Show, sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society, a group of amateur fish enthusiasts. The annual, two-week show was presented at Buhl Planetarium for forty years—the longest relationship between a museum and a fish-enthusiasts group in the country!
The Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society was one of several amateur science groups which met monthly at Buhl Planetarium; others included the Amateur Astronomers’ Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP, started in 1929, which actively lobbied to have Buhl Planetarium built), Amateur Transmitters’ Association of Western Pennsylvania (ATA, group of “ham” radio operators, started in 1926), and the Mineral and Lapidary Society of Pittsburgh (which sponsored an exhibit of minerals and fossils from the five-state region, which was displayed at both Buhl Planetarium and The Carnegie Science Center for many years).
A couple years
before the opening of The Carnegie Science Center,
Also, note that the amateur science clubs were not asked to move their monthly meetings to The Carnegie Science Center in 1991, unless the groups were willing to pay a high rental fee. At Buhl Planetarium, meetings (and admission to one sky show per year) of the Amateur Astronomers’ Association were without fee, due to the fact that the AAAP got Buhl Planetarium built. Meetings of the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society were also held at Buhl, without fee, due to the fact that the Society put-on the annual Tropical Fish Show. The Amateur Transmitters’ Association did pay a nominal fee of $10 per meeting, although once they were permitted one Saturday morning to conduct FCC amateur radio license examinations at Buhl for no charge (as, the FCC forbids groups to charge a fee for a radio license examination), due the fact that there was a conflict at their normal testing site: third-floor Lecture Hall of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Allegheny Regional Branch.
By 2002, The
Carnegie Science Center did begin to allow the Amateur Astronomers’ Association
of Pittsburgh to meet in the new
Once the Buhl Planetarium closed as a public museum in 1991, the ATA discontinued their membership meetings, as they had no where else to go, which had a rental fee they could afford. This club was primarily composed of senior citizens and few young people had been joining. The ATA continued their quarterly amateur radio license examinations at Carnegie Library, next-door, through the mid-1990s. But, even these finally ended, the last official activity of the Amateur Transmitters’ Association of Western Pennsylvania.
One high school
concerts, originally Laserium (Laser
Images of Van Nuys, California invented this genre at
In June of 1984,
the entire Buhl staff was shocked when management decided to end all Buhl Planetarium evening hours.
There would no longer be an evening planetarium show four times a week, as well
as the opportunity to take visitors to view celestial objects in the
third-floor astronomical observatory after the planetarium show. It seemed
almost that Buhl’s original reason-for-being was being severely compromised.
This was another example of the effort of the new management, particularly
Program Director Alphonse DeSena, to de-emphasize astronomy in favor of
computers and robots, which he saw as
the new industries of
Laser-light concerts continued being performed in the Theater of the Stars on Thursday through Sunday evenings. However, the rest of the building was dark and roped-off from the laser show attendees. So, electricity for lighting of the exhibit galleries and operation of the Zeiss projector (although the Zeiss projector was also used during the laser shows) were the only costs saved by this action; the building still had to be staffed for the laser shows!
Evening hours and planetarium shows did return four months of the year—November through February, the four months of the display of the very popular Miniature Railroad and Village. During Christmas week the building was open to the public every day from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., except Christmas Eve (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) and Christmas Day (closed). The building was also open 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day during the five-day Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday through Monday), except the building closed at 5:00 p.m. on Monday (first day of deer-hunting season).
Most museums with evening hours close at 9:00 p.m.; why did Buhl close at 9:30? There were two reasons:
1) Of course, Buhl needed to stay open late enough to use the astronomical observatory for the viewing of evening objects; this was particularly important in the Summer months when sunset was very late. Originally, Buhl had closed at 10:30 p.m., due to the need to use the Observatory. When I restored weekly observatory evening sessions in 1986, the 9:30 p.m. museum closing time on Fridays continued, while the Observatory remained open until 10:30 p.m. (which did not require additional staffing, since laser shows continued until 1:00 a.m.).
2) The first evening laser show began at 8:00 p.m. and let-out at 9:00 p.m.; the second laser show began at 9:15 p.m. At 9:00, the staff was quite busy with the first show letting-out and preparing for the second show. So, there was really no time for the staff to do the duties necessary to close the building at 9:00. However, once the 9:15 show started, the staff had plenty of time to close the building by 9:30 p.m.
As I mentioned earlier, the mornings were primarily reserved for school groups. This meant that, except on Saturdays when the building opened to the public at 10:00 a.m., the building would be open to the general public only four hours per day (1:00 to 5:00 p.m.). It made no sense to me that a major city science center would only be open to the general public four hours per day (except Saturdays). In my mind, I made a commitment to, eventually, find a way to reopen Buhl Planetarium, to the general public, one or two nights per week year-round.
