Friends of the Zeiss Statement Before the Board of the
Telephone: 412-561-7876 2005 March 2
Electronic Mail: < email@example.com>
Internet Web Site: < http://www.friendsofthezeiss.org>
Good afternoon, I am Glenn A. Walsh of
Today’s hearing is to determine that the nominated property, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, is eligible to be approved as a City-Designated Historic Structure.
First, in general, consider these facts:
The original Buhl Planetarium had several historic firsts:
Ø First planetarium projector placed on an elevator, to increase flexibility in the Theater of the Stars;
Ø First planetarium theater which included a permanent theatrical stage;
Ø First planetarium theater (and, perhaps, first theater) to install a special sound system specifically for the hearing impaired—remember, this was in 1939!
Ø First publicly-owned building in the City (and, possibly, the State) constructed with air-conditioning;
Ø First permanent Siderostat Telescope specifically designed for public use.
Additionally, for more than 50 years, Buhl Planetarium housed an exhibit that was considered the largest Mercator’s Projection Map in the world! And, the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, which operated as Buhl Planetarium’s main projector for more than 53 years, was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world before being dismantled in October of 2002.
I present the following points in support of this
eligibility, based on the Criteria for
Designation in Section 1.4 of the
number 1: The site of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science has
been used for important civic purposes since January of 1864, when the
2) Criteria number 2: Buhl Planetarium was built by the Buhl Foundation to be a living memorial to Henry Buhl, Jr., who co-founded what was once one of the city’s leading department stores, Boggs and Buhl. A very active amateur astronomer, Leo Scanlon, who developed the world’s first all-aluminum dome for his private astronomical observatory—a prototype for many future observatory domes, was instrumental in lobbying foundations and city government to have a planetarium built in Pittsburgh.
I might add that Space Shuttle Astronaut Jay Apt, and
very recent International Space Station Astronaut Mike Fincke, have both
declared that childhood visits to the original Buhl Planetarium inspired them
to become astronauts. In fact, I spoke with Mike Fincke on February 17 after he
had addressed a filled auditorium at
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number 3: Influenced by the art deco architecture of that time, Buhl
Planetarium was built by what
4) Criteria number 4: The building was designed by one of the
city’s leading architectural firms, Ingham and Boyd, which is now known as IKM
Incorporated; as Mr. Kidney mentioned last month, Buhl Planetarium was their
“masterpiece.” Further, the 72-foot diameter outer dome was constructed by New
York City’s R. Guastavino Company, particularly known for construction of an
elegant series of timbrel vaults in 1904, known as the Guastavino Arch, in the
City Hall Subway Station in
number 5: The Buhl Foundation spared no expense in the
construction of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, at a cost of $1,081,500, and conveyed the building and all contents
as a gift to the City of
The Theater of the Stars, the Buhl Planetarium chamber, was built with several innovations including the first use of an elevator to lower the planetarium projector below the Theater when not in use, the first permanent theatrical stage in a planetarium, and a special sound system for hearing-impaired Theater attendees—again, this was in 1939!
Before computers, and just as television was in its infancy, an astronomical observatory was designed for Buhl Planetarium, whereas the viewing public could remain in a heated observing room during cold weather—without the use of a television screen. This Sidereal Coelostat, or Siderostat-type, 10-inch refractor telescope was the first such telescope designed in a permanent installation for public use. It was also the second largest Siderostat-type telescope in use.
Buhl Planetarium was the first
publicly-owned building in the City, and possibly the State, to be constructed
with air-conditioning. In fact, air-conditioning was essential, since the
museum galleries and theaters were specifically built without windows, to
better control lighting, heating, and air-conditioning. And, although Buhl
Planetarium was built with a boiler room, boilers were never installed.
Arrangements were made with the City to share the heating plant of the Carnegie
Free Library of Allegheny, then just across
number 7: Buhl Planetarium was constructed on the site of the former City Hall
of the independent City of
7) Criteria number 9: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was designed in the same era as the World’s Fair of 1939-1940, "Building The World of Tomorrow", in New York City. In both cases, the theme was to display to the public human progress through the modern wonders of science and technology.
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Nomination of Buhl Planetarium as Historic Landmark 2005 March 2 Page 3 of 3
As the third largest corporate
headquarters city in the country, until the merger-mania of the 1980s, and with
many of these companies having major Research & Development labs in
Pittsburgh, it was important that Pittsburgh have a first-class facility to
display new science and technological developments to the public. Despite the
perceived emphasis on Astronomy, throughout the institution’s history, the
R&D divisions of many Pittsburgh corporations invested in quite a few
exhibits and programs (particularly designed for the education of high school
students) for The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, including
(but, by no means, limited to) the annual Pittsburgh Regional School Science
and Engineering Fair. Pittsburgh’s Science Fair, begun at Buhl Planetarium in
the Spring of 1940, is the third oldest Science Fair in the
In the case of the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, not only did they provide many telecommunications exhibits for Buhl Planetarium, for a while they even funded a part-time staff person to explain these exhibits to the public! And, when Bell Telephone decided to introduce commercial Picture Phone service (real-time, video and voice telephone service; video was in black-and-white) in the early 1970s (and, they chose Pittsburgh and Chicago as the first two cities for this service unveiling), Bell Telephone provided Buhl Planetarium with two Picture Phone telephone booths, where the public could learn how to use this new technology!
number 10: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
has been a distinctive landmark in
these reasons, I urge the Historic Review Commission of
Attached to this statement are letters from two citizens, who could not attend today’s hearing, who also support the historic designation of Buhl Planetarium.