Application for the Nomination as a

    Pittsburgh City Designated Historic Structure:

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

                          2004 December

         Appendix B: Building History

                                    Capsule History

In 1930, The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, the nation's first major planetarium, opened in Chicago. Five members of the one-year-old Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) visited this new institution for explaining Astronomy to the public. AAAP co-founder Leo J. Scanlon, who later in 1930 would build the world's first all-aluminum dome for his personal astronomical observatory next to his North Side home, was extremely impressed by this new thing called a planetarium. He, and other amateur astronomers, immediately started lobbying potential private funders and City government to build a planetarium in Pittsburgh.

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 Pittsburgh as a gift. And, the Buhl Foundation fully subsidized all unfunded operating deficits of the new institution from 1939 to 1982.

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. Pittsburgh’s Zeiss II became only the fifth major planetarium in the Americas. Due to World War II (which erupted in Europe nearly two months before the Buhl Planetarium dedication), Pittsburgh's projector became the last Zeiss II built; a newer model Zeiss projector would not be unveiled until 1955. Pittsburgh's projector had been imported from the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany, which was converted to assembling bombsights for German military aircraft during World War II; eventually, the Allies bombed this factory.

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 Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. For special presentations in Fels Planetarium, particularly during the Christmas season, a temporary staging was erected in the Planetarium Theater. It was Mr. Stokley's idea to have a permanent theatrical stage constructed, as an integral part of Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars. Thus, when Buhl Planetarium opened in 1939, it included the world's first permanent theatrical stage in a planetarium !

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

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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 Chicago (in 1930, the first major planetarium projector in the Western Hemisphere) was replaced with a Zeiss VI projector in 1971. Adler sold the dismantled Zeiss II projector, which was never reassembled. It is believed this dismantled projector may be in storage someplace in Ohio.

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.

The Carnegie Science Center had originally been constructed without classroom space, as it had been decided that all Science Center Science and Computer classes for children would continue to be taught in the original Buhl Planetarium building, which was now dubbed "The Carnegie Science Center, Allegheny Square Annex." Hence, from then on, both the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope were used for teaching Carnegie Science Center Astronomy classes. This lasted until February of 1994, when the Buhl Planetarium building was completely closed, as a cost-cutting measure; the building and all contents were returned to the City of Pittsburgh in December of 1996.

                                                Detailed History

The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science building and site are very significant to the history of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Western Pennsylvania, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Further, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science is very significant to the history of the development of planetaria, museums of the Physical Sciences, and informal science education in general. Indeed, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was a pioneer in these fields.

Site: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science is located in the center of the historic business and civic district of what-was, until December of 1907, the independent City of Allegheny. Allegheny City was laid-out to include a commons area, which today is the City of Pittsburgh’s oldest city park. The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science lies near the center of the “doughnut” formed as the commons area encircled this business and civic district.

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 Allegheny City Hall (until replaced by Buhl Planetarium), Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny along with their large Carnegie Hall, Allegheny Market House, and Ober Park. Within a

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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 9:00 a.m. 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 Institute of Popular Science became the fifth major planetarium in the Americas. Earlier planetaria had been built in only four other American cities: Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago (1930 May 12); Fels Planetarium, part of Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (1933 November 6); Griffith Observatory and Planetarium in Los Angeles (1935 May 15); and Hayden Planetarium (1935 October 3), built adjoining the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. With the onset of the Second World War, Buhl Planetarium would be the last major planetarium constructed until Morehead Planetarium was opened at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on 1949 May 10.

Although Astronomy was a major emphasis, the new Pittsburgh institution also included an “Institute of Popular Science,” which was really a progenitor of what is now commonly referred to as a “Science Center.” Buhl’s Institute of Popular Science included many different exhibits in the Physical Sciences (and, from time-to-time, a few exhibits and programs in the Life Sciences).

 

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Although several 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 Philadelphia (founded on 1824 February 5, their large museum opened on 1934 January 1).

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 Institute of Popular Science was a very important pioneer in the development of both planetaria and museums of the Physical Sciences, or what today are called Science Centers.

Planetarium: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science acquired a Zeiss II Planetarium Projector for use in the large Theater of the Stars, at a cost of $135,000 (1939 dollars), from the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany. The Projector contains 106 lenses capable of producing more than 9,000 star pictures with stellar motion, plus the special motions of the Sun, Moon, and the five planets of the Solar System visible by the unaided eye. With a seating capacity of 425 (including 381 permanent seats) and a 65-foot diameter stainless-steel inner dome (the new planetarium’s projection screen), Buhl’s Planetarium Theater was one of the largest such planetarium chambers in the world.