At the beginning
of 1986, I saw my chance. At that time, the Golden Triangle Association started
an initiative to keep people Downtown longer after-work, instead of having the
Downtown area abandoned by 6:00 p.m. each night. Although, of course, that was
not totally true. Unlike most cities,
However, the Golden Triangle Association wanted people to stay in town later all five weeknights. So, they asked all stores to stay open, all weeknights, until at least 7:00 p.m. The major department stores agreed to do this (as did several other stores, including the Equibank branch bank in the former Frank and Sedar department store building—directly across the street from Kaufmann’s), although the 9:00 closing on Mondays and Thursdays was eliminated (although a few years later, the Monday and Thursday 9:00 closings were returned, in addition to the 7:00 closings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday).
In January of 1986, I wrote a six-page memo to my supervisors (Pat Weidman and Lorene Vinski, who held the unique position of sharing the one-person position of Director of the new Department of Visitor Services and Volunteers). I provided several reasons why Buhl Planetarium should support the efforts of the Golden Triangle Association to keep people in the central city after work hours, by reopening Buhl one or two nights per week. Of course, evening public use of Buhl Planetarium’s astronomical observatory was one of the major advantages to such a plan.
My supervisors took my suggestion to the Management Committee for consideration. To the surprise of the entire staff, including me, the Management Committee approved my proposal! They agreed to a three-month experiment, during the Summer of 1986, for keeping Buhl Planetarium’s exhibit galleries open to the general public each Friday night until 9:30 p.m., including a planetarium show at 7:00 p.m. and observatory viewing until 10:30 p.m.
Program Director Alphonse DeSena was completely opposed to this plan. He was also against me becoming Coordinator of the Astronomical Observatory, to facilitate the public’s use of the Observatory on Friday evenings (in fact, he and I had a meeting about this!). By this time, he was primarily occupied with planning for, what would come to be known as, The Carnegie Science Center—his pet project! I think he really had little concern for Buhl Planetarium at this point; he was only concerned about the coming new science center building. And, again, the less activity and attendance at Buhl Planetarium, the better the new science center would appear! However, in this one case, Dr. DeSena was outvoted in the Management Committee.
evening public hours, including the weekly evening Observatory sessions (the
Observatory was open every Friday evening, weather-permitting, year-round, from
then-on, since it included a heated Observing Room!), were quite successful and
continued until the building’s closing as a public museum on 1991 August 31. In
fact, at one point after the Buhl—Carnegie merger, Carnegie managers sought
advice from Pat Weidman and Lorene Vinski, when the
Of course, this clearly shows the difference in planning for a relatively small institution (Buhl) as opposed to such planning needed for a much larger museum complex (Carnegie). At that time, Buhl Facilities Director Tom Nichols had estimated that it cost Buhl about $100 for each hour the building was open to the public (of course, not including staff costs). Of course, the cost (even at that time) to open the Carnegie Museums to the public for one hour would have been much higher (as would have been the cost of opening The Carnegie Science Center for one hour). Hence, a smaller institution has much greater flexibility in making major changes that could provide greater service to the public, than does a much larger museum.
of this was the special Observatory schedule set-up in 1985 and 1986, to allow
the public to get telescopic views of Halley’s
Comet, the most famous comet that visits the inner solar system once
every 76 years. When the Observatory was first opened in 1941, it was primarily
staffed by members of the Amateur
Astronomers’ Association and opened most clear evenings (as Buhl was originally
open to the public every night until 10:30 p.m.). As time went on, use of the
Observatory declined, partly due to
Prior to my
hiring, I had only seen Buhl’s Observatory once, as a child when I tagged-along
with another school group’s visit to the Observatory; otherwise, I would not
have even known that Buhl had an observatory (and, I usually visited Buhl
monthly, starting in my junior high school years) ! Prior to 1982, had it not
been for another of my supervisors, Eric G. Canali who was then Assistant Floor
Manager (he became Floor Manager in the mid-1980s) and an active member of the
Amateur Astronomers’ Association, the Observatory may have been used even less!
When the special observing sessions were set-up for the public to view Halley’s Comet with Buhl Planetarium’s rather unique 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, as well as with a new portable telescope (13-inch Dobsonian Reflector Telescope) used on one of the Observatory’s outdoor wings (specifically designed for portable telescopes to supplement the Siderostat), this was the most the Observatory had been used in years. The public response to the “HalleyWatch” sessions was tremendous; people often waited in long lines, comparable to the one and two-hour waiting lines for the seasonal Miniature Railroad and Village Exhibit, to see Halley’s Comet with one of Buhl’s telescopes.
