368 - Morrison Planetarium Projector
Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I, disheveled as I am, am Woody LaBounty.
David: I am David Gallagher.
Nicole: And I'm Nicole Meldahl.
Woody: Nicole! David!
David: Yeah. What's up?
Woody: Nicole did this sort of like, I've got a bouffant hairdo thing with her hands, like comes from an I Love Lucy episode.
David: She’s just rubbing it in since we have no hair collectively, you and I.
Woody: Collectively? You're right. All right, last week I said we were gonna go far out, I read this thing written for me. So, last week, I said we were gonna go far out like Interstellar Daddy-O.
Nicole: Is this our new shtick? Instead of messing up the intro, you just rip on all of my, my previews for next week?
Woody: I sound like Maynard G. Krebs. [00:01:00] Do you know who that is?
Nicole: Nope. The millennial doesn’t know.
Woody: It's probably okay you don't know.
David: Email email@example.com if you know who Maynard G. Krebs is.
Nicole: Geez. Geez.
Woody: Do you know who Gilligan is?
Woody: Same guy.
Woody: All right. Enough about Bob Denver.
Woody: This one is a listener request, this episode, from Eric who wanted to know more about the Morrison Planetarium. Specifically, it's magical projector.
Nicole: Thank you so much for asking for this, Eric. I have gone down a crazy rabbit hole of research and met interesting people. So, this has been phenomenal.
Woody: This is the first podcast in the world talking about a projector.
David: Are we talking about that thing that would sit in the middle of the planetarium? It had all the little, was round and it had a whole bunch of things on it. It looked like a spaceship.
Woody: Don't give it away. David.
David: Sorry. Okay.
David: Sorry, sorry.
Woody: Let's, [00:02:00] let's give people a little background or orient them where we are and what the heck we're talking about.
Nicole: Thank you, Woody.
Woody: So, for some quick background, the Morrison Planetarium is part of the California Academy of Sciences. Which is where David?
David: In Golden Gate Park, Woody. Right on the concourse, right in the music concourse. And, in fact, if you, if you haven't been there, in a long time, it's a brand-new building sort of.
Woody: So, if you haven't been there in a long time.
Woody: It's a brand-new building, sort of.
David: Yeah. It’s not that new.
Woody: I was going to say it’s not that brand new.
David: It's like 10 years old now.
Nicole: 10 years old yeah.
David: Or something.
Woody: Okay. So, basically the, old…
David: How old is it?
Woody: We're not talking about the California Academy of Science.
Nicole: Well, the California Academy of Sciences is really old.
Nicole: We're not talking about that.
Woody: It used to be downtown. It got stuff got burned in the fire after the 1906 earthquake. Moved to the park.
Nicole: 1916. 1916, moves to the park.
David: Alright, I'm shamed. [00:03:00] Let’s move on.
Woody: Now, part of the California Academy of Sciences has been the planetarium. Now maybe Nicole, you could give people a grounding in what a planetarium even is. Some, I mean, I know David's been to the planetarium, but maybe generally people don't.
Nicole: Well, it's a, you know, it's a big…
Woody: What's the experience?
Nicole: So, if you're gonna go to the planetarium, you walk into a giant dome.
Nicole: And there's, well…
Woody: You sit down.
Nicole: You sit down in a giant amphitheater.
David: Like a theater.
Nicole: Like a theater, but you recline in a very comfortable, yet uncomfortable experience in the olden days, cause they were like these wood, the Griffith observatories actually still kinda like this. It's like these crazy old wood chairs. Anyways. And, and there's a projector that projects these mapped out kind of visual experiences of interstellar things.
Woody: Astro. Astronomics. Maps of the sky. [00:04:00]
Nicole: Oh boy.
Woody: On the dome above you.
Woody: Where you can see solar systems and constellations and things like that.
David: So instead of laying out on the grass and looking up at the real sky.
David: You sit in an uncomfortable chair and look up at the fake sky.
Nicole: Yes. But the, ours in San Francisco was the seventh planetarium to be built in the U.S. It had a 65-foot dome and the interior was bordered by a mural of the skyline of San Francisco, which a portion of is still in storage at Cal Academy.
Woody: And this is an educational tool, right?
Nicole: It is.
Woody: It's for you to learn about how solar systems work and of the sky and astronomy and all that in the comfort of this air-conditioned dome or whatever, right?
Nicole: I don't think it had air conditioning, cause it opened in 1952 okay.
David: And there's no fog right inside, right?
David: You can always see the sky.
Nicole: So, unless you put a fog machine in there, in which case it could have fog if you wanted it.