For the Theater of the Stars, the Buhl Foundation purchased a Zeiss II Planetarium Projector from the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany. This was only the fifth such projector in use in America, up until that time. And, with the onset of World War II, it would be the last planetarium projector activated in America until 1949 May 10, when a Zeiss II was moved from Stockholm to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and also on 1952 November 6 when a “home-built” planetarium projector was constructed by the California Academy of Sciences (as no professional planetarium manufacturers were available that soon after the War) for the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco (now, the oldest American-built planetarium projector).

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.

 

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So, 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 “Buhl Science Center,” from February of 1982 to August of 1991.

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 Carnegie Science Center Astronomy classes.  However, this tutorial center only lasted until February of 1994, when the teaching of the Science and Computer classes was consolidated into the new Carnegie Science Center building. This was done as a cost-cutting measure, even though the original Buhl Planetarium building broke-even financially (except during months the air-conditioning was in use), due to the tuitions collected from attending students; at this same time, the new and much larger Carnegie Science Center continued operation in “the red” financially.

By the mid-1980s, all other Zeiss II Planetarium Projectors, throughout the world, had been retired, or had undergone major modifications, or both. Only Pittsburgh had an active planetarium using original 1939 apparatus. Hence, from that time until the Buhl Planetarium building was completely shut-down and abandoned by The Carnegie Science Center, in February of 1994, Pittsburgh’s Zeiss II Planetarium Projector was the oldest operating major planetarium projector in the world !!! And, until the projector’s dismantling (and storage in The Carnegie Science Center warehouse, where it remains) in October of 2002, it continued to be the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world !!!

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 !!! Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Electric Company custom-built this huge worm-gear elevator in 1939. This gave additional flexibility to enhance the sky show performances; and, the Projector could be stored below the Theater floor, when the Theater was used for other purposes. Worm-gear elevators of this size are rare. Engineers visiting Buhl Planetarium would often request to see the actual elevator equipment and were amazed at the size of the four worm-gears.

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.

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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 Europe, although the United States did not enter the War until 1941. Once American troops began being deployed for the War, military aviators needed navigational training for night bombing missions. With the ability to create a perfect display of the night sky, for anyplace on the Earth for anytime past, present, or future, Buhl Planetarium was the ideal school for teaching Celestial Navigation to these aviators. Throughout the War, Buhl Planetarium was used by the United States War Department to train military aviators in Celestial Navigation, as  public planetarium shows, also, continued to be presented. After the War, Celestial Navigation classes, in Buhl Planetarium, continued to be offered, from time-to-time.

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 Jena, Germany in 1939, for use in the Observatory. To the dismay of Buhl officials when opening the package from Germany, they received a 4-inch terrestrial refracting telescope (which uses additional optics to show a right-side-up image); they had ordered an astronomical refractor telescope (which has fewer lenses to degrade the image and shows an upside-down image).

However, with the commencement of World War II on 1939 September 1, they could not return the telescope to Germany and have an astronomical refractor sent in its place. Hence, they had to make-do with a terrestrial refractor. So, today the City of Pittsburgh owns a good Zeiss telescope (now used at the Henry Buhl, Jr.

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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.

Although primarily 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 Kent State University) took photographs of the South Pole area of the Moon, as part of a cooperative research project with other American astronomers. These photographs aided the production of a better map of the South Pole area of the Moon, than existed at that time.

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 America Be Bombed?" This exhibit opened two and one-half weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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                                                                Bibliography

Note: This bibliography encompasses information provided in all parts of this nomination application.

                                                                Internet Web Sites

More on the general history of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science can be found on the Internet at URL:

< http://www.planetarium.cc >.

 

More history of the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and the Westinghouse Worm-Gear Elevator can be found on the Internet at URL:

< http://buhlplanetarium3.tripod.com/BuhlZeissII.htm >.

More information on the history of The People's Observatory at Buhl Planetarium can be learned on the Internet at the following address:

 

< http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com >.

 

Books

 

Landmark Architecture of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania by James D. Van Trump and Arthur Ziegler, Jr.

                Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1967

 

Landmark Architecture: Pittsburgh and Allegheny County text by Walter C. Kidney

                Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1997

 

                                                                News Article

 

America’s Fifth Major Planetarium, Pittsburgh institution, memorial to Henry Buhl, Jr., will embody many novel features,” by James Stokley.  The Sky. October, 1939, pages 3-6, 25.