Management was not sure what to charge visitors for viewing Halley’s Comet with a Buhl telescope. Unlike the very close apparition of the Comet in 1910, when John Brashear hosted Comet telescope viewings at Allegheny Observatory (these were free-of-charge, since Halley’s Comet came so close to Earth in 1910, it could easily be seen without a telescope) and Andrew Carnegie bought a new Brashear telescope (now in use at the Amateur Astronomers’ Association’s Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes Park) so Carnegie Tech students could see the Comet, Buhl management knew that Halley’s Comet would not come as close to Earth in 1985. Since, management could not guarantee how good an image of the Comet the public would see through a Buhl telescope, the admission charge was simply set at one dollar per person.
In a couple cases, visitors in wheelchairs sought to view Halley’s Comet in a Buhl Planetarium telescope. However, despite a major Federally-funded community development project, completed in 1982, which made most of the Buhl Planetarium building handicapped-accessible, the small third floor Observatory remained inaccessible to wheelchairs. But, no problem: several Buhl staff members simply carried the handicapped visitors, wheelchair and all, to the third floor from the first floor. I am not sure what Buhl’s insurance company would have said, had they known about this solution to the inaccessibility problem, but it was done with no injuries.
However, after Halley’s Comet became unavailable, after the Spring of 1986, the plan was to go back to the occasional public use of the Observatory. The public’s great response to the Observatory was another major reason I gave for starting regular evening Observatory sessions, once Buhl reopened public evenings.
Are you aware
that, currently, The Carnegie Science Center and the SportsWorks exhibit facility are both closed each
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all
appreciated that this prize was the fruition of a science education tradition
that had been ongoing for more than 60 years. - This included the management of The
Carnegie Science Center! From the beginning, the management tried to distance
itself from the original Buhl Planetarium and
original planning in the mid-1980s, strongly promoted by the Richard S. Caliguiri Administration,
the original Buhl Planetarium building did become a tutorial center, titled “
despite promises, to the City of
cancellation of the
Buhl Planetarium closed to the public on 1991 August 31, a Saturday in the long
Labor Day weekend. I had lobbied to keep the building open through the holiday
weekend, since moving equipment and furnishings to the new building would not
begin until the Tuesday after Labor Day, anyway. This would have given the
public two more days to say good-bye to the original Buhl Planetarium
operation. However, this proposal in my memorandum was rejected out-of-hand, by
a management that had long forgotten about the original Buhl Planetarium and
could only think about the great new
Prior to Buhl’s
official closing, the staff who would be remaining in the original building
were pleased to learn that David E. Chesebrough (now President and CEO of the
And, Dave was
successful, during his short tenure (1991 September through 1994 February) as
Carnegie Science Center Assistant Director in charge of the Allegheny Square
Annex. Through student tuitions for science and computer classes, and school
district tuitions for teacher workshops, the Allegheny Square Annex broke even,
financially, most of the year (except during the Summer months when the
air-conditioning was in-use), requiring very little subsidy from the mother
while The Carnegie Science Center continued bleeding red ink, financially,
despite a reduction in public operating hours, increase in admission prices,
and the layoff of about 30 employees (most of them long-time Buhl Planetarium
employees; imagine that!), all within the first year of operation!
Consequently, a couple years later, Science Center Director Alphonse DeSena
“moved-on” to manage construction of the
Chesebrough’s appointment as Assistant Director of the Allegheny Square Annex
seemed good news for the future of the original Buhl Planetarium building, it
is now clear that
This situation actually started to become somewhat obvious early-on. As the long-time (5+ years) Coordinator of Buhl Planetarium’s Astronomical Observatory, Dave Chesebrough knew that I was very interested in seeing the Observatory continued for use by the public. And, Dave was very interested in every aspect of the original Buhl Planetarium building being utilized. So, Dave asked me for a plan to continue public use of the Observatory, following the closing of the Buhl Planetarium building as a public museum.
I submitted a memorandum to Dave, which would have continued public use of the Observatory, at least once per month. Since regular visitors would no longer be coming to the original Buhl Planetarium building, a system would need to be set-up allowing people, who wanted to attend an Observatory SkyWatch session, to make a reservation by telephone for a particular date and time.
