Friends of the Zeiss                         Statement Before the Board of the

P.O. Box 1041                                                     Historic Review Commission of

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

Telephone: 412-561-7876                                                   2005 February 2

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 < > or the History of Buhl Planetarium < >


It is quite fitting that the first public hearing for this nomination occurs on Groundhog Day, a celebration actually derived from Astronomy! Traditionally known as Candlemas, February 2 is the approximate mid-way point between the Winter Solstice, the beginning of Winter on December 21, and the Vernal Equinox, which marks the beginning of Spring on March 20. Candlemas is the first astronomical “cross-quarter day” of 2005. Even before Punxsutawney Phil got into the act, ancient peoples would celebrate Winter being half over on Candlemas and look forward to the better weather of Spring.


Today’s hearing is to determine that the nominated property, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, may be eligible for consideration 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.


It 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;

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.


Additionally, for more than 50 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 Buhl Planetarium’s main projector for more than 53 years, was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world before being dismantled in October of 2002.




Nomination of Buhl Planetarium as Historic Landmark            2005 February 2                  Page 2 of 2




The site of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science is also of important significance in Pittsburgh history. From the 1860s though 1907, the Allegheny City Hall stood on this site, before being replaced by Buhl Planetarium. The city’s major planetarium and museum of the physical sciences occupied the Buhl Planetarium building from 1939 through 1991, and Carnegie Science Center classes continued to meet in this building through 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 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

< > or the History of Buhl Planetarium < >


I do have one request, for your kind consideration. We have been informed, by a staff member of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, that the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has agreed to mount a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation historic plaque near the original entrance of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science. We do not know when this plaque would be mounted on the building.


We fully support such a historic plaque for the Buhl Planetarium building. Should this Commission agree that there is reason to believe that The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science merits interim protection, during the designation process, we ask that, today, the Commission permit the Children’s Museum to erect the History and Landmarks Foundation plaque near the original entrance of the building. We do not think the Children’s Museum should need to go through a separate application, just to erect this historic plaque.


Thank you.