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.


Early 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 Carnegie Science Center would not allow me in their warehouse. Several of these exhibits (see my web site:

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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!


Buhl Science Center - I notice that you describe me as historian of Buhl Science Center. I do prefer the original name, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (which is still the name inscribed on the building) or simply the original Buhl Planetarium. The Buhl Science Center name did not even last a decade (in use from 1982 February to 1991 August). Most people still remember the institution as “Buhl Planetarium” and including the words “Science Center” in the name creates confusion with “The Carnegie Science Center.” And, although The Carnegie Science Center has tried to use the Buhl Planetarium name for their new facility, the official name of the new planetarium is the “Henry Buhl, Jr., Planetarium and Observatory,” as well as the even more modern name, “Buhl Digital Dome,” coined this-past Autumn.


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:

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of the corner of Carnegie Music Hall that shows what the building looked like prior to cleaning. Also, there should be a sign at that point explaining to people why that corner is dark (as there is a sign for the statue of “Dippy” nearby). Many people, particularly students, go by that corner every day and have no idea why that corner is so dark!


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: < >).

The Amateur Astronomers’ Association was formed in 1929, and the following year several members drove to Chicago to see this new thing called a planetarium, the first in the country. When they returned to Pittsburgh, they immediately started lobbying city government and local foundations and corporations to have such an educational facility built in their home city. Leo Scanlon prepared a glowing report on Chicago’s Adler Planetarium for Pittsburgh’s Academy of Science and Art, a learned society that had been co-founded by John Brashear, which is, surprisingly, little known  today (even though it seems to still exist). Later in 1930, Leo Scanlon built the world’s first astronomical observatory with an all-aluminum dome (the feasibility of which professional metallurgists of the time had questioned), in his back-yard as his personal observatory; article about this achievement was published in Scientific American.


Despite the 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 “Institute of Popular Science” (later “Science Center”) was included in the project. Leo Scanlon (a plumber by trade), and then-Allegheny Observatory Director Nicholas Wagman, were the first two Buhl Planetarium Lecturers. When the Siderostat Observatory opened in 1941, Leo Scanlon scheduled Association members to operate it for the public.


Buhl 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 “Buhl Science Center,” took over day-to-day operation of Buhl Planetarium. The Buhl Foundation maintained a seat on the Board and continued providing grants for special projects, but not for day-to-day operation.


Although at 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 Pittsburgh—a size the community could support financially.


In 1954, a huge revenue generator was inaugurated, with the annual exhibition of the Miniature Railroad and Village < >.

The revenue 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 Pittsburgh holiday tradition to Buhl Planetarium. Although in ill health, Charles Bowdish did attend the dedication ceremony in a wheelchair (the one and only time I met him); this was the last time Mr. Bowdish visited his creation before his death in 1988.


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 Science Center has laid-off several employees, over the last few years. They would have found it, financially, even more difficult to operate a facility much larger than their current building.


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!


The original Carnegie Science Center project (opened in 1991) originally cost $32 million. This cost increased (partially due to an increase in size of the proposed building) to $37 million; when all was said-and-done, the project cost $40 million. The State paid $17 million for the project , while the City and County contributed land worth $2-3 million. So, government sources paid roughly half of the cost of the original building, while grants from foundations, corporations, and individuals contributed the other half.


And, the State did not contribute $17 million for science—they contributed that money so that Pittsburgh would have another attraction to bring tourist dollars (preferably out-of-state) into the city. And, to manage all of that State money, the State insisted on a Buhl-Carnegie merger, so Robert C. Wilburn (who was known and trusted by State officials) could watch the use of all of that money/ Without the Buhl-Carnegie merger, it can be argued that the State would have never given that amount of money to Buhl management for the project, and Buhl management would have never built the new science center building.


