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 March 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 < >


Today’s hearing is to determine that the nominated property, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, is eligible to be approved as a City-Designated Historic Structure.


First, in general, consider these facts:


The original Buhl Planetarium had several historic firsts:

Ø    First planetarium projector 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.


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.


I present the following points in support of this eligibility, based on the Criteria for Designation in Section 1.4 of the Pittsburgh Historic Preservation Ordinance:


1)      Criteria number 1: The site of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science has been used for important civic purposes since January of 1864, when the Allegheny City Hall was completed. The nation’s fifth major planetarium occupied the site from 1939-1994, and the original Buhl Planetarium building is now being used by the city’s Children’s Museum.


2)      Criteria number 2: Buhl Planetarium was built by the Buhl Foundation to be a living memorial to Henry Buhl, Jr., who co-founded what was once one of the city’s leading department stores, Boggs and Buhl. A very active amateur astronomer, Leo Scanlon, who developed the world’s first all-aluminum dome for his private astronomical observatory—a prototype for many future observatory domes, was instrumental in lobbying foundations and city government to have a planetarium built in Pittsburgh.


I might add that Space Shuttle Astronaut Jay Apt, and very recent International Space Station Astronaut Mike Fincke, have both declared that childhood visits to the original Buhl Planetarium inspired them to become astronauts. In fact, I spoke with Mike Fincke on February 17 after he had addressed a filled auditorium at Avonworth High School. Upon mentioning the nomination of Buhl Planetarium to be a historic landmark, he told me he would certainly support such a nomination.


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Nomination of Buhl Planetarium as Historic Landmark        2005 March 2    Page 2 of 3




3)      Criteria number 3: Influenced by the art deco architecture of that time, Buhl Planetarium was built by what Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation architectural historian Walter C. Kidney calls “a work in the compromise Classicism of the time that attempted to combine tradition and modernity.” Further, Buhl Planetarium was the first publicly-owned building in the city, and possibly the state, to be constructed with air-conditioning!


4)      Criteria number 4: The building was designed by one of the city’s leading architectural firms, Ingham and Boyd, which is now known as IKM Incorporated; as Mr. Kidney mentioned last month, Buhl Planetarium was their “masterpiece.” Further, the 72-foot diameter outer dome was constructed by New York City’s R. Guastavino Company, particularly known for construction of an elegant series of timbrel vaults in 1904, known as the Guastavino Arch, in the City Hall Subway Station in New York City.

5)      Criteria number 5: The Buhl Foundation spared no expense in the construction of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, at a cost of $1,081,500, and conveyed the building and all contents as a gift to the City of Pittsburgh on the day of dedication. When opened on 1939 October 24, it was state-of-the-art, and the most modern facility of its type in the world.

The Theater of the Stars, the Buhl Planetarium chamber, was built with several innovations including the first use of an elevator to lower the planetarium projector below the Theater when not in use, the first permanent theatrical stage in a planetarium, and a special sound system for hearing-impaired Theater attendees—again, this was in 1939!

Before computers, and just as television was in its infancy, an astronomical observatory was designed for Buhl Planetarium, whereas the viewing public could remain in a heated observing room during cold weather—without the use of a television screen. This Sidereal Coelostat, or Siderostat-type, 10-inch refractor telescope was the first such telescope designed in a permanent installation for public use. It was also the second largest Siderostat-type telescope in use.

Buhl Planetarium was the first publicly-owned building in the City, and possibly the State, to be constructed with air-conditioning. In fact, air-conditioning was essential, since the museum galleries and theaters were specifically built without windows, to better control lighting, heating, and air-conditioning. And, although Buhl Planetarium was built with a boiler room, boilers were never installed. Arrangements were made with the City to share the heating plant of the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, then just across Federal Street.

6)      Criteria number 7: Buhl Planetarium was constructed on the site of the former City Hall of the independent City of Allegheny, which merged with the City of Pittsburgh in 1907. As such, Buhl Planetarium was located in the center of the former central business district of Allegheny City, which is now the Allegheny Center complex. Several streetcar and bus lines originated their route in the vicinity of Buhl Planetarium, and even today, Port Authority Transit bus route 54C, formerly known as the 77/54 “Flyin’ Fraction” streetcar, originates its routing right in front of Buhl Planetarium.

7)      Criteria number 9: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was designed in the same era as the World’s Fair of 1939-1940, "Building The World of Tomorrow", in New York City. In both cases, the theme was to display to the public human progress through the modern wonders of science and technology.

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Nomination of Buhl Planetarium as Historic Landmark        2005 March 2    Page 3 of 3


As the third largest corporate headquarters city in the country, until the merger-mania of the 1980s, and with many of these companies having major Research & Development labs in Pittsburgh, it was important that Pittsburgh have a first-class facility to display new science and technological developments to the public. Despite the perceived emphasis on Astronomy, throughout the institution’s history, the R&D divisions of many Pittsburgh corporations invested in quite a few exhibits and programs (particularly designed for the education of high school students) for The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, including (but, by no means, limited to) the annual Pittsburgh Regional School Science and Engineering Fair. Pittsburgh’s Science Fair, begun at Buhl Planetarium in the Spring of 1940, is the third oldest Science Fair in the United States and the oldest regional Science Fair in a major metropolitan area (the two older fairs are state-wide fairs).

In the case of the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, not only did they provide many telecommunications exhibits for Buhl Planetarium, for a while they even funded a part-time staff person to explain these exhibits to the public! And, when Bell Telephone decided to introduce commercial Picture Phone service (real-time, video and voice telephone service; video was in black-and-white) in the early 1970s (and, they chose Pittsburgh and Chicago as the first two cities for this service unveiling), Bell Telephone provided Buhl Planetarium with two Picture Phone telephone booths, where the public could learn how to use this new technology!

8)      Criteria number 10: The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science has been a distinctive landmark in Pittsburgh since 1939. Of course, with the planetarium dome, it does have a rather unique appearance, necessary for its function as a planetarium. It is ironic that the building just west of Buhl Planetarium, the Old Allegheny Post Office, also has a dome, although this dome was more for decoration than function.

For these reasons, I urge the Historic Review Commission of Pittsburgh to enthusiastically recommend, to Pittsburgh City Council, the designation of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science as a City-Designated Historic Structure.

Attached to this statement are letters from two citizens, who could not attend today’s hearing, who also support the historic designation of Buhl Planetarium.

Thank you.