633 Royce Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15243-1149
January 3, 1994
Mr. Ellsworth Brown, President
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213
Dear Mr. Brown:
I am a former employee of The Carnegie Science Center and the Buhl Science Center, having been employed from June of 1982 to January of 1992. During my tenure I served as a Planetarium Lecturer(for more than three years), and Coordinator of the Astronomical Observatory(for more than five years). For four years, I was Curator of a very popular Embryology Exhibit, where chicks and ducklings were hatched weekly, and children had direct interaction with the young birds. I also served as a Tour Guide in the original Buhl building and on the U.S.S. Requin Submarine.
I was quite distressed to read Christopher Rawson's "On Stage" column in the December 22 issue of the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette." The lead paragraph, of that column, referred to The Carnegie leaving The Carnegie Science Center, Allegheny Square Annex building. After working in this historic building for more than nine years, I am very disturbed that this facility, and its historic Planetarium and Observatory instruments, would no longer be used for their intended purposes.
Please note the historical significance of this facility and its two major instruments:
I. Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science building -
A. This building, with an exterior of Indiana Limestone and with much of the interior walls consisting of Florentine Marble, opened to the public on October 24, 1939. Beautiful statuary, by well-known sculptor Sidney Waugh, and inscriptions, relating to Astronomy and other Sciences, adorn the building's exterior.
B. Unlike other cities, where planetaria were built adjacent to existing Natural History museums, such as in New York, Pittsburgh chose to build an Institute of Popular Science along with the Planetarium. Although many cities had Natural History museums by the 1930's, only a few cities, such as Chicago and Philadelphia, had museums which had a greater emphasis on the Physical Sciences. Thus, in 1939, Buhl's Institute of Popular Science joined these select few museums in explaining the Physical Sciences to the general public. Buhl really was an early pioneer in the concept that would later be referred to as the Science Center.
Mr. Ellsworth Brown January 3, 1994 Page 2 of 8
II. Buhl Planetarium and the "Theater of the Stars" -
A. The original Buhl Planetarium was the fifth major(i.e. that can show stars from both north and south hemispheres of the Earth) planetarium to open in the United States. It is the oldest planetarium projector in continuous operation in this country, and one of the oldest in the world.
B. It was the last Zeiss projector to be built before World War II. Once the war began, the Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany was converted to make bomb sites for German aircraft; the factory was later bombed by the Allies.
C. Our Zeiss II projector is the only Model II projector, in its original condition, still in operation in the world. The only other Model II projectors, that may still be in operation(one in India and one in Japan), have been extensively modified.
D. With a 65-foot diameter dome and a current seating capacity of 435, our "Theater of the Stars" is one of the largest planetarium theaters in existence.
E. It was the first planetarium projector to be placed on an elevator. This gave additional flexibility to enhance the performance. It was placed on a huge worm-gear elevator built by Westinghouse. Worm-gear elevators of this size are rare. Engineers visiting Buhl have often requested to see the actual elevator equipment and are amazed at the size of the four worm-gears.
F. It was the first planetarium theater built with a stage for theatrical performances. The main stage can actually be extended into the planetarium theater; originally, this was accomplished using electric motors. Actually, our planetarium theater includes 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 performances.
G. It 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 the use of hearing-impaired attendees.
H. Our planetarium theater provided courses in Celestial Navigation to military pilots, bound for service in World War II.
III. The Ten-Inch, "Siderostat"-type, Refractor Telescope and "The People's Observatory" -
A. Originally called "The People's Observatory," it was specifically designed for observational use by the public, but constructed at professional observatory specifications, at a cost
of $ 30,000(1941 dollars). "The People's Observatory" was
Mr. Ellsworth Brown January 3, 1994 Page 3 of 8
dedicated on Wednesday Evening, November 19, 1941. "First light" through the "Siderostat"-type telescope, that evening, was a view of the ringed planet Saturn.
B. Although it was specially meant for use by the public, a limited amount of research has been conducted using this telescope. The most recent instance occurred in the mid-1980's. Former Planetarium Lecturer Francis G. Graham, Ph.D. photographed the Moon through the "Siderostat"-type telescope, as part of a project to provide a more accurate map of the Moon. Up until this time, there was an area near the Moon's southern pole that was not well mapped.
C. Our telescope is the second largest(primary lens aperture) "Siderostat"-type telescope now in use(third largest that ever existed). It is the only "Siderostat"-type telescope, now in operation, that has been used by the public on a regular basis.
D. The "Siderostat" or "Sidereal Coelostat" telescope arrangement was developed in the mid-nineteenth century by the famous French Scientist Jean Leon Foucault, who also invented the Foucault Pendulum. The original Buhl building has a Foucault Pendulum, displaying the classic demonstration of the Earth's rotation on its axis, in a beautiful pendulum pit made of marble with a brass railing, in the building's Great Hall. The "Siderostat" arrangement has several advantages, particularly for public viewing:
1. It presents an excellent view of sunspots and other phenomena on the surface of the Sun, utilizing the safe projection method of observation.
