Friends of the Zeiss                         Statement Before the Board of the

P.O. Box 1041                                                       City Planning Commission of

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15230-1041 U.S.A.                          Pittsburgh:

Telephone: 412-561-7876                                                         2005 May 3

Electronic Mail: < >

Internet Web Site: < >




Good afternoon. I am Glenn A. Walsh of 633 Royce Avenue, Mount Lebanon, Project Director of Friends of the Zeiss. The nomination before you today, to designate the original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science as a City-Designated Historic Structure, has been entered by lifelong City resident Jon Wilson Smith, on behalf of Friends of the Zeiss. I prepared the application, which is available for public inspection, in its entirety, on the web sites of Friends of the Zeiss < > and the History of Buhl Planetarium < >


Today’s hearing is to determine that the nominated property, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, is eligible to be designated as a City-Designated Historic Structure. I present the following points in support of this eligibility:


In the middle of the Great Depression, one of Pittsburgh’s first major charitable foundations, the Buhl Foundation (then the nation’s 13th largest foundation), presented the City of Pittsburgh with a gift of a planetarium and institute of popular science to memorialize a leading citizen of the city, Henry Buhl, Jr., who had died a decade earlier. Due to World War II, no similar facility would open until planetaria were built in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1949 and San Francisco in 1952.


Buhl Planetarium was only the fifth major planetarium to be built in the Americas, it was the most modern on the day of its dedication, and it was a true pioneer in the fields of planetarium development and science museum/science center education. Only three major museums of the physical sciences predated Buhl Planetarium’s Institute of Popular Science: Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany (1925), Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (1933), and Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (1934).


The original Buhl Planetarium had several historic firsts:

Ø   First planetarium placed on an elevator, to increase flexibility in the Theater of the Stars;

Ø   First planetarium theater which included a permanent theatrical stage;

Ø   First planetarium theater (and, perhaps, first theater) to install a special sound system specifically for the hearing impaired—remember, this was in 1939;

Ø   First publicly-owned building in the City (and, possibly, the State) constructed with air-conditioning;

Ø   First permanent Siderostat Telescope specifically designed for public use;

Ø   First regional Science Fair for school students in the country started at Buhl Planetarium in the Spring of 1940. Only two state-wide science fairs are older than the annual Pittsburgh Regional School Science and Engineering Fair.


Additionally, for more than 53 years, Buhl Planetarium housed an exhibit that was considered the largest Mercator’s Projection Map in the world! And, the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector, which operated as the primary educational instrument of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science for nearly 55 years, was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world before being dismantled in October of 2002.


The site of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science is also of important significance in Pittsburgh history. From January of 1864 though December of 1907, the Allegheny City Hall stood on this site; this building was razed for Buhl Planetarium in November of 1937. The city’s major planetarium and museum of the physical sciences occupied the Buhl Planetarium building from October 24, 1939 through August 31, 1991, and Carnegie Science Center classes continued to meet in this building through February of 1994. Today, the city’s major Children’s Museum uses this building.


In addition to the building being a memorial to North Side department store co-founder Henry Buhl, Jr., a very active amateur astronomer, Leo J. Scanlon, was instrumental in lobbying local foundations and City government to have a planetarium built in Pittsburgh. Mr. Scanlon co-founded the Amateur Astronomers’ Association of Pittsburgh in 1929 and erected the world’s first all-aluminum dome, for his home astronomical observatory in 1930—a prototype for many astronomical domes built thereafter!


This is an overview of the important history of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science. More details can be found in the submitted application, which, again, is available for public inspection, in its entirety including all six appendices, on the web sites of Friends of the Zeiss

< > and the History of Buhl Planetarium < >


Attached to this statement are a few letters of testimony, from people who could not attend today’s hearing, in support of designation of Buhl Planetarium as a historic landmark. We ask that you vote to recommend, to Pittsburgh City Council, the designation of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science as a City-Designated Historic Structure.


Thank you.