In regards to the Science Center becoming “another mouth to feed,” the size of the new building meant that it would become another, fairly large, mouth to feed, regardless of whether it was part of The Carnegie or independently operated! Also, you need to realize that Carnegie had originally competed for the exclusive rights to build an Omnimax Theater in Pittsburgh. So, when Buhl won this competition, is it any wonder that Carnegie officials, who had better political ties to State politicians, suggested that it would be better if Carnegie managed this big project?


The original Carnegie Science Center was planned, and funds raised, in the 1980s, when Pittsburgh was still the third largest Fortune 500 corporate headquarters city in the country (behind New York and Chicago, respectively). After 20 years of merger-mania, Pittsburgh is fortunate to still be in the top-10 regarding corporate headquarters. However, with the loss of several major corporations, along with their charitable foundations, it is just silly to think that $45 million in private funds (to match $45 million in State funds, if the State had been willing to release the entire $45 million!) could have been raised in 2003, when only $20 million in private funds had been raised 20 years earlier! Consequently, the $90 million expansion project was scrapped in May of 2003.


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

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stating that museum attendance has stagnated for most city museums; an article in USA Today this week

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states that the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum is having the same problem. However, the August article also said that the Children’s Museum was the one exception, with increasing attendance due to their recent expansion; The Carnegie Science Center is reported in the same article to believe that the Children’s Museum is “cannibalizing” Science Center visitors.


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 Carnegie Museum, then, brought-in the traveling exhibit of robotic dinosaurs.


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, Science Center management decided to end the annual Tropical Fish Show, despite the fact that it brought people into the building in the early Autumn, at a time Buhl visitation was low. I attended a staff meeting where I was the lone staff person fighting to keep the Tropical Fish Show! But, the management had already decided what they wanted to do. The management’s excuse for wanting to end the show after 40 years—the show was too “amateurish” and did not meet management’s “high” exhibitry standards. Obviously, they did not want the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society to expect that they could put-on their show at The Carnegie Science Center, once the new building opened. Also, I think there was another reason—reducing attractions at, and attendance of, the original Buhl Planetarium would make the new Carnegie Science Center look that much better, once it opened!


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 Science Center’s “Science Stage” auditorium, for no charge. It is my belief that this free meeting space was in  return for AAAP’s public support, before Pittsburgh City Council, of the dismantling of the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope; of course, at this time, I was fighting to prevent the dismantling of these historic artifacts.


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 group, from Randolph, New York (between Jamestown and Allegany State Park, south of Buffalo), visited Buhl Planetarium every-other year. During the year they did not visit Buhl, they visited the Ontario Science Center in Toronto; although, eventually, they started visiting Buhl every year, as the teacher told me that there came to be some dispute with the Ontario Science Center staff. I was scheduled to open the astronomical observatory for this group, in the early evening, when they came—at their specific request. One year when I did this, in May of 1986, Halley’s Comet was in view, although not early in the evening when this group was scheduled. After allowing the group to see objects with the telescope, I implored the teacher to keep his group at Buhl a couple more hours, so the students could see Halley’s Comet. However, the teacher was not interested; he did not seem to understand the significance of viewing Halley’s Comet, and he had his own schedule he wanted to keep.


Laser-light concerts, originally Laserium (Laser Images of Van Nuys, California invented this genre at Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory and Planetarium), but later in the 1980s Buhl performed shows by Audio-Visual Imagineering (AVI) and Laser Fantasy International (LFI), started at Buhl in the mid- 1970s. In fact, one story (attributed to long-time Buhl Planetarium Floor Manager John Miller) is that then-Buhl Planetarium Executive Director Carl Wapiennik was not enthused about bringing Laserium into Buhl. However, the Board of Directors, always looking for new revenue streams, pushed the introduction of Laserium. In fact, Mr. Miller said that, after a Board meeting when Carl and Board members had returned to the first floor from the second floor Board Room/Library, then-City Councilman Frank J. Lucchino told Carl, in no uncertain terms, something to the effect, “You get that Laserium!”


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 Pittsburgh.