Dave took this
plan to a Carnegie Science Center Management Committee meeting, shortly after
Buhl Planetarium closed. The plan was quickly rejected by Science Center
Director Alphonse DeSena and Planetarium Director Paul Oles. There was no way
they were going to allow the original Buhl Planetarium Observatory (or even the
original Buhl Planetarium Theater of the Stars) to compete with The Carnegie
Science Center’s new planetarium and observatory!!! The original Siderostat
Telescope, and Zeiss Projector, could only be used for
Astronomy at The
In fact, shortly
before the original Buhl Planetarium closed, Dr. DeSena circulated a long
memorandum to the staff, detailing the steps of how the new
There are two examples of the diminished importance that astronomy was considered, when planning for the new science center building:
1) The original Theater of the Stars has a 65-foot diameter stainless steel dome, which seated 425 people—381 permanent seats, with the rest being portable seating for very busy days (i.e. Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday weeks and the Spring school field trip season)—one of the largest planetarium domes and theaters in the country. It was originally designed to seat 500, although I believe it never actually seated more than 490 (seating capacity permitted by the Fire Marshal’s certificate at the entrance to the Theater). Over the years, this seating capacity slowly decreased to 425, with the enlargement of the Planetarium Control Console (designed by Carl Wapiennik) in the 1950s, and by the addition in the 1970s and enlargement in the 1980s of the control console for laser-light shows.
2) Paul Oles also lobbied for a new,
state-of-the-art observatory for the new science center building, which would
include a CCD electronic camera system that would beam observatory views onto
the planetarium dome for display tot the public. He had originally sought such
a camera system for the original observatory, in 1985, for the apparition of
Halley’s Comet; however, his foundation grant was rejected.
Later on, he sought funding for a video tape recorder, television receiver, and camera. He was able to receive funding for everything but the camera. Again, he had hoped to use the camera for transmitting images from the Siderostat Telescope into the Planetarium. Without the camera, his original plan could not be realized. So, he simply let me use the VCR and television in the Observatory to show astronomically-related educational videos (including a video about Mars, narrated by WTAE-TV 4 news anchor Paul Long); they were also used for science classes.
So, when Paul Oles succeeded in receiving a $65,000 Buhl Foundation grant for a new observatory, the big question was where could it be installed? Finally, it was decided that the observatory would be installed at the top of one of the new building’s stair-towers. Built of concrete, this stair-tower would prevent major building vibrations from affecting the telescopic image.
However, the top of this stair-tower had not been designed for public access. To access the observatory, one would have to climb up a ladder to the roof, then climb down another ladder from the roof to the top of the stair-tower. So, erection of the observatory on this site meant it could not directly be used by the public!
But, no matter.
Paul Oles had wanted to display a “new-technology” observatory, to go along
with the “new technology” computers and robots highlighted throughout the rest
of the new
The first Summer
of observatory operation (1992), a researcher from an eastern
However, this new 16-inch reflector telescope never worked properly. And, the company which produced this telescope went into bankruptcy. So, for several years, the new Observatory sat unused. Finally, it was decided to buy a new Mead 16-inch reflector telescope for the Observatory. Some years later, the original 16-inch telescope was sold to the Amateur Astronomers’ Association of Pittsburgh, which, I believe, still has the telescope in storage.
It was also
decided to move the Observatory from the stair-tower to the
Today, this Observatory provides a weekly observing session to the general public on Saturday evenings, weather-permitting. This is a direct descendent to the weekly observing session I started on Friday evenings on 1986 June 13. And, like my weekly session, today, admission to the public is one dollar per person.
In addition to
the Mead telescope, The Carnegie Science Center observatory also uses Buhl
Planetarium’s first telescope, a portable 4-inch Zeiss refractor telescope. The
4-inch Zeiss refractor was purchased at the same time as the Zeiss Projector.
However, the Buhl staff was disappointed when they received the 4-inch
telescope, as the Carl Zeiss factory in
considered sending the terrestrial telescope back to
The current Buhl Planetarium Director now refuses to promote the name of this Zeiss telescope (as he did a few years ago both on the Science Center web site and during a radio talk show), lest the Zeiss telescope reminds people of the currently-dismantled Zeiss Projector. A couple years ago, on a WPTT-AM radio talk show, the current Buhl Planetarium Director did boast about having such a historic Zeiss telescope, used during the Saturday evening observatory sessions. A few minutes later, a woman (no one I knew or have ever talked to) called the program asking about when the Zeiss Projector would be reassembled!
