Sat, 13 Nov 2004 18:13:43 -0800 (PST)


"Glenn A. Walsh" < >


Nov. 6--Expanded Children's Museum Opens


"Glenn A. Walsh" < >

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The expanded Children's Museum of Pittsburgh,

including use of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of

Popular Science Building, opened to the public on

November 6. The following is a report of the first day

of museum operation, along with a critique of the

changes made to the Buhl Planetarium Building.


You can look at newspaper articles regarding the

opening of the Museum at:

< >


The primary item that has either helped or hindered

historic preservation has been, respectively, either

the lack of money or the ability to acquire government

and/or foundation and corporate funds for a project.


In the case of both The Buhl Planetarium and Institute

of Popular Science, and the Andrew Carnegie Free

Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania

[where I served as a Life Trustee from 1995-2000],

much of the historic facility, interior, equipment,

and furnishings were retained because of the LACK of

money for so-called "modernization." Beginning in the

1960s, with the efforts of the Pittsburgh History and

Landmarks Foundation, there was an effort to preserve

some of the original facilities. However, even their

efforts have fallen short, once money becomes

available for the "modernization" of a building.


Such is the case with Buhl Planetarium. It is amazing

how many changes can be made, when they have $28

million to play around with! And, considering that the

Buhl Planetarium Building was originally built to be a

museum, many of these changes were unnecessary--change

just for the sake of change, so certain "artists" and

"architects" can show-off their supposed "creativity" and place

their own lasting imprint on the landmark !!!


The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh officially opened

with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, in which the first

one-third of the ceremony had a non-working public

address system. WTAE-TV 4 morning news anchor Wendy

Bell was the emcee of the affair.


The ribbon-cutting [ribbon held-up by children in

attendance, just in front of the make-shift stage],

occurred on Saturday Morning, November 6, A.D. 2004 at

*precisely* 10:06:36 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.


The following are comments about the first day of the

newly-expanded museum:


1) During the ceremony, it was announced that the

State had provided the Children's Museum with ANOTHER

$1 million; so the total State contribution to this

project has now increased to $9 million. As indicated

in a Wednesday article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

< >

part of this money will be used to finish construction

of a new Board Room and a couple of classrooms.


On November 6, Children's Museum Executive Director

Jane Werner told me that current plans are to convert

the original Buhl Planetarium Astronomical Observatory

into this new Board Room! On behalf of Friends of the

Zeiss, I have just sent a letter to Children's Museum

Board President Anne V. Lewis asking that the Board

reconsider this conversion:

< >


Yes, I realize that my pleas may well be ignored, as

they have ignored most of my pleas in the past.

However, I felt it was important to at least try.


Also, during the remarks leading to the

ribbon-cutting, Children's Museum Executive Director

Jane Werner mentioned that the Children's Museum is

leasing the Buhl Planetarium building from the City

for one-dollar per year, a price she said she is happy

to pay [when this arrangement was first proposed,

during a news conference the Mayor had to loan Jane

the dollar!].


In the Mayor's remarks, Tom Murphy said that the City

got a good deal in leasing the Buhl Planetarium

building to the Children's Museum for one-dollar per

year, because the Buhl Planetarium building was "the

biggest white elephant in the city" [yes, that is what

he actually said!].


2) The Children's Museum's new "main" elevator [i.e.

the elevator in the new three-floor "Nightlight

Building," located between the Old Allegheny Post

Office and Buhl Planetarium buildings] did not even

make it to 1:00 p.m. on opening day without a major



At 12:59 p.m., the elevator alarm bell sounded. The

bell is so loud, that the first priority for the staff

was to try to find a way to shut-off the bell!


After the bell was shut-off, then they tried to

determine whether there were people trapped in a

stalled elevator. The answer was yes--there were about

a dozen people [more than a half-dozen young children]

trapped in the elevator at the second floor level.


However, apparently, there was no telephone or

intercom service [or such service also malfunctioned]

for communication between the staff and the trapped

visitors. They had to communicate through the second

floor elevator door.


