Application for the Nomination as a
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
Appendix B: Building History
In 1930, The Adler Planetarium and
In 1935, the Buhl Foundation, then the 13th largest foundation in the country (and Pittsburgh's first major foundation), agreed to construct a "planetarium and institute of popular science" on a City-owned site in the heart of the North Side, which previously had held the City Hall for the once independent City of Allegheny. The new institution would be a living memorial to Henry Buhl, Jr., the late North Side merchant (who had founded and owned the Boggs and Buhl Department Store, a block away from the planetarium site) who had left an $11 million bequest for the formation of the Buhl Foundation.
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular
Science, constructed, equipped, and
furnished at a cost of $1.085 million (completely paid for by the Buhl
Foundation), was dedicated on 1939 October 24. On that date, the building
and all contents of the building were conveyed to the City of
Although the facility was built to explain
all of the Physical Sciences to the public (and, from time-to-time, a few Life
Sciences), the heart of the institution was the Theater of the Stars
utilizing a Zeiss II Planetarium Projector.
Eventually, the Buhl staff affectionately nicknamed the Zeiss projector, "Jake;" this nickname was even used in the title of a children's planetarium show, "Jake's Magic Sky." With assistance from the Westinghouse Electric Elevator Company, Buhl's Zeiss II projector became the first planetarium projector in the world to be placed on an elevator, to allow more flexible use of the Theater of the Stars.
The first Director of Buhl Planetarium, James
Stokley, had originally been Director of the Fels Planetarium in
The theatrical stage was used several times each year. During the annual student Foreign Language Festival, school groups would give foreign language skits on the stage; these students would also see a planetarium show, with foreign language narration. During showings of the popular star drama,"Star of Bethlehem," each Christmas season, in one segment of the show a staff member or volunteer, portraying "Saint Luke," who would tell the Christmas
Appendix B: Building History 2004 December Page 2 of 8
story on the stage. In 1980, in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Public Theater, a special play was performed regarding the life of famous Italian Astronomer Galileo Galilei. Part of this performance occurred in the Hazlett Theatre, in Carnegie Library's North Side Carnegie Hall; the other part of the performance took place on the theatrical stage in Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars.
As the years went by, planetaria in other
cities replaced their original machines (many of them were also Zeiss II
projectors) with newer model projectors from the Carl Zeiss company or other
vendors. For instance, the Zeiss II projector at the Adler Planetarium in
Although Buhl Planetarium had a couple of opportunities to obtain a newer projector, Buhl management chose to continue using their tried-and-true Zeiss II projector. By Buhl Planetarium's fiftieth anniversary, in 1989, Buhl owned one of only three operating Zeiss II projectors in the world. And, of those three, Buhl's Zeiss II was the only one still in its original condition; the other two had been extensively modified. Prior to a 2002 October dismantling, Buhl Planetarium's Zeiss II projector was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world !!!
Public shows, in Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars, ceased with the last show of the day on 1991 August 31. With the opening of the new Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory in The Carnegie Science Center, on 1991 October 5, the original Buhl Planetarium assumed a new role.
Further, The Buhl
Site: The Buhl Planetarium and
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular
Science was built at Allegheny City’s (then, in 1939, the North Side of the
City of Pittsburgh) highest traffic intersection, the intersection of Federal
and Ohio Streets (Federal Street divided Ohio Street into East and West Ohio
Streets; Buhl Planetarium was the first building on the north side of West Ohio
Street). At this intersection were the
Appendix B: Building History 2004 December Page 3 of 8
few blocks of this intersection were Allegheny City’s (then the North Side’s) major Post Office in a landmark building with its own dome, Boggs and Buhl Department Store (one of six major department stores in Pittsburgh, which had developed a high quality reputation due to its original “carriage trade” business), Allegheny High School, Allegheny General Hospital (with a 20-floor tower opened just three years earlier), Fort Wayne Railroad Station, (then-closed) Phipps Conservatory (now the National Aviary), and St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.
Nearly all major streetcar and bus routes, traveling between Downtown Pittsburgh and North Side and North Hills points, passed this intersection, providing easy and frequent transportation to and from Buhl Planetarium. Further, a few streetcar and bus routes, such as the 77/54 North Side—Oakland—South Side streetcar line (made famous as “The Flyin’ Fraction” by popular KDKA radio morning rush-hour personality Rege Cordic in the 1960s), which traveled through many of Pittsburgh’s ethnic neighborhoods but only skirted the edge of Downtown, actually terminated in the vicinity of Buhl Planetarium. In the mid-1960s, when the Allegheny Center urban renewal project replaced several of the streets near Buhl Planetarium, these bus routes (by that time, Pittsburgh Railways Company’s “The Flyin’ Fraction” had been absorbed into the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s county-wide transit system, converted from a streetcar to a bus, and given the practical and less colorful designation of “54C”) actually terminated their route and laid-over in front of, or just west of, the Buhl Planetarium building, on the newly created side street titled Allegheny Square West (part of this street is now known as Children’s Way).
