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Issue One: The Zeiss Projector and Telescope at Buhl Planetarium

Sunday, September 30, 2001

A functional tool

The topic pales in significance to the events of Sept. 11. Yet the fate of the Zeiss Planetarium projector and the Siderostat telescope that are in the former Buhl Planetarium on the North Side cannot be ignored.

Seddon Bennington, director of the Carnegie Science Center, said he would like to see the projector become an artifact in the center's proposed expansion.

Preserving the Zeiss strictly as an artifact is absurd. It is not the device, but what the device does, that remains in the memories of everyone who attended the "sky shows" in the now-vacant Buhl Science Building.

The Zeiss is not an "art object" to be put on display. It is a functional educational tool that can supplement, not compete with, the Digistar planetarium projector that is currently in use at Carnegie Science Center's Henry G. Buhl Jr. Planetarium.

Experienced volunteers (I am one) are available to operate and maintain these educational tools. Their benefit to the children of the Pittsburgh area is dependent upon using them effectively, which can be best done if they remain at their current location and periodically be made accessible to the public.


Old doesn't mean obsolete

In the Sept. 16 editorial "Planetary Nostalgia," the message is that "old" (used eight times) means "obsolete."

Well then, let's scrap the old Smithfield Street Bridge, the old obsolete Fort Duquesne Incline, the old Gateway Clipper, the old Allegheny County Courthouse -- and Grandma?

The proponents of the Children's Museum expansion proposal want $4 million of our tax dollars to join two historic structures: the Historic Buhl Planetarium building, a Pittsburgh icon, and the landmark Post Office, now the Children's Museum.

In addition to changing the historic architecture of these buildings, those making the proposals want to remove the precious contents of the Buhl, including a Zeiss Model II star projector and the siderostat telescope worth $1.6 million and $300,000 respectively, in today's dollars. These are both working gems!

This does not sound like a good proposal for our children. We should not teach our children to be so hasty to discard what is old yet good.

Squirrel Hill

Of limited usefulness

Seventy years ago, the Zeiss Model II planetarium projector was a technological wonder. Now it is a museum piece, and perhaps that's where it should be.

I was a planetarium lecturer at the Buhl Science Center from 1982 to 1986. I'll always remember the fun of standing at that wonderful console with its Frankensteinian controls. The Zeiss II itself was a source of endless fascination, a kinetic sculpture of gears and lenses designed to reproduce the night sky as seen from Earth. It was a dazzling presentation for the 1930s.

On the other hand, I also worked in the planetarium of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. They have a 1970s-era Zeiss Model VI projector. Although it's superficially similar to the Zeiss II, 40 years of refinements produce brighter, more accurate stars and planets.

My point is that Pittsburgh's Zeiss II is a fine piece of machinery that should be preserved, but its usefulness as a planetarium projector is limited.


A museum is best

I am writing to you as a resident of the North Side since 1978 and as a business owner with several thousand regional employees, whose children benefit from the Children's Museum. I am also a native of the area and have fond and quite vivid memories of riding the 77-54 trolley to Buhl Planetarium.

I support the plans of the Children's Museum to revitalize the former Buhl site. While different in content, the Children's Museum programs share the primary purpose of the original Buhl -- to learn through creative play. And the museum's plans respect the original building.

Concerns are now being raised by some who wish to preserve the planetarium space, with the Zeiss projector and the Siderostat telescopes exactly as they were. I understand the motivation -- the projector and telescope are splendid objects and conjure wonderful memories -- but they are no less obsolete than the slide rule.

It seems selfish of me and my generation to insist that our memories are more important than allowing a new generation to build its own memories. The Children's Museum has also brought significant economic benefit to the North Side and is accessible to an otherwise underserved community, which are achievements that should be encouraged.

North Side

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