Then the staff tried to find a way to get the elevator

door open, to release the trapped visitors. It was not

until 1:22 p.m., with the arrival of an elevator

repairman, that the visitors were released. After the

visitors were released, the staff did offer free

family memberships, to the Children's Museum, to the

families which had been trapped in the elevator.


Once the repairman had reached the defective elevator,

he immediately used his special elevator key to open

the elevator door. The question is why was there not

such an emergency key on-site, so the staff could have

opened the elevator door [or, was there a key on-site,

and the staff was not aware of it, or not trained how

to use it?]? When Buhl Planetarium was in operation,

there was an emergency key to Buhl's elevator mounted

just outside the Mezzanine-level elevator door.


Although paramedics did also arrive, there had been no

injuries and nothing for the paramedics to do.


3) Planetarium -- As I had seen about a year earlier,

all of the original Theater of the Stars

infrastructure has been removed, with the exception of

the 65-foot diameter inner planetarium dome and the

historic Westinghouse Worm-Gear Elevator [Buhl was the

world's first planetarium to be placed on an

elevator], which is being stored below the Planetarium

in the Zeiss Pit.


With retention of the inner dome and the Westinghouse

Worm-Gear Elevator, a return of the Zeiss II

Planetarium Projector sometime in the future would not

be a huge expense.


The Theater of the Stars is now the home of the

"Garage/Workshop" where children can build with wood

and other recycled materials in the Workshop and learn

more about the mechanics of automobiles in the Garage.

There is now a window, in the rear of the Planetarium

[where the world's first permanent theatrical stage in

a planetarium once existed], which looks out into the

staff parking lot [I guess for greater emphasis of the

automobile theme!]!


There are some wires, to a few exhibits, connected

directly to the Planetarium dome. It is difficult to

tell for sure, but damage [if any] to the dome seems

minor and probably easily repairable.


4) Great Hall of Buhl Planetarium -- The Great Hall

[now called the "Grand Hall"] is completely dedicated

to the cafe/restaurant. The east section of the Great

Hall is, except for the Foucault Pendulum and Pendulum

Pit, completely filled with tables and chairs for



These tables and chairs are also extended out into a

patio, just below the area of the east wall which was

removed for a giant window, so patrons can look at the

Carnegie Library and clock tower next door. The

northeast edge of the patio almost touches the Col.

James Anderson Memorial [memorial built by Andrew

Carnegie for his boyhood mentor, who inspired him to

give libraries worldwide], which was relocated in Buhl

Planetarium's east lawn more than a decade ago.


The removal of the east wall also resulted in the

removal of an astronomical inscription from the Bible,

which had been inscribed on the exterior of this wall:



Supposedly, this inscription is in storage someplace.

The inscription on the exterior of the west wall:



still exists, however due to the way the new building

was constructed, it really cannot be seen very easily.


The western section of the Great Hall is a large

lounge, with couches and lounge chairs as well as a

few small tables. Special programs/demos are shown in

this area. Smaller demos are also being given at the

extreme east end of the Great Hall.


Huge internally-lighted "planetary globes" hang from

the ceiling of the Great Hall.


The ramp to the Planetarium is gone, as are the golden

letters spelling-out "PLANETARIUM" that had been

located just below the clock. And, the clock was not

operating on the first day.


The entire area between Pat and Lorene's office and

the bulletin Board outside of Paul's office is now

completely filled with a kitchen and restaurant sales

bar. A gift shop is now located just a little east of

the west staircase leading to the Mezzanine.


Apparently, the public address speakers were not

working in the Great Hall on the first day.


This is the actual text of the signs above the

entrance to the two staircases, from the Great Hall to

the Mezzanine:


"Theater, Group Orientation, Bathrooms"


YES, "Bathrooms"! I checked and found no bathtub in

the new Men's Room on the Mezzanine [although I would

guess that "Mr. Miller's Bathroom" with a shower still

exists in the Boiler Room, but is not accessible to

the public].


Although they may think that this is better

communication to children, is it not the purpose of a

museum to teach new things to children, including the

difference between a bathroom and a rest room?