Smithson - comparison to Buhl is interesting. I might add that museums such as the Smithsonian Institute and Carnegie Institute were early versions of science museums (in fact, Andrew Carnegie even included Galileo to represent science in the “Noble Quartet” and inscribed the word “Science” on the Carnegie Institute building). When the new type of museums of the physical sciences (to later be described as “science centers”) were developed in the 1920s and 1930s, Buhl Planetarium was one of the first, albeit also one of the smallest.
Museum started the movement of this new type of science museum in the 1920s,
with Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and Philadelphia’s Franklin
Institute (although science programming by Franklin Institute dates back to the
mid-nineteenth century) opening in the early 1930s. Most of
The Star of Bethlehem - Although The Carnegie Science Center now titles this show “The Christmas Star” (this may be a testament to the fact that fewer people, today, would recognize the significance of a show called “The Star of Bethlehem,” ), the traditional name of this show, begun in 1939, is “The Star of Bethlehem” (although there were a few years when Buhl, also, used the title, “The Christmas Star.” Unlike nearly all other planetaria, including The Carnegie Science Center planetarium, the Buhl Planetarium version of the show included a live stage segment, where a Buhl staff member would appear as “St. Luke” and lip-sync the Christmas story from the Bible for the audience.
“St. Luke” would appear on the world’s first permanent theatrical stage in a planetarium, which originally could be expanded from the theater wall into the Theater of the Stars using electric motors. The Buhl Planetarium staff loved participating in this rather different museum duty; I portrayed “St. Luke” many, many times (when I was not the lecturer for that particular showing of “The Star of Bethlehem”).
Summer Science Academy - Although Buhl Planetarium always offered science classes to the public (and, during World War II, the planetarium was used to teach celestial navigation to military pilots bound for service in the War), Sputnik spurred the creation of Buhl Planetarium’s “Junior Space Academy” which evolved into the “Summer Science Academy,” which was long-sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, WWSW radio, and channel 11 television (I believe these three may have been co-owned back in the 1950s?).
Telescope-Making Classes - This was a major class at Buhl Planetarium in the beginning, when purchasing a store-bought telescope was beyond the means of most people. This class was taught in the Amateur Astronomers’ Laboratory, which was later used as a workshop for the Miniature Railroad and Village and is now used for the “Saturday Light Brigade” radio studio. Buhl Planetarium staff members also taught such classes at the Brashear Association on the South Side.
Octagon Gallery - The Octagon Gallery is not below the planetarium pit. The Octagon Gallery encircles the Zeiss Planetarium Pit. The Octagon Gallery is below the Planetarium Theater, also known as the Theater of the Stars (which also has an octagonal shape). You may be interested to know that, although the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector sits dismantled, collecting dust and educating no one, in the Miller Printing building, the City did insist that the historic Zeiss “Worm-Gear” Elevator, custom-built by Westinghouse, not be dismantled; it continues residing in the Zeiss Pit, waiting for the return of the Zeiss Projector! Often, engineers visiting Buhl would ask to be taken to the Zeiss Pit to see this rather unique elevator; when I showed them the elevator, they would marvel at the four huge worm gears!
Rise of Steel Technology” Mural -
Nat Youngblood’s “The Rise of Steel Technology” Mural is the second steel industry mural to appear on
the south wall of Buhl Planetarium’s Great Hall. The first steel industry mural
(which I know little about) was installed in 1940, after a two-year display in
the U.S. Steel Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in
Regrettably, the first steel mural no longer exists; well, in a way it does. U.S. Steel commissioned Nat Youngblood to paint the second mural over-top the original steel mural. Buhl Planetarium Floor Manager John Miller was quite upset about the loss of the original mural, as he watched Nat Youngblood paint the new mural, in-place, on the south wall of Buhl Planetarium.
The City of
Pittsburgh has currently loaned “The Rise of Steel Technology” Mural to the
Rivers of Steel Heritage Area’s Bost Building Museum in Homestead (as the Children’s Museum Executive Director refused
to keep any major Buhl Planetarium artifact in the Children’s Museum, except
the Foucault Pendulum—and this exhibit swings in their café with no written
explanation displayed! Children, as always, are captivated by the swing of the
Foucault Pendulum; but, neither they, nor their parents, understand what it
means—unless a parent happens to have a science background). Although some
panels of this mural were displayed in the
In the case of Buhl Planetarium, some of our best attendance years occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s, with annual attendance around 250,000. This occurred after Buhl started updating exhibits and programs; it was really the 1970s, when Buhl was considered an old, stuffy museum where few exhibits changed, that caused attendance to start to decline.
