1 Dome Saved, 1 Dome to be Demolished

Friday, September 17, 2010 11:40 PM

From: "Glenn A. Walsh" <gawalsh@planetarium.cc>

To:   Steering Committee, Friends of the Zeiss
From: Glenn A. Walsh

This-past week, the Board of Directors of the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) voted, unanimously with no discussion, to demolish the historic Civic Arena, which features the largest retractable, stainless steel dome roof in the world! Rob Pfaffmann's Reuse the Igloo has vowed a court fight to save the Civic Arena, which I would strongly support.

However, his fight will be quite difficult, particularly with both the Mayor and the County Executive (running for Governor) supporting demolition. It seems that the reported cost of $500,000 a year for maintaining a moth-balled Civic Arena scared the politicians and SEA Board members, particularly during this recession with Tea Party activists becoming more prominent.

We probably should be thankful that Buhl Planetarium was so small (Buhl Planetarium: 40,000 square-feet; Civic Arena: 170,000 square-feet), and The Carnegie Science Center abandoned the building at a time when the city's finances were not as strained, as they are today.

To my knowledge, there were only two times the Buhl Planetarium building was at risk for demolition. Greg Madden reported that The Carnegie was looking for a company to demolish the building, soon after they abandoned it. Of course, this still would have had to be approved by City Council.

In the Spring of 1994, I contacted the office of Dan Onorato (who then represented the North Side on City Council), regarding my concern about the abandoned Buhl Planetarium building. My timing was excellent. It turned-out that a meeting was planned in June, in the Mayor's Office, regarding the future of the Buhl Planetarium building. I received an invitation to that meeting.

The meeting consisted of representatives from about a dozen-or-so non-profit organizations and economic development agencies both from the North Side and the city in-general, and of course, Dan Onorato. The newly-formed Regional Asset District was represented by Board member Gerald Voros. The Carnegie was represented by President Ellsworth Brown and his new aide, Lorene Vinski (who had previously been Co-Director of Visitor Services and Volunteers at Buhl Planetarium, and one of my Buhl bosses).

The meeting was chaired by Mayor Tom Murphy's Executive Assistant, Tom Cox, who also served as Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Board. When the meeting began, after everyone went around introducing themselves, the very first question Tom Cox asked was: Should we consider demolishing the building?

Well, I was horrified with the question, but hesitated a moment to see if anyone else would give an opinion on the question. After silence for a moment, I immediately blurted-out "HEAVENS NO !!!"

No one made any comments in opposition to my exclamation. The meeting proceeded with the understanding that the building would not be demolished. To my knowledge, that was the last time demolition of Buhl Planetarium was considered. So, my "HEAVENS NO !!!" may-well have saved Buhl Planetarium.

As the meeting proceeded, several ideas for reuse of Buhl Planetarium were talked-about. But there was no serious consideration of any particular reuse plan, primarily because there was no money for any particular plan. At the end of the meeting, a special committee (which, of course, I volunteered for) was set-up for future meetings to decide how to reuse Buhl Planetarium. This committee never met.

When a historic building, such as the Civic Arena, is to be replaced, the new replacement project should include an economically-viable reuse of the historic building. Unfortunately, even if such a provision was included in a historic preservation ordinance, the Murphy Administration successfully stopped the historic designation of the Civic Arena several years ago.

However, in the mid-1980s, Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri was concerned about what would happen to the Buhl Planetarium building, once the new Science Center opened. Consequently, there was, what could be termed, a "gentleman's agreement" between the city and The Carnegie that The Carnegie would continue operating the Buhl Planetarium building once the new Science Center opened.

So, the new Science Center building was designed without classroom space. Science and computer classes, as well as professional development programs for teachers, were part of the newly-rechristened "Carnegie Science Center, Allegheny Square Annex."

Tragically, Mayor Caliguiri came to be the first of three major Pennsylvania public officials to die of amyloidosis, a rare and serious protein disorder. He died in office on 1988 May 6. The other two politicians to die of this affliction, around the same time, were long-time Erie Mayor Louis Tulallio and Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey.

I remember meeting Mayor Caliguiri after he attended a meeting of the Buhl Board of Directors, which had been held in the Wherrett Memorial Classroom. Although I offered to let him hold one of the baby chicks from the BioCorner exhibit, he would only agree to pet the chick.

Since The Carnegie Science Center was designed without classroom space, the Buhl Planetarium building became tne Allegheny Square Annex tutorial center as planned, in September of 1991. However, with the death of Mayor Caliguiri, the "gentleman's agreement" between the city and The Carnegie was soon conveniently forgotten. And, The Carnegie completely abandoned the Buhl Planetarium building in February of 1994.


Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < http://friendsofthezeiss.org >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
  < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#news >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://andrewcarnegie.tripod.com >
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://incline.pghfree.net >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >