Update: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

Update: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

2001 December

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science(1939), in Allegheny Center on Pittsburgh’s Lower North Side, has been closed to the public, since the Science and Computer classes of The Carnegie Science Center(1991) were transferred to the Science Center's main building in February of 1994. The Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, located across the street in the former Allegheny Post Office(1897), is seeking to expand their operation into the Buhl Planetarium building.

In the "Update" I issued last year, I reported that the Children’s Museum, at the urging of Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Barbara Burns, had agreed to keep the historic Zeiss II Planetarium Projector(oldest operable, major planetarium projector in the world!) and the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope(second largest Siderostat telescope in the world!) in the Buhl Planetarium building as part of the structure’s rehabilitation. This was the information given to me by Ms. Burns’ legislative aide. In January, I learned that this legislative aide was misinformed.

For most of this past year, I, along with the support from many of you, have been fighting to keep the Zeiss and Siderostat in the Buhl Planetarium building. We testified before the Board of Directors of the Allegheny Regional Asset District(which provides funding for large capital projects, from a one-percent sales tax levied in Allegheny County) on August 27(12 people appeared before the Board) and before Pittsburgh City Council on November 13(9 people testified). In both instances, we consistently stated that we would not oppose the Children’s Museum expansion into the Buhl Planetarium building, provided that the historic Zeiss and Siderostat instruments remain in their original installation where they can be used.

The Children’s Museum has stated that the continuing operation of the Zeiss and Siderostat, in the Buhl Planetarium, is not part of the mission of the Children’s Museum. They want the historic instruments dismantled and possibly given to The Carnegie Science Center. Their current plan would convert the "Theater of the Stars," home of the Zeiss projector, into an exhibit gallery and children’s workshop. Such a conversion would mean that the Zeiss projector would never present sky shows again!

The Carnegie Science Center has offered to reassemble the Zeiss and Siderostat, as part of their proposed $90 million expansion project; funding for this project is not yet guaranteed, and there is no real idea of when such a reassembly would take place. However, such reassembly would likely render both instruments as fairly useless artifacts. Although the Science Center claims that the Zeiss projector could project "stars" on a nearby screen, in reality the "stars" would be unorganized light images. The Zeiss was designed to project planets and constellations onto a 65-foot diameter dome; no discernable constellations can be projected without such a dome. The Director of the Science Center, Seddon Bennington, has publicly announced that the Zeiss projector would never again be used for planetarium shows, if moved to The Carnegie Science Center.

The Carnegie Science Center claims that the Zeiss projector is too old and antiquated for use as a planetarium, particularly when compared to the Science Center’s computerized Digistar II planetarium projector. The Carnegie Science Center Planetarium Director, John Radzilowicz, has also claimed that the Zeiss is not the oldest operable planetarium projector. Although he has not publicly stated what other projector is older, I believe he is referring to a 1937 projector in Springfield, Massachusetts. Although this projector is two years older than the Zeiss, it is smaller and cannot show all stars in the southern sky, as the Zeiss can. More importantly, it is not designed to show planets at all! It is really a stellarium projector, showing only stars; it is not a planetarium, which is designed to also show the much more complex movements of the planets!

Sometime early in 2002, Pittsburgh City Council(the City of Pittsburgh owns the Buhl Planetarium site, building, equipment, and artifacts) will consider a long-term lease(29 years) for the Children’s Museum to operate the Buhl Planetarium building. We are asking City Council, as one of the terms of this lease, to prohibit the dismantling of the Zeiss and Siderostat and allow these historic instruments to be used, from time-to-time, by knowledgeable volunteers. If this historic equipment remains in the Buhl Planetarium, I have told City Council that I will form a non-profit corporation to raise funds for maintenance of this equipment.

A public hearing before City Council will probably be convened, prior to the approval of the long-term lease. It is important that everyone, interested in retaining the functionality of the historic Buhl Planetarium equipment, make his or her views known to City Council at that time. Contact me, at the electronic mail or U.S. Mail address below, if you can testify in person or by letter, at this public hearing. I will contact you when the public hearing is scheduled.

gaw 12-8-2001

Learn More About The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science on the Internet:

< http://www.planetarium.cc >

Glenn A. Walsh Telephone: 412-561-7876

P.O. Box 1041 Electronic Mail: < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15230-1041 Internet Web Site: < http:// www.planetarium.cc >