Bus lines to Mount Washington (former bus route 34B), and to the Charles Street/City View/Northview Heights section of the North Side (former bus route 19C), also terminated their route and laid-over at Buhl Planetarium. Again, these transit routes did not travel through Downtown.
Bus drivers, in their official uniform, were permitted to routinely enter Buhl Planetarium, without charge, to use the public restroom, during their layover time. After using the public restroom one day, one bus driver told Glenn A. Walsh that he really appreciated this privilege, because he knew that Buhl Planetarium’s public restrooms were always clean and well-kept; he made it a point to tell fellow drivers to use Buhl’s restroom, when in the area. And, this was very practical for the bus drivers as Buhl Planetarium was open every day of the year (except Christmas Day), most days from until late in the evening.
Today, the 54C North Side—Oakland—South Side bus route is the only bus line which terminates at the Buhl Planetarium building, or goes directly by the Buhl Planetarium building (although the renumbered 16F City View bus route, which was extended to Downtown on 1977 June 19, did travel directly past Buhl Planetarium on its outbound runs until very recently). Today, most bus routes, between Downtown and North Side and North Hills points, travel within one or two blocks of Buhl Planetarium, most traveling around the entire Allegheny Center complex on North Commons, West Commons, South Commons, and East Commons Streets.
Institution: In 1939, The
Buhl Planetarium and
Although Astronomy was a major emphasis, the
Appendix B: Building History 2004 December Page 4 of 8
cities, including Pittsburgh (thanks to the generous donations of Andrew
Carnegie), had developed museums of
Natural History (originally
considered the “science museum”) by the beginning of the twentieth century,
only a few museums emphasizing the
Physical Sciences had opened prior to the establishment of Buhl’s Institute of
Popular Science: Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany (started exhibition in
an older museum building on 1906 November 12, opening a new building on 1925
May 7); Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (opened with the Century of
Progress Exposition in May of 1933); and Franklin Institute in
From time-to-time, Buhl Planetarium also included programs and exhibits in the Life Sciences, such as a very popular chick-hatching exhibit (titled, “The BioCorner”) in the 1980s, created by Glenn A. Walsh. However, to prevent redundancy with the programs of other institutions, most Life Science exhibits and programs were left to the National Aviary (originally Pittsburgh Conservatory-Aviary), Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium (the PPG Aquarium was originally opened, in the mid-1960s, as the “AquaZoo”), and Phipps Conservatory, as well as exhibits regarding past life on Earth at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
So, The Buhl Planetarium and
Planetarium: The Buhl Planetarium and
For the Theater of the Stars, the Buhl
Foundation purchased a Zeiss II Planetarium Projector from the Carl Zeiss
Optical Works in
And, due to World War II, Buhl’s projector would be the last Zeiss Mark II projector ever built. During the War, planetarium projector assembly ceased at the Carl Zeiss Optical Works, as the factory was converted to manufacturing bomb sights for German military aircraft. Later in the War, the Allies bombed part of the Zeiss Optical Works installation. After the War (when separate Zeiss optical companies were established in Germany, on both sides of the “Iron Curtain”), a few Zeiss Mark II projectors were refurbished into Mark III projectors; however, no new Zeiss planetarium projectors would be built until the Zeiss Mark IV was unveiled around 1955.
Beginning in the 1960s, most of the older planetaria retired their original planetarium projectors and acquired newer, more modern models. At least twice, Buhl Planetarium had an opportunity to do likewise; however, at those times Buhl management decided to stay with their “tried and true” Zeiss II Planetarium Projector. In one case, the Mellon family, through their philanthropic foundation, offered to completely renovate and upgrade the Theater of the Stars, including the purchase of a new planetarium projector. The name of the institution would have been changed to the Buhl-Mellon Planetarium. For reasons that are unclear, Buhl Planetarium management did not accept this offer.
Appendix B: Building History 2004 December Page 5 of 8
for the entire time that The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
remained open as a public museum (1939 October 24 to 1991 August 31), the only planetarium projector ever used in
the Theater of the Stars was the original, unmodified Zeiss II Planetarium
Projector. This included the time period when the institution went by the
“modernized” name “
With the closing as a public museum (followed
by the 1991 October 5 opening of The Carnegie Science Center, which included a
completely new Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory), the Buhl
Planetarium building took on a new role
as a tutorial center, where the public could attend Carnegie Science Center
Science and Computer classes (the building was then called the Allegheny
Square Annex of The Carnegie Science Center). The Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, as well as the building’s 10-inch
Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope in the Astronomical Observatory, was then
used to teach
By the mid-1980s, all other Zeiss II
Planetarium Projectors, throughout the world, had been retired, or had
undergone major modifications, or both. Only
Over the years, there have been several claims to the “oldest planetarium” title. These claims are detailed on an Internet web page authored by Glenn A. Walsh; a copy of this web page is enclosed with this application (web address: < http://buhlplanetarium4.tripod.com/oldestplanetarium.html >).
However, after years of research, Mr. Walsh is firm in his conclusion that, until 1994, Pittsburgh had the oldest operating major planetarium projector in the world, and until 2002 had the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world. This claim is based on the fact that Buhl Planetarium's Zeiss II is the original 1939 apparatus, with no major modifications or upgrades. The control console was updated in the 1950s, and there may have been some wiring replacements over the years (basic maintenance necessary for any electrical apparatus). However Buhl Planetarium's Zeiss II Projector retains the same superb optics and gears it had when it began operation, 1939 October 24.
Buhl's Zeiss II Planetarium Projector was the
first planetarium projector in the world
to be placed on an elevator !!!
Buhl Planetarium’s Theater of the Stars was the first planetarium theater (and, perhaps, the first theater!) to install a special sound system specifically for the use of the hearing-impaired. Both air-conduction and bone-conduction headsets were available (for a one dollar, returnable, deposit fee) for the use of hearing-impaired, Sky Show attendees. The attendee would plug the headset into one of ten sound system receptacles, located just behind the last row of seats, just east of the Planetarium Control Console.
Appendix B: Building History 2004 December Page 6 of 8
It was the world’s first planetarium theater built with a permanent stage specifically for theatrical performances. The main stage could actually be extended into the planetarium theater; originally, this was accomplished using electric motors. Thus, when the stage was not in use, it could be retracted into the side wall, and that area of the Planetarium Theater could be used for additional seating, using portable chairs.
The Planetarium Theater actually was constructed with two stages. After the elevator takes the projector completely below the floor level, a second stage can be created above the projector (again, using electric motors), for theater-in-the-round-type presentations.
Buhl Planetarium opened to the public less
than two months after the beginning of World War II in
Astronomical Observatory: The Astronomical Observatory of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, originally called “The People’s Observatory,” was opened to the public on Wednesday evening, 1941 November 19. This was a little more than two years after the 1939 opening of Buhl Planetarium. Although specifically designed for use by the public, The People's Observatory was constructed to research observatory specifications, at a cost of $30,000 (1941 dollars).
This included the erection of the Observatory's fairly unique telescope, the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope produced by Chicago's Gaertner Scientific Company. Unlike most telescopes, the Siderostat-type telescope is mounted horizontally on a concrete base and does not move. A moving mirror, behind the telescope, reflects the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars into the telescope. Before being dismantled in October of 2002, this telescope continued to be the second largest operable, Siderostat-type telescope in the world!
Well-known Astronomer Harlow Shapley, who was then Director of the Harvard College Observatory, presented the keynote address at the dedication ceremony. First Light, through the Siderostat-type telescope, came from the ringed-planet Saturn.
Prior to the Observatory dedication ceremony, Buhl's third floor observatory had been used by the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) for public observing with portable telescopes. Once the Siderostat was in use, AAAP members supervised public observing sessions on clear evenings--at that time, Buhl was open to the public every evening (except New Year's Day) until 10:30 p.m.!
Along with the acquisition of Buhl's Zeiss II
Planetarium Projector, the Buhl Planetarium also ordered a portable telescope (which became Buhl Planetarium’s very
first telescope) from the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in
the commencement of World War II on 1939 September 1, they could not return the
Appendix B: Building History 2004 December Page 7 of 8
Planetarium and Observatory of The Carnegie Science Center) with a very interesting history! In addition to evening use, the Siderostat projects a superb display of the Sun onto a large projection screen, showing both sunspots and granulation on the solar surface. Also, during daytime hours, the public has been able to view the planets Mercury, Venus (showing phase), Mars, and Jupiter (including cloud belts), as well as the Moon and stars down to third magnitude, with the Siderostat.
used for public observing, the Siderostat has been used for some research, from time-to-time. During the
1980s, Buhl Planetarium Lecturer Francis G. Graham (Founder of the American
Lunar Society and now a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at
Dedicated as "The People's Observatory" in 1941, this name fell out of use after World War II. During the Cold War, the proliferation of Communist states known as "People's Republics" tarnished the meaning of the word "People's." Hence, "The People's Observatory" name was no longer used--which is a shame considering that Buhl Planetarium used the word "People's" first!
Another interesting historic anecdote: On the
same evening of the Observatory
dedication, Buhl started a new Planetarium Sky Show and opened a new gallery
exhibit. The Sky Show, regarding Celestial Navigation, was titled "Bombers
by Starlight"(Buhl provided Celestial Navigation classes to many military
servicemen, during World War II). The new
exhibit, in Buhl's lower-level Octagon Gallery (which encircles the
planetarium projector pit, below the planetarium's "Theater of the
Stars") was titled "Can
Appendix B: Building History 2004 December Page 8 of 8
Note: This bibliography encompasses information provided in all parts of this nomination application.
Internet Web Sites
More on the general history of The Buhl
More history of the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and the Westinghouse Worm-Gear Elevator can be found on the Internet at URL:
More information on the history of The People's Observatory at Buhl Planetarium can be learned on the Internet at the following address:
Landmark Architecture of