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, Pittsburgh still had three major department stores (Joseph Horne Company, Kaufmann’s, and Gimbel Brothers) as well as the smaller Saks Fifth Avenue (which had replaced W.T. Grant Company). And, unlike most cities, these stores stayed open until 9:00 p.m. two nights per week: Monday and Thursday.


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.


The Friday 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 Oakland museums considered opening to the public one night per week. They asked if Buhl Planetarium had gone through a feasibility study (as Carnegie Institute had done) for such a major change in public hours. My supervisors, truthfully, told them that Buhl had gone through no feasibility study; they simply said that one of their staff members (me) had written a long memo suggesting the change. From reading my memo, the change made sense to the Management Committee, so it was implemented!


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.


Another example 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 Pittsburgh’s often-cloudy weather, as well as for office-politics reasons. When I was hired in 1982, there was no regular Observatory public use schedule; the Observatory was used when weather and staffing permitted.


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.


Holiday Closings - In the beginning, Buhl Planetarium was open to the public every day of the year except New Year’s Day. Some time in the 1950s or 1960s, that one exception was changed to Christmas Day.


Are you aware that, currently, The Carnegie Science Center and the SportsWorks exhibit facility are both closed each Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all Pittsburgh Steeler home-game Sundays with an afternoon kick-off? Originally, SportsWorks was built to take advantage of the proximity to Steelers games! Obviously, this is to allow the Rooneys use of the Science Center parking lot. I do wonder if the financial arrangements for the Science Center are really sufficient!


…few 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 Institute of Popular Science by proclaiming that the  first “Science Center” was built in Pittsburgh in 1991!


From the 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 “Carnegie Science Center, Allegheny Square Annex.” However, it is now clear to me that the Science Center management considered this simply a short-term arrangement. They probably figured that, once people got used to coming to the wonderful Carnegie Science Center, their nostalgia for the original Buhl Planetarium would fade and in a few years the original Buhl Planetarium could be abandoned.


Likewise, today, despite promises, to the City of Pittsburgh from The Carnegie Science Center management,  to reassemble three pieces of historic Buhl Planetarium artifacts in The Carnegie Science Center (Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, and large Mercator’s Projection Map of the World), these artifacts remain dismantled in the Science Center warehouse, collecting dust educating no one. The  original deadline for reassembling the  Zeiss Projector (as a partially-activated exhibit; it would not give sky shows) and the Mercator’s Map was the end of 2005; they promised to reassemble the Siderostat Telescope (to actually be used on the roof of the new Science Center expansion) at the completion of the new Science Center building.


With the cancellation of the Science Center expansion project in May of 2003, the reassembly of the Zeiss Projector was “delayed” by a year; there was no mention of reassembly of the Mercator’s Map or Siderostat Telescope. Now that this second deadline has come and gone with no reassembly of the Zeiss Projector (even though they spent a million dollars, last year, installing the new “Buhl Digital Dome”), it is obvious that these “delays” were meant for people to have time to forget about the original Buhl Planetarium artifacts, so The Carnegie Science Center can do nothing! Needless to say, my continuing reminders, to City Council and the Regional Asset District (RAD) Board (along with news releases to the media) have been a continual “thorn in the side” to Science Center management. And, I plan to continue these reminders, including statements to the RAD Board and City Council within the next month, regarding the passage of the Science Center’s second deadline!


The original 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 Science Center (which they had designed) that would open to the public on October 5. Also, since the management intended to be present for the official closing of Buhl Planetarium, as a public museum, they probably did not want to come in on Labor Day for the closing events (and, of course, they never considered holding those closing events on the day after Labor Day, when they would be on their regular employment schedule!).


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 Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio), a computer educator in the Program Department, was named the head of the Allegheny Square Annex tutorial center. Dave was known as an aggressive “go-getter” who would keep the original building operating well; if anybody could make this tutorial center work, Dave could.


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 institution.

This occurred 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 Exploration Place science museum in Wichita.