And, as for the
It is true that
some visitors did complain about having to pay for parking. However, Buhl
Planetarium visitors, who did not come by streetcar or bus, always had to pay
for parking. Prior to the construction of
Executive Director Carl Wapiennik
did complain about the construction of
The 1988 May 15 rededication of “Labor,” Andrew Carnegie’s memorial to his mentor Col. James Anderson, on Buhl’s east lawn, caused us headaches when trying to use portable telescopes on the Buhl Observatory’s outdoor east wing. Bright floodlights, from the Allegheny Regional Branch Library’s clock-tower shining on the Anderson Memorial, would also adversely affect telescopes on this Observatory wing. Ironically now that the original Buhl Planetarium Observatory is no longer in use, it has been several years since these floodlights have been used, as Carnegie Library continues trimming its operating budget. And, the clock-tower’s west clock-face (facing Buhl Planetarium) is the only clock-face that continues to tell time (although it is currently deactivated, during Library building rehab); Carnegie Library has never seen the need to repair the north, south, and east clock-faces.
At the time
Buhl Planetarium was offered the Old Allegheny Post Office building for one dollar. Buhl Planetarium Executive Director Carl Wapiennik, who was concerned with the additional operating costs of a second building (and, he did not want to have to go out and fund-raise to pay for the additional costs) turned-down the offer. This was just one of several proposed improvements that Carl turned-down.
A couple others: ALCOA offered to install a balcony level in Buhl Planetarium’s Great Hall. All Buhl would have to do is hang a sign saying that the aluminum balcony was built by ALCOA. Carl said no.
The Mellon family offered a complete renovation of the planetarium theater, including a new planetarium projector. All Buhl would have to do is change the name to “Buhl-Mellon Planetarium.” Carl said no. In hindsight, from a historic preservation perspective, I am glad he said no to this one, as who knows what would have, then, happened to our historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector (prior to its dismantling in 2002, it was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world!).
No one knows
what happened to North America’s first Zeiss II Projector, installed in
The decline of
At the time, I
was Curator of the BioCorner chick-hatching exhibit. One of my egg suppliers, a
farmer from Beaver County who also had a full-time job Downtown (necessary for
a lot of farmers), was very seriously interested in starting a boat marina on
the North Shore. So, I introduced him to Al DeSena. Needless to say, nothing
came of this idea. My educated guess is that this
of the decline of
closed as a public museum and the
Next, Sears’ closed, after opening a new store in Ross Park Mall. Back in the early 1980s, in an article about the future of the Golden Triangle, Sears’ officials had been asked by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette whether they would consider moving the store Downtown. At that time, Sears’ officials stated that they might consider this, but that they were contractually committed to Allegheny Center Mall until the end of the century. The Allegheny Center Sears’ store closed before the end of the century, and a move of the store to Downtown was never seriously considered. By this time, the Gimbel Brothers Department Store had already closed Downtown (eventually, partially replaced with a Burlington Coat Factory discount department store), and the Joseph Horne Company was about to be purchased by Federated Department Stores to become a Lazarus Department Store--after Horne’s merger with the Dillard’s department store chain (which recently closed Cleveland’s last downtown department store, which adjoined Terminal Tower) fell-through (Horne’s sued Dillard’s over their withdrawal from the merger).
mid-1990s, the only anchor tenant left (and,
one of the few retail tenants left) in the Allegheny Center Mall was
Woolworth’s. The Pittsburgh Life Building, which had included the historic
Woolworth’s store Downtown (with wooden counters, creaking wooden floors, and
old-style lighting, entry into this store had been an automatic trip back in
time to the beginning of the twentieth century!) had long since been
demolished, to allow construction of the Heinz Hall Garden Plaza. By the early
1990s, many more Woolworth stores were closed, with stores in
mid-1990s, Allegheny Center Woolworth staff had received so many questions from
the public, regarding their future in Allegheny Center, that Woolworth
management placed a sign at the Mall entrance to the store assuring everyone
that Woolworth’s intention was to stay in Allegheny Center for a long time.
Then, a year or two later, Woolworth management in
Later on, the
Pittsburgh Public Theater moved to the O’Reilly Theater in the Downtown
Cultural District. Then, the Northside Leadership Conference, in a special
meeting held in the Allegheny Regional Branch Library Third-Floor Lecture Hall
regarding the future of the Buhl Planetarium building, spurned the School
District’s proposal to turn Buhl into a
District, which I worked closely with on the
In addition to our opposition to the removal of this inscription, this wall inscription removal was also opposed by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
Today, unorganized fragments from this inscription can be found scattered on Buhl’s east lawn, some of them forming the borders of flower-beds !!!