5) Foucault Pendulum -- The Foucault Pendulum has been

returned to the Pendulum Pit. And, it is working

properly [it was not working properly during the

Sesame Street exhibit last year]. However, as of now,

there are no pegs [my understanding is that pegs are

coming, eventually].


Despite the lack of pegs, I did see quite a few

children looking at the Pendulum swinging [and, as

usual, I had to tell one child not to grab the

Pendulum wire!], wondering what it is--as there is no

written explanation displayed. I also saw adults

watching the Pendulum, perhaps remembering their visit

to Buhl Planetarium in their youth.


You could tell that Mr. Mike has not polished the

Pendulum Pit's brass railing in a while!


6) Mezzanine -- Actually, it was fairly empty, except

for some tables where some youth-oriented

organizations offered small activities and handouts.

This area, apparently, will be used as an orientation

area for school groups [although I saw very few chairs

in this area].


Lab 1 [Discovery Lab] is now the office of an

organization called Youth Alive! Lab 2 is the office

of the Saturday Light Brigade, a children's radio

program broadcast each Saturday, 6:00 a.m. to 12:00

Noon, on WRCT-FM 88.3--now from a new radio studio in

Bowdish Gallery. The Workshop is now also an office,

but I not sure for which group.


The original Women's Room is now a staff/volunteer

lounge; the original Men's Room is locked. New

restrooms and water fountains are located where there

had been the Mezzanine entrance to the Fan Room.


7) Octagon Gallery -- This area is closed to the

public. From looking in the door, it appears

unfinished. The chair lift for the disabled has been

removed. My understanding is that this area will be

their Workshop.


8) Bowdish Gallery [previously home to the Miniature

Railroad and Village] -- Bowdish Gallery is now "The

Theater." Originally, "The Theater" was supposed to be

half of the original Little Science Theater. Instead,

the entire LST is now "The Attic" exhibit.


The Theater includes the Saturday Light Brigade radio

program [one of their few new exhibits I actually

support, as I was in charge of a similar

educational radio station program in the 1970s--see

this web page for more info:

< >].


In front of the radio studio window are a couple dozen

portable [stackable] chairs for a studio audience. The

radio studio is located, where the hallway to the

elevator once was. Now, there is a shorter hallway to

the elevator.


At the other end of Bowdish Gallery and in the former

Club Room/Wherrett Memorial Classroom is the new

stage. They could have kept, and used, the world's

first permanent stage in a planetarium, in Buhl's

Theater of the Stars. Instead, they gutted it and

built a new small stage in Bowdish Gallery!


The Theater has 40 permanent seats [yes, only 40!]

directed toward the stage; I had thought that the

theater would have 100-125 seats. Needless to say,

there is a lot of empty space in the Bowdish Gallery.


The only good thing about this theater is that the 40

seats are all reupholstered original seats from the

Little Science Theater [Buhl's second Lecture Hall]. This is the ONE suggestion of

mine [to use original LST seats, rather than buying

new ones] that Jane Werner actually used. Still, they

had 250 LST seats available, and they only used 40!


9) Little Science Theater -- The LST is now "The

Attic" exhibit, including a small balcony area

"Gravity Room" that has a floor tilted 25 degrees to

the actual floor for "sensory illusion" [this balcony

area is not accessible to the disabled, for obvious



It seems that the projection booth still exists,

however the original staircase to the projection booth

is gone, as are the windows for projecting images from

the booth.


There is no indication of what happened to the

painting of Halley's Comet, which had been hanging in the Little Science Theater.


10) East Gallery -- This is being used as their

traveling exhibits gallery--current exhibit: "En Mi

Familia/In My Family."


The Program Staff offices balcony is gone. The City of

Pittsburgh has dismantled the balcony, for use

elsewhere. Again, the rear of this gallery has a

window looking out onto the staff parking lot!


11) Planetarium Hallways -- The front and west

hallways have been completely altered with small

exhibits. The original doors to the Theater of the

Stars are all gone.


