"Glenn A. Walsh" < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Nov. 6--Expanded Children's Museum Opens
"Glenn A. Walsh" < email@example.com >
The expanded Children's
including use of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of
November 6. The following is a report of the first day
of museum operation, along with a critique of the
changes made to the
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
[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
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 !!!
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
The ribbon-cutting [ribbon held-up by children in
attendance, just in front of the make-shift stage],
occurred on Saturday Morning,
*precisely* Eastern Standard Time.
The following are comments about the first day of the
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
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
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 on opening day without a major
At , 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 , 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
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
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
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
"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
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
there are no pegs [my understanding is that pegs are
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,
, 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
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
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
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
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 "
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
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
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 "
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
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
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
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
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
are the ONLY two organizations which put in bids for
these items [the
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
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 "
the first floor of the
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 - < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium,
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
* Astronomer & Optician John A. Brashear:
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway,