Wednesday, August 31, 2011

20 Years Ago...

From: Glenn A. Walsh

Today (August 31) at 5:00 p.m. EDT, twenty years ago, Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center) closed as a public museum.

This was Saturday of the Labor Day Weekend in 1991. I had issued a memorandum to Pat Weidman, Director of the Department of Visitor Services and Volunteers, suggesting that the last day of public visitation should be Labor Day, September 2. This would give Pittsburghers two additional days to visit Buhl Planetarium before it closed, as well as give Buhl the additional income from these nostalgic visitors. This would have had no effect on the move to the new Science Center building, as nothing would be moved during the holiday weekend.

However, when Pat Weidman took my suggestion to the Management Committee, it was rejected. It was obvious that Buhl Science Center Director Al DeSena and other Program staff had no interest in giving the public extra time to see Buhl Planetarium. They only thought about the glory of opening the new science center building. Since they had no intentions of being in the Buhl building on Labor Day, the final day of visitation would be the last day they would be in the building for the evening's special member event--that Saturday evening.

The building and most equipment and artifacts continued as the "Allegheny Square Annex, The Carnegie Science Center" until February of 1994 when the building was completely abandoned by The Carnegie Science Center. Science Center science and computer classes, and teacher development programs, were centered in the original Buhl building during this time period.

Originally, the new Carnegie Science Center building had specifically been constructed without classroom space. During Pittsburgh Mayor Richard Caliguiri's Administration, the city and the Science Center had agreed, through what could be called a "gentleman's agreement," that the Science Center would not abandon the original Buhl Planetarium building. However, after a couple years of operation of the "Allegheny Square Annex," and after the untimely death of Mayor Richard Caliguiri and a new city administration, the Science Center's agreement to continue operating the original building was conveniently forgotten.

After abandoning the building, the Science Center attempted to sell-off the historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and 10-inch Siderostat-type, Refractor Telescope to a college south of Dallas. The irony is that the college had no intent to actually use the equipment, but only to display them as antique artifacts (but for how long?). Had these pieces of equipment left the city at that time, there might have been an excuse to tear-down the building.

A grass-roots effort, helped by many of you, stopped this sale of historic Pittsburgh artifacts. At this link, you can learn more about the efforts to stop the sale of the Zeiss and Siderostat:

Although we won the battle to keep the historic equipment, the historic equipment and artifacts remained in an empty and unused building for several years. Proposals to reuse the Buhl Planetarium building, which would have kept the historic equipment and artifacts in-place and occasionally used, were considered but fell-through for both financial and political reasons. Such proposals included a Pittsburgh Public Schools Center for Gifted Children, Italian-American Cultural Center, and an annex of the National Aviary.

In 2000, the Children's Museum started planning an expansion into the Buhl Planetarium building. However, despite strong lobbying efforts, they refused to keep most of the historic equipment and artifacts in the building. The Carnegie Science Center quickly agreed to move the Zeiss Projector, Siderostat Telescope, and the large Mercator's Projection Map of the World into a warehouse, to ensure they would not be used in competition with The Carnegie Science Center.

A couple years later, the city loaned the large U.S. Steel mural, "The Rise of Steel Technology" by Nat H. Youngblood, to the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area/Museum in Homestead.

The first floor's Great Hall was reused by the Children's Museum as a cafe, but the east wall was replaced with a huge window, to view the historic clock tower and entrance to the Allegheny Regional Branch of Carnegie Library. The destruction of this wall included the destruction of an astronomical verse from the Bible, inscribed on the exterior of the wall. The wall remnants of this Bible verse remain in storage, as does the Civil Defense sign that had been mounted outside the building's entrance.

The Great Hall's grand clock continues in use. And, the Children's Museum did return to the Great Hall, from the Science Center, the original Buhl Planetarium Foucault Pendulum.

Bowdish Gallery, which had been home of the Miniature Railroad and Village, was turned into a small auditorium/exhibit gallery, with the reuse of 40 original seats from Buhl's Little Science Theater (LST). The reuse of original LST chairs was the only suggestion I made that the Children's Museum implemented. Radio studios of the weekly Saturday Morning Light Brigade children's radio program were constructed in the former miniature railroad maintenance areas east of Bowdish Gallery.

The Mezzanine Gallery is now used as a temporary gallery/program area. The Octagon Gallery, which did not have good handicapped access, is now used as a workshop. The original Buhl Planetarium Workshop was rented to a small nonprofit organization, as were the Discovery Lab (Lab 1) and Lab 2 classrooms.

The Theater of the Stars (Planetarium Theater) and the Little Science Theater were converted into exhibit galleries. The Hall of the Universe is now used as a traveling exhibits gallery.

The second floor office area and Buhl Library are now used for daily children's classes. The third floor Observatory is now used as a Children's Museum Board Room.

Last year, The Carnegie Science Center finally reassembled the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector as a non-usable, static exhibit at the extreme western end of the Science Center's first floor Atrium Gallery (next to the entrance to their Science Stage theater).

The 10-inch Siderostat-type, Refractor Telescope and the Mercator's Projection Map of the World remain, dismantled, in a Science Center warehouse. The Science Center claims they will be reassembled and reused with an expansion of the Science Center building. The Science Center has filed plans for an expanded Science Center building with the city. However, there have been no efforts toward developing a specific timeline and finding funding for such building expansion.

The original Buhl Planetarium building was custom-built to include the Zeiss Projector (inside a 65-foot diameter planetarium dome) and the Siderostat Telescope. Without replication of these specific chambers, the Zeiss Projector and Siderostat Telescope cannot be reused.

It is obvious that the Science Center has no intentions of replicating Buhl's Theater of the Stars. Although they claim they will replicate Buhl's Observatory, they have no firm plans or funding to do so; such a new siderostat observatory would only spend money replicating a chamber that already exists.

It continues to be the case that the most cost-effective way to reuse the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and the 10-inch Siderostat-type, Refractor Telescope will be to convert the original Theater of the Stars and Buhl Observatory back to their original functions. Then, these historic pieces of astronomical apparatus, which exquisitely taught science to the public for more than 50 years, can return to teaching science to the young visitors to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.


Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < >
Electronic Mail - < >
  < >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < >
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < >

412 298 3432 = cell

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