2. It allows the public to remain in a heated Observing Room, during cold weather--thus, exposing more members of the public to the wonders of Astronomy.
3. Accidental bumping(and misaligning) of the telescope, by members of the general public, is eliminated--allowing more people to observe during a shorter period of time.
4. Our Observatory was specifically designed so that it could operate, for short periods of time, without an attendant, during evening observing sessions only. Before the closure of the Buhl Science Center, this capability was updated by The Carnegie maintenance staff.
E. The keynote address, at the Observatory dedication, was given by Harlow Shapley, Ph.D., one of the most renowned Astronomers of the twentieth century. At the time, he was Director of the Harvard College Observatory.
F. 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." The new exhibit was titled "Can America Be Bombed?" This exhibit opened two and one-half weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii!
Mr. Ellsworth Brown January 3, 1994 Page 4 of 8
As you can probably tell, I have studied the history of the Science Center at great length. About ten years ago, the Science Center disposed of a dozen boxes of old Buhl publications, memoranda, letters, and other items of an archival nature. I took possession of these materials, quite literally from the trash dumpster behind the building. In December of 1992, I donated these papers to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. I was informed, by the Historical Society, that the papers were transferred to the archives of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, in March of 1993. I understand they are preparing these materials for the centennial celebration of The Carnegie in 1995.
I understand that continuing to operate the original Buhl building incurs costs, additional to operating the new Science Center. However, the proper marketing of the building could help preserve this historic structure with its historic instruments.
1. Musical, Laser-Light Shows in Planetarium -
Since the mid-1970's, musical, laser-light shows provided additional income to the Buhl Science Center. The shows ended when the original building closed in August of 1991. It had been decided not to present musical, laser-light shows at the new Science Center building. The private company Buhl contracted-with to perform the laser shows at that time, Laser Fantasy, chose not to continue performing shows in the original building. It seems the company's management was upset with the decision not to perform musical, laser-light shows in the new building.
Although afternoon laser shows would have benefited from the larger crowds at the new Science Center, particularly at the building's inception, this is not necessarily the case for the evening laser shows. Evening laser shows always drew higher attendance figures than the afternoon shows. And, evening laser shows were much less dependent on general Science Center attendance; the evening laser shows attracted their own audience.
More than two years have now passed. One of the laser show companies may, again, be interested in producing laser shows in the original planetarium. Laser Fantasy management may now realize that since musical, laser-light shows are not going to be performed in the new building, they can still make money by performing shows in the original planetarium. The first laser show company, Laser Images which produces "Laserium," may also have an interest; Laser Images did have an interest in returning to Buhl three years ago. There are other companies producing laser shows that could also be approached, regarding their interest in producing shows in the original planetarium.
Mr. Ellsworth Brown January 3, 1994 Page 5 of 8
The laser show companies we have contracted-with, Laser Images, Audio Visual Imagineering(AVI), and Laser Fantasy, have all expressed a financial concern with the City of Pittsburgh's ten percent Amusement Tax, which was levied on all musical, laser-light shows(except educational shows performed before school groups). Now that there is about to be a huge reduction in the Amusement Tax, thanks to the recently passed Regional Assets District one percent sales tax, the laser show companies would have a greater incentive to return performances to the original planetarium.
I would recommend soliciting the different laser show companies for their interest in producing laser shows in the original planetarium. This would be one way to increase the income of The Carnegie Science Center, Allegheny Square Annex.
2. Annex Lecture Hall as "Super-Saver" Movie Theater -
Three years ago, the Ames Department Store in the Allegheny Center Mall closed; this twenty-five year-old shopping mall is located less than one block from the Annex. A North Side youth group proposed replacing the department store with a movie theater, to provide a recreational outlet for the local youth. This youth group sponsored a public meeting to have a discussion of this proposal between public officials and the neighborhood. The then Buhl/Laser Fantasy laser show operator and I attended this meeting.
During the meeting, Allegheny Center management made it clear that the department store site was not appropriate for the construction of a movie theater. They did state that there were other sites in the shopping mall where a theater could be built.
The Allegheny Center marketing director then suggested that, with the completion of the new Science Center building, the Buhl building may be available as a "Super-Saver," second-run, movie theater. At that point, I told the people at the meeting that our Lecture Hall, also known as the Little Science Theater, might be usable as such a movie theater. However, I did tell them that to be used as a public movie theater, the Lecture Hall would probably require some renovation.
At the end of the meeting, Tom Murphy, who then represented the North Side in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, said he would talk to The Carnegie President Bob Wilburn, regarding the possibility of using the Lecture Hall as a public movie theater once the new
Mr. Ellsworth Brown January 3, 1994 Page 6 of 8
building opened. I do not know if Mr. Murphy ever did discuss this proposal with Mr. Wilburn. Except for the Rangos Omnimax Theater, no movie theater has opened on the North Side, since this meeting occurred.