The east hallway is pretty-much the same. The lighted

picture boxes, imbedded into the wall along the east

hallway [and the two in the eastern section of the

front hallway] still exist, but are not in use. The

astronomical transparencies are gone.


The original recording studio [which, at one time, was

used as Holly Smeltzer's office] is now a women's



The former Volunteer Office and Lounge have been

replaced by a small PPG gallery with artwork:

"Smelling Machine" by Hyla Willis.


12) Second Floor -- Not much to talk about. Public

access is only available through the second floor of

the new "Nightlight Building." Apparently, the west

stairwell [from the Great Hall to the second floor

offices and to the Observatory] has been removed; the

east stairwell still exists, but is only accessible by

the staff.


Most of the Buhl Planetarium second floor was behind a

locked door, indicating that this area houses

classrooms sponsored by PNC Bank ["PNC Growing-Up

Great" classrooms]. So, I have no idea of the status

of the beautiful wood-paneled Library/Board Room, former offices and rest

rooms, safe, and wood and glass bookcase built into

the wall of the staff offices.


13) Third Floor -- Very similar to the second floor.


Only a hallway is accessible from the third floor of

the new "Nightlight Building." Along this hallway,

children can see up-close, and touch, a classical

frieze at the roofline of the Buhl Planetarium

building. Originally, we had been told, at a meeting

with the Children's Museum staff in 2000, that

children would also be able to touch the letters to

the west exterior wall's astronomical inscription;

this did not come to pass.


A locked door stops entry into the Telescope Room [the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, like the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector and the large Mercator's Projection Map of the World, remains dismantled and in storage at The Carnegie Science Center warehouse]. The

glass windows between the Telescope Room and the

Observing Room are gone, so there is no way to know

what is on the other side of that locked door.


The north wall of this hallway, where the Observatory

was located, now has electrical and/or HVAC control

panels. HVAC equipment now occupies the outdoor east

and west wings of the Observatory. As I mentioned

earlier, I was told that plans are to convert the

Observatory into a Board Room.


14) I would estimate the crowd, on opening day, would

be similar to an average Saturday at Buhl during

Railroad Season.


15) According to a news report on KQV-AM 1410,

regarding the Children's Museum opening, "The Rise of

Steel Technology" mural, commissioned by U.S. Steel

and painted by Nat Youngblood, has been "donated"

[this is what the Children's Museum told KQV] to the

"Homestead Steelworkers' Museum." Well, since it was

City property, the Children's Museum could not donate

it to anyone.


This mural was one of four artifacts included in the

2002 April City RFP, regarding lease of the artifacts.

Friends of the Zeiss and The Carnegie Science Center

are the ONLY two organizations which put in bids for

these items [the Science Center did not put in a bid

for the mural].


And, I know that City Council has not approved any

bill donating this mural to anyone. My educated guess

is that the City has leased or loaned the mural to the

Homestead museum. However, I will have to investigate

this further.


16) The Children's Museum Business Plan, for operation

of the expanded museum, called for an adult admission

price of $7 and $6 for children and senior citizens.

On opening day, the admission prices were $8 for

adults and $7 for children and senior citizens.


Additionally, for those who do not use public transit,

parking rates are $5 for non-members and $3 for



17) The Mister Rogers Neighborhood exhibit is on the

first floor of the new "Nightlight Building," not on

the first floor of the Buhl Planetarium Building as

originally planned.


18) According to the opening day program, the

Children's Museum has a 36-member Board of Directors.

The full-time staff includes the Executive Director,

Project Manager, and six department Directors [Visitor

Services, Exhibits, Finance, Marketing, Development,

Education], as well as 31 other employees. The program

did not mention the part-time staff.


19) And last, but not least, the Children's Museum has

revamped their web site. At the beginning of their new

web site is [are you sitting-down for this one?] a

dancing chicken !!!

< >


No, the Children's Museum does not have a

chick-hatching exhibit. Apparently, it is just a

webmaster being "creative."





Glenn A. Walsh

Electronic Mail - < >

Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --

* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:

  < >

* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:

  < >

* Astronomer & Optician John A. Brashear:

  < >

* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:

  < >

* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:

  < >