Although Dave 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 Science Center management had planned to get rid of both Buhl Planetarium, and Dave Chesebrough, within the next few years. Since he was so aggressive, it seems that Al DeSena considered Dave Chesebrough a competitor for the Science Center Director position; what better way to get rid of two “problems” at once than to appoint Dave to a position that would be eliminated within three years!


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 Science Center astronomy classes.

De-emphasizing Astronomy at The Carnegie Science Center - The priority of Alphonse DeSena, and the people he hired, was to make the new Science Center into the catalyst that would propel the perceived “new industries” of Pittsburgh, namely computers and robotics. There was an effort to de-emphasize astronomy, and emphasize computers and robots, at Buhl Planetarium beginning in 1982 (starting with the name change to “Buhl Science Center”). However, from just a financial standpoint, the planetarium was still the main draw (except during “Railroad Season”), so astronomy continued to have a major emphasis until the closing of the building as a public museum in 1991.


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 Science Center would become the preeminent science museum in the country! Most staff members read the memo and simply shook their heads in disbelief! The new building had not yet even opened, and Dr. DeSena was planning for national and world domination of the science center field!


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.


       Science Center management had no intentions of building a large planetarium in the new science center building. They knew a planetarium was probably necessary, but they thought a small one would be sufficient. The only reason that The Carnegie Science Center planetarium turned-out to have a relatively large planetarium (50-foot diameter dome, seating 156) was because Planetarium Director Paul Oles convinced upper management that, to be considered a “major” planetarium (and, of course, everyone agreed that Pittsburgh had to have a “major” planetarium), the dome size could not go below 50 feet in diameter.


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.


The Science Center management had never even considered the erection of an astronomical observatory for the new building, simply because they had no interest in it. So, the Science Center roof was built so that it was not strong enough to hold more than a few people at a time, and certainly not strong enough to hold an observatory.


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 Science Center. Even back in 1991, there were more and more automated observatories being built for astronomical research. Hence, this new observatory’s CCD camera system would show the public how these new automated observatories operated (even though people could not actually see the telescope and camera system inside the observatory).


The first Summer of observatory operation (1992), a researcher from an eastern Ohio university was hired to get the new Observatory program running. Due to the light pollution inherent in being in the middle of a large city, it was decided to start a research program on variable stars; regardless of light pollution, the telescope could record how variable stars vary in brightness.

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 Science Center’s fifth-floor observation deck. However, this fifth floor observation deck was not designed for an astronomical observatory. It had been built for people to get a beautiful view of the Downtown Pittsburgh Golden Triangle and environs. Consequently, building vibrations now affect the telescope image, usually every 10-20 seconds.


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 Jena, Germany had made a mistake. The factory had sent Buhl a terrestrial refractor telescope, which uses an extra lens to make the image up-right (to view objects on the Earth); astronomical refractor telescopes have no need for the extra lens, since scientists can just as easily study celestial objects which are upside-down. And, every time you add a lens to a telescope, the quality of the image is diminished; so astronomers are always interested in using astronomical refractor telescopes.

Buhl officials considered sending the terrestrial telescope back to Germany, to be exchanged for an astronomical telescope. But, by that time World War II had started in Europe, and a telescope exchange was out-of-the-question. The Carl Zeiss factory in Jena, Germany was converted to make bomb-sights for German military aircraft; eventually, this factory was bombed by the Allies. So, Buhl Planetarium learned to live-with a terrestrial telescope, and during the 1980s and early 1990s I used this Zeiss telescope, with a rather unique history.


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.


Munich’s Deutsches 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 America’s early Zeiss planetaria started without a thought to a more general science museum. Adler Planetarium in Chicago was built in 1930 including an astronomical museum. High on a hill overlooking Hollywood, Griffith Observatory was built with two observatory domes and a planetarium, but with astronomical exhibit space smaller than the exhibit space at Buhl Planetarium. Hayden Planetarium was an addition to New York City’s American Museum of Natural History.


In Pennsylvania, the two major cities did build science museums,  each with a slightly different emphasis. While Franklin Institute built a major science museum including Fels Planetarium, Buhl Planetarium was built including an “Institute of Popular Science” (later called “Science Center”). It cannot be denied that, in the beginning, Buhl Planetarium’s primary emphasis was astronomy, but it was not Buhl’s only emphasis. Many different types of physical sciences were displayed in Buhl’s five exhibit galleries, often with the encouragement and financial support of Pittsburgh corporations which had specific interests in those sciences (for a while, Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania even funded a part-time staff person to explain their extensive Buhl exhibit to visitors). And, there were even limited examples of the life sciences displayed at Buhl Planetarium, from the early demonstrations of the “Micro Zoo,” which showed life in a drop of water, to the “BioCorner,” designed by me, where chicks (and occasionally ducklings) were hatched in front of visitors’ eyes each weekend.


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!


“The 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 New York City. You may recall that the large Mercator’s Projection Map of the World, originally created for the U.S. Maritime Commission, also came from the 1939 World’s Fair.


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 Bost Building a couple years ago, this museum does not have enough space to display the mural in its entirety!!!


Allegheny Center Affects Attendance? - I really do not agree with the idea that the construction of the Allegheny Center renewal project and the underground parking garage adversely affected attendance at Buhl Planetarium or the Allegheny Regional Branch of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. In the case of the Allegheny Regional Branch Library, it continued to be the fourth busiest library branch in the city—of 20 library branches, by Carnegie Library’s own statistics.


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 Allegheny Center parking garage, people had no problems using it when they really wanted to come to Buhl, particularly during the annual exhibition of the Miniature Railroad and Village. The parking garage was barely a block away. And, with a bustling shopping mall and Pittsburgh Public Theater shows, there were always a lot of people around, which made Buhl visitors feel safer.


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 Allegheny Center, metered parking (head-in) spots were located on the west side of the building.


Buhl Planetarium Executive Director Carl Wapiennik did complain about the construction of Allegheny Center, fearing the new high-rises would block use of Buhl Planetarium telescopes. The high-rises never did affect the Siderostat Telescope; by its unique design, it has a somewhat limited access to the sky to begin-with, which was not made worse by the high-rises of Allegheny Center. However, use of portable telescopes on the Observatory’s east and west outdoor wings did become more limited, with the construction of the apartment and office buildings.


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 Allegheny Center was planned, the U.S. Post Office Department intended to abandon the Old Allegheny Post Office, next to Buhl Planetarium, in favor of a new and smaller post office structure to be built on the site of Pennsylvania Railroad’s former Fort Wayne Railroad Station. As with the abandonment of Pittsburgh’s former main post office on Fourth Avenue (where Allegheny County planned to build a new Justice Center, but later sold the land for One Oxford Center), the Federal Government only wanted to operate one historic post office building in Pittsburgh, the one Andrew Mellon had built on Seventh Avenue and Grant Street in 1932.


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 Chicago’s Adler Planetarium in 1930. When Adler upgraded to another Zeiss Projector, the original projector was sold to someone in Mississippi. However, when it was shipped to Mississippi, the supposed new owner would not pay the truck driver; so, the truck driver did not release the projector. Rumor has it that this projector was finally sold to someone in Ohio. However, we still do not know where it is; obviously,  it is in storage someplace, never actually used.


The decline of Allegheny Center was partially a decision, on the part of the City of Pittsburgh in the 1980s, to place a greater emphasis on development of the North Shore, partly to try to prevent the Pittsburgh Pirates from moving to New Orleans, or anywhere else. Along with plans for a new Science Center on the North Shore (although some people proposed building the new Science Center in the Strip District, City Council representative on the Buhl Planetarium Board, and later Mayor, Sophie Masloff countered that the new Science Center should remain on the North Side near the original Buhl Planetarium, which had been on the North Side “forever”), there were plans for a new shopping mall (the Rooneys planned on a Nordstrom’s department store in this mall, as the Nordstrom’s owners also owned a NFL franchise; this killed Tom Murphy’s plans for a Nordstrom’s Downtown), boat marina, yacht club, and even a MisterRogers theme park!