One member of
the Conference said that Buhl should become the new home to the
Square Annex - Although
the City of Pittsburgh was anxious to have the new science center building
built on the North Shore, to spur stadium-area development and help save the
Pirates from moving to New Orleans, Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri was quite concerned about what would happen
to the original Buhl Planetarium building; he certainly did not want the City
to have to worry about an empty, city-owned building in the middle of Allegheny
Center! Although I have found no actual documentation, it is my educated belief
that City and
As Buhl officials knew of my great interest in the original building, I was asked to provide ideas of how the building could be used once the new science center opened, which I did in a memorandum. It was finally decided that the original building, which was renamed “Allegheny Square Annex of The Carnegie Science Center” would be used as a tutorial center, for the Science Center’s science and computer classes; hence, classroom space would not need to be, and was not originally, built at The Carnegie Science Center. The Zeiss Projector and Siderostat Telescope would continue to be used for these science classes (although an additional use of the telescope for public observing sessions, which I suggested, was rejected—they would not allow the original planetarium and telescope to compete with the new Science Center’s planetarium and telescope!).
By 1993, the
“gentleman’s agreement” was conveniently forgotten and The Carnegie Science
Center completely abandoned the original Buhl Planetarium building, including
the Zeiss Projector and Siderostat Telescope, in February of 1994, a little
more than two years after The Carnegie Science Center opened. Interestingly,
except during the months the air-conditioning was in use, the Buhl Planetarium
building as tutorial center broke-even financially, due to the fees paid by
people attending the science and computer classes, while The Carnegie Science
Center continued wallowing in red ink (after raising admission rates, reducing
hours of operation, and laying off about 30 staff members, all within the first
year of operation!). It seems that
James Irwin - As you may recall from reading James Irwin’s autobiography, his father worked in the maintenance department of Carnegie Institute. The Irwin family was very good friends with my grandparents; they went to the same church in Beechview (Holy Trinity Lutheran Church) and lived just two blocks apart; my mother and James Irwin both attended Lee Elementary School.
1) In short term, new gift shop--YES. Miniature Railroad got new space in Buhl—NO.
2) Market “House” intersection (which was
caddy-corner from Buhl Planetarium), not “
3) Buhl Planetarium building closed as a public museum on 1991 August 31. It closed as the Allegheny Square Annex, of The Carnegie Science Center, tutorial center in February of 1994.
4) Officially, Josh Whetzel was President of
Buhl Science Center, not Executive Director. Carl Wapiennik was Executive Director of The Buhl Planetarium and
Institute of Popular Science for at least 15 years, then in 1982 as Vice
President of Operations of Buhl Science Center, until he was “given”
(involuntary) his early retirement at the end of 1982; for several years after,
he continued working, under contract, to assist with maintenance of the
Miniature Railroad and Village. Al DeSena became Director of “
5) Thank goodness, the Children’s Museum has
never taken “ownership” of Buhl
Planetarium. Beginning in 2002, the Children’s Museum entered into a 29-year
lease, with the City of
7) Correct spellings: Zeiss, Siderostat, Laserium, Paul Oles, Carl Wapiennik, Frank J. Lucchino, Martin Ratcliffe
8) Pitching Cage, with radar gun to indicate speed of pitches, started as part of “The Right Moves” exhibit in the Octagon Gallery of Buhl Planetarium, in the late 1980s.
9) Pittsburgh Conservatory-Aviary until
1990s when they received the Congressional designation of “National Aviary in
10) Not Voyager Space Shuttle. Challenger Space Shuttle exploded on 1986 January 28. Voyager was the name given to two spacecraft which explored the Solar System’s outer planets. At the same general time as the Challenger explosion, Buhl Planetarium provided live coverage of the Voyager 2 passage of the planet Uranus. Also, see my recount of the Challenger explosion, as viewed at Buhl Planetarium:
“Stars of Christmas.”
Originally “Star of
12) Buhl Planetarium was not designated a historic structure until Friends of the Zeiss sought such designation in 2005. Although the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation successfully sought both City and Federal (National Register of Historic Places) historic designations for both the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny (now, Allegheny Regional Branch, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh) and the Old Allegheny Post Office, they did not seek such designation for Buhl Planetarium. And, although Landmark’s own historic plaques (not official historic designation) were placed on both the Library and Post Office buildings, they have never placed such a plaque on the Planetarium building—a Landmark’s staff person told me that the Children’s Museum had promised to fund such a Landmark’s historic plaque for the Buhl Planetarium building (a promise not yet kept—no surprise there!).
13) State funding for The Carnegie Science Center was $17 million, not $19 million.