The feasibility of using the Lecture Hall as a "Super-Saver," second-run, movie theater should be seriously explored. A new screen and new motion picture equipment would be needed. The current seating capacity of the Lecture Hall is 250. To meet current fire codes, some seats would probably have to be removed. The new seating capacity would be somewhere in the 170 to 200 range; the Allegheny Center marketing director stated that this range is typical of other "Super-Saver" theaters.
Again, the huge reduction in the city's Amusement Tax would make the opening of a movie theater more feasible. Indeed, movie theater companies, that would not have considered opening a theater in the city previously, may now be looking for appropriate sites for a public movie theater. In addition to providing additional income to the Annex, this would provide a new service to the North Side neighborhood. Of course, should both the Laser Show and the movie theater operate on the same days of the week(which is likely), the same staff could handle ticket sales, ushering, and security for both theaters.
3. Science and Natural History Classes -
From the beginning of the project to construct The Carnegie Science Center, the logical conclusion had been that the original building should be used as an educational annex, for Science Center classes and other specialty educational programs such as the Young Astronauts Program and Science Apprenticeship Programs. With a major planetarium and observatory on-site, the original Buhl building is especially well-suited for classes in Astronomy and the Space Sciences. And, with a Computer Lab already operating, the popular Computer classes are also well-served in the Annex.
There may be some advantage to having classes in the same building as the Science Center exhibits. However, for the vast majority of these classes, most, if not all, of the class work is done solely in the classroom. Only a limited amount of time is spent viewing curriculum-appropriate exhibits. And, for many of the courses, the Science Center does not have exhibits appropriate to the curriculum.
Mr. Ellsworth Brown January 3, 1994 Page 7 of 8
I understand that, recently, Annex management has sought to determine whether there would be an interest in teaching some of The Carnegie's Natural History courses at the Annex. This is a very good idea. It would free-up space at the Oakland building for other classes, programs, and perhaps even exhibits.
Over the last two years, it is my understanding that, except during months the air conditioning was in use, the classes and other programs at the Annex covered the costs of operating that building. I am concerned that the recent reduction in classes, brought about by the general reduction in all Science Center programs, may adversely affect the ability of the Annex to offer an
economically feasible classes program to the general public. The Annex should be permitted to provide classes to meet public demand. Funding of the Annex should not be contingent on the financial fortunes of the Science Center, or any other part of The Carnegie. If the Annex can cover its costs, while providing a good educational program to the public, it should be permitted to go ahead and do it.
4. Expanded Children's Programming -
In his column, Christopher Rawson emphasizes the possibility of expanding children's programming in the original Buhl building. I have absolutely nothing against additional programming, in the Annex, provided by the Children's Museum, Children's Festival, Performing Arts for Children, or other appropriate organizations. These rentals would help maintain this historic building.
My chief concern is to ensure that the historic planetarium and observatory instruments continue to be usable for the benefit of the citizens of Western Pennsylvania. And, I would like to see programs established, even if only a few times a year, when this historic equipment would be used to educate the general public. Considering the expertise required to operate and maintain these instruments, they and the building should remain under the control of The Carnegie.
It is certainly possible that much of the children's programming proposed for the original Buhl building, could be undertaken while the building continues under the flag of The Carnegie. This would seem quite consistent with the mission of The Carnegie.
Mr. Ellsworth Brown January 3, 1994 Page 8 of 8
In September of 1991, at the request of The Carnegie Science Center Assistant Director Dave Chesebrough, I prepared a memorandum detailing how the original Buhl Observatory could continue to be used for public observation programs, after the opening of The Carnegie Science Center. Observing sessions would have been by appointment only; hence, public observing probably would have taken place once or twice a month. The volunteer staff, that had been running the Friday evening observing sessions, was willing to continue operating the Observatory under this modified arrangement.
However, it was decided in the Omnimax-Planetarium-Observatory Division that the original Observatory would no longer be used for public observing, only for Science classes. Considering the low cost of the proposal, I never completely understood the reasoning for this decision.
I am, again, willing to implement the observing program for the original Buhl Observatory, I recommended in September of 1991, to have this magnificent telescope benefit the public, as it was intended. I am willing to do this on a volunteer basis, without compensation.
Further, I am willing to work with you and your staff to do whatever needs to be done, to ensure that the original Buhl building, planetarium, and observatory continue to educate and inspire the people of Western Pennsylvania.
As past President of the Chicago Historical Society, I am sure you can appreciate the rich history and heritage of the Science Center. I am sure the building and equipment responsible for this heritage can continue to educate and inspire the citizens, particularly children, of Western Pennsylvania, in an economically viable manner. I ask that The Carnegie explore all possibilities before turning the building back to the city. Again, I am willing and eager to help, in any way I can, to continue the scientific mission of the original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.
Glenn A. Walsh