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 Beaver County farmer was not part of the city elite (e.g. not a member of the Duquesne Club), so he probably had little chance of getting a city lease for starting a boat marina in such a prominent location.


The chronology of the decline of Allegheny Center goes something like this. The Allegheny Center Mall had three anchor tenants: Sears, Roebuck, and Company at the western end of the Mall; Zayre’s discount department store at the eastern end of the Mall; and F.W. Woolworth and Company in the center of the Mall.


Ames’ bought-out Zayre’s and Ames’ opened in the Mall. Ames’, which had also bought-out McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Company, eventually went bankrupt and closed the Mall store. At the same time, several of the smaller merchants were very concerned about the future of the shopping mall. I remember shopping in the Mall’s greeting card store one evening and over-hearing one of the owners talk about his concerns and preparing to write a letter to Mall management about those concerns.


Next, Buhl closed as a public museum and the Science Center moved to the North Shore. Of course, Buhl reopened as a tutorial center, but this only lasted until 1994.


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).


By the 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 Allegheny Center and Hampton Township being the only exceptions in Allegheny County.


By the 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 New York City closed all Woolworth five-and-dime stores throughout the country!


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 Gifted Center.


The School District, which I worked closely with on the Gifted Center proposal, would have kept the Zeiss Projector, Siderostat Telescope, and other major artifacts. The only change they would have made is the addition of skylights to provide more lighting for the Great Hall, which I had no objection to. In contrast, to add more lighting in the Great Hall (and provide an indoor view of the Carnegie Library clock-tower, next door), the Children’s Museum removed a large section of the Great Hall’s east wall, of which the exterior wall included a historic astronomical inscription from the Bible

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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

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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 CAPA High School (to make-up for the loss of the Public Theater)—or nothing. Well, after a major consultant’s study that showed the Buhl was too small for CAPA (a three-floor annex would have to also have been built behind the Old Allegheny Post Office, for a total cost of $20 million), the School Board decided that for that high cost, they would rather build Downtown; so the North Side did get nothing from the School District.


Allegheny 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 Science Center officials had a “gentleman’s agreement” that the Science Center would continue operating the original  Buhl Planetarium building, as well as the new North Shore science center building. After the Mayor’s untimely death, this is an agreement that was, over time, conveniently forgotten.


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 Science Center officials were embarrassed that the original Buhl Planetarium was doing better, financially, than the new Science Center. So, of course, when they cut budgets, they eliminated the facility that was breaking-even !!!


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 “Market Street” intersection.

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 “Buhl Science Center, A Component of The Carnegie”, immediately following the Buhl/Carnegie merger, which officially took effect 1987 January 1. Joshua Whetzel, Jr. became the head of the new Science Center Board, under the Carnegie umbrella, and was given a small office in the basement of Carnegie Institute (office in the basement was seemingly and really a slap-in-the-face to Josh, who Carnegie management had little interest in). Buhl Administrative Secretary, Linda Garin, once complained to Dr. DeSena (now Buhl Director) that Josh was continuing to task her different assignments, while Linda was, now, really only supposed to report to Dr. DeSena.

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 Pittsburgh, for use of the Buhl Planetarium building. The Children’s Museum does legally own the Old Allegheny Post Office and the new “Nightlight Building,” which connects Buhl to the Post Office.

6)       The Carnegie Science Center was built at the same time as the new Pittsburgh International Airport; the Airport was Tasso’s major interest; the Science Center was secondary to him!

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 Pittsburgh”.

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:

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11)    Not “Stars of Christmas.” Originally “Star of Bethlehem.” Also, occasionally called “The Christmas Star,” the name now preferred by The Carnegie Science Center.

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!