Finally, an Anecdote - Governor Thornburgh and Family Visits Buhl Planetarium -
At Josh Whetzel’s specific request (he had seen a similar exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and wanted such an exhibit at Buhl Planetarium), in May of 1983 I created the BioCorner Embryology Exhibit, which included the hatching of chicks, and occasionally ducklings, before the visitors’ eyes each weekend. Buhl visitors could also pet, feed, and hold the young birds. When we hatched ducklings (seasonal), we also demonstrated imprinting behavior to children. I was Curator of the BioCorner for four years.
Several volunteers assisted me with the BioCorner, including a very interested high school student, who volunteered at Buhl most Friday evenings, along with her father and younger sister. I made it a point to stay Friday evenings, when she came to volunteer (this was before I took charge of Friday evening sessions in Buhl’s Observatory in June of 1986).
On the last Friday in May, in 1984, I learned that she would not be coming in to volunteer that evening. So, I thought perhaps I would go home early for a change.
At Buhl’s Information Desk, I overheard someone tell Friday evening Floor Supervisor, Jeff Straka, that the State Police would be in the back parking lot later in the evening. I asked Jeff what was going on, when he told me that the Governor and his family was coming to Buhl that evening, to see a Laserium show. I immediately decided I would not go home early that evening!
Of course, I was not the only staff person who decided to stay late to see the Governor. Most administrative staff members, particularly Buhl’s upper management, stayed to see the Governor. When the Governor and his family entered Buhl, accompanied by Josh Whetzel, one cashier almost charged admission to the Governor’s wife, who she had not recognized!
The Governor and his family, along with Josh, arrived at Buhl shortly before the 9:15 p.m. laser show started. They did not have time to look at other exhibits before the show; they just went straight up the ramp into the Theater of the Stars.
As usual, the building closed to the public at 9:30 p.m., which meant that the Governor and his family would not be able to view any exhibits after the laser show ended at 10:15 p.m. To this day, it amazes me that no one thought to simply keep the lights and exhibits on beyond 9:30, for the benefit of the Governor and his family.
Although all lights and exhibits were deactivated at 9:30, there was, as always, one exception: the BioCorner. By its very nature, this exhibit had to operate 24-hours per day; flood lighting on the exhibit had, also, always been left on, for the benefit of the chicks. Although the BioCorner moved a lot in the four years of my tenure as Curator (at one time or another, the BioCorner was located in all four of Buhl’s five exhibit galleries; the only gallery it never called home was Bowdish Gallery, home to the Miniature Railroad and Village), at this time the BioCorner was located in the Great Hall on the first floor, between the Information Desk and the Foucault Pendulum.
So, in theory, after the Laserium show, the Governor and his family could still come over and view the BioCorner. However, it was unlikely this was going to happen. It was pretty obvious that, immediately after the laser show, the Governor and his family, along with Josh, would simply walk down the ramp and out the front doors and never see the BioCorner.
The rest of the Buhl staff, who had stayed to see the Governor, had lined-up on the floor, just below the ramp, to see the Governor and his family walk up the ramp into the Theater of the Stars; it was obvious, they would then, at 10:15, watch the Governor and his family leave the Planetarium Theater, walk down the ramp and out the front door. And, they all seemed satisfied with that!
I was not satisfied, at all, with that scenario. I had not stayed just to see the Governor and his family walk up the ramp and down the ramp. I wanted the Governor and his family to see the BioCorner. But, as I said, under the current scenario, that seemed unlikely. Well, I decided I needed to do something about that!
So, when the laser show ended, the Governor and his family, along with Josh, started walking down the ramp. At that point, I walked right up to the Governor with a chick in my hand!
The response of the Governor and his family was much better than even I had anticipated! It turned-out that one of the Governor’s sons is mentally-challenged. An exhibit of young chickens was perfect for his son! So, it was quickly decided that the Governor and his family would go over and view the BioCorner.
Well, when the Governor and his family, along with Josh, went over to look at the BioCorner, you should have seen the expressions on the faces of the rest of the staff members. They were totally stunned! I had, literally, “stolen the show.” The other staff members did not come over to the BioCorner; they remained standing below the ramp, where they had been for the previous hour.
I explained the BioCorner exhibit to the Governor and his family, and allowed them to pet, feed, and hold chicks. Ginny, the Governor’s wife, mentioned to me that she and her husband strongly supported Buhl and such science programming. After about ten minutes, they finally did leave Buhl Planetarium, without viewing any other exhibit or program—they only saw Laserium and the BioCorner!