Friends of the Zeiss                                    

P.O. Box 1041                                                                   

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

Telephone: 412-561-7876

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Internet Web Site: < >


2004 June 12


To the Editor of Pittsburgh Pulp, for From the Pulpit:


RE: Garden Theater


Eric Miller’s article about the stalled Federal/North urban renewal project and the Garden Theater, in the June 10 issue of Pittsburgh Pulp, reminded me of another public meeting that occurred on the North Side in the late 1980s. This public meeting was not sponsored by the City, a neighborhood group, or an economic development organization. This meeting was the initiative of North Side neighborhood young people, who were concerned about the dearth of recreational opportunities for neighborhood youth. Several City officials attended this meeting including Tom Murphy, who then represented the North Side in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.


The first goal of these young people was to bring a popular movie theater back to the North Side. During the course of the meeting, two options for locating this movie theater were identified: the Garden Theater and Buhl Planetarium. At this time, The Carnegie Science Center was under construction, and there had been no decision on a reuse of Buhl Planetarium. After the new Science Center opened in 1991, Buhl Planetarium was used as a “tutorial center” for Science Center science and computer classes, until the building was completely closed and abandoned in 1994.


As an employee of Buhl Planetarium at that time, I explained that the Buhl Planetarium building included a 250-seat lecture hall (a.k.a. Little Science Theater) where science films were often shown to school groups as well as the public. In fact, one weekend Buhl Planetarium did host a science fiction film festival in the Little Science Theater. This lecture hall seemed more appropriate for a neighborhood movie hall than the 425-seat planetarium theater, with its curved screen/dome.


Tom Murphy said that he would talk to Carnegie Institute President Bob Wilburn about the possibility of this type of future use of the Buhl Planetarium lecture hall. However, he and other officials indicated that their preference was to transform the Garden Theater into a popular movie theater.


So, as Mr. Miller wrote, after more than fifteen years there has been limited progress on the Federal/North project and no progress in bringing a popular movie theater back to the North Side.


Now a second large urban renewal project has gutted Buhl Planetarium’s Little Science Theater, Planetarium Theater, and Astronomical Observatory, as well as removing the east exterior wall’s astronomical inscription from the Bible. And, all of this “progress” has occurred to quadruple the size of an institution, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, which has run operating deficits for the last four years (half-million dollar deficits for the last two years, in $2 million annual budgets), according to their own 2004 grant application to the Allegheny Regional Asset District!


So, had the Buhl Planetarium lecture hall been used as a neighborhood movie hall, the North Side would now have had a popular movie theater for many years (which could have easily coexisted with the science and computer classes, elsewhere in the building). A very historic building would still be intact. And, historic equipment and artifacts, including the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector (until 2002 dismantling, the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world!), would still be available to educate the public!


Sincerely yours,


Glenn A. Walsh

Project Director