Woody: Okay. Why is it called the Morrison Planetarium? [00:05:00] Let's start with that. Let's, let's continue.
David: In 1940.
David: The May T. Morrison trust estate contributed $200,000 towards building the planetarium in Golden Gate Park. May was a widow of a prominent civic-minded attorney named Alexander F. Morrison, for whom the planetarium is named.
Woody: So, this thing opens in like 1952 though. I mean, she donates this money in 1940, but the World War II comes.
Woody: It takes a while. It doesn't really open until 1952.
Woody: Okay. And you say it was a seven, seventh planetarium belt. It's got that little skyline on the bottom, so you feel like you're really there.
David: That I remember.
Woody: I remember that too, actually. So, but this podcast is not about the Morrison Planetarium.
Nicole: No, not, not generally.
Woody: It's about the projector.
Woody: So, what is the deal with the projector? And this is the thing that shoots the stars up on the dome, essentially, right?
Nicole: So, did not know this before researching Planetaria, which, I love that, that's what generally this is called. [00:06:00] But they're very, they're pretty rare in the world. And in 19, or at least in 1952, and all the projectors came from the German optical firm of Carl Zeiss.
Woody: Very well known.
David: Still a lens maker.
Nicole: Yeah. Which, when I mentioned that to my boyfriend Harvey, he was like, oh yeah. Zeiss lenses.
Woody: Yeah. For cameras and stuff.
Nicole: Yeah. Very high end. So, prior to World War ii, there were only 27 projectors in the entire world, and only six of them were in the U.S. But when Morrison was under development after the war, The Zeiss factory in Jena was in a Russian occupation zone, and they couldn't actually produce these projectors. So, Cal Academy's director, Robert C. Miller and Dr. G. Dallas Hannah decided that they could develop their own version based on the Zeiss prototype.
Woody: They're gonna build their own projector.
Woody: Because the Cold War is preventing them from getting a projector.
Nicole: It's like occupied Europe is, yeah.
Nicole: Things are, things are complicated in Europe, you know.
Woody: So, [00:07:00] I assume since there's so few planetaria, that making your own projector is a pretty groundbreaking effort.
Nicole: Yeah. This is the…
Woody: It's not like just shining light through a magic lantern slide. This is like a big…
Nicole: It’s kind of like that.
Woody: But it's a big complicated...
Nicole: It's much more complicated.
Woody: It’s a complicated scientific thing to get the stars right and everything.
Nicole: Yeah. So, this is the first American made instrument for a major planetarium. And major meaning one that has a diameter of at least 50 feet because there was an American built projector made for a much smaller Egyptian museum in San Jose in 1938, but it's capability…
David: The Rosicrucian Museum.
David: Still there.
Nicole: Yeah. Thank you for taking the pronunciation of that on.
Nicole: Cause I just skipped it. But its capabilities were kind of limited and they dismantled it thing decades ago. But the California Academy of Sciences was perfectly positioned to build this complicated instrument.
Woody: Because they’re all scientists and stuff.
Nicole: It's a little more nuanced than that.
David: I [00:08:00] realized that something I said might be confusing. The Rosicrucian Museum is still there.
David: But the, the planetarium and the projector that was there in 1930 is not there.
David: Right. Okay.
David: Justt want to head off those firstname.lastname@example.org people.
Woody: I guess, so, you're saying it's more nuanced, but, nuanced, but I think like, you know, you got all these scientific people, they could probably make tons of stuff and know how to calibrate it. Right? Things like that, right?
Nicole: Well, yeah, but so, Dr. Hannah, who was the curator of paleontology at Cal Academy, he studied like all the science things from zoology all the way through chemistry. He was also an inventor and machinist who was working on improving the visibility in microscopes before the war. And then that led to him manufacturing prisms for the army. Which led to…
Nicole: Prisms, not prisons.
Woody: Why does the army need prisms? Oh, probably for like spotting. Like dropping bombs and things. Yeah, okay. [00:09:00]
Nicole: And signals.
Woody: Oh, right.
Nicole: And this led to a formal contract that the Academy had with the Navy. And because there was a naval optical shop at Cal Academy that repaired and serviced over one, or over 11,000 parts with a staff of 50 people during the war.
Woody: It’s amazing what you can just rattle off the top of your head.
Nicole: Oh yeah.
Woody: Really cool.
Woody: So, basically what you're telling us and a broader listening audience is that Cal Academy had an arrangement to create lenses for the military.
Woody: So, they're already kind of set up.
Woody: So, making a planetarium is like, ah, we could do this.
Nicole: Yeah. Making a projector that functions off of lenses.
Nicole: They, they've got a whole shop ready to go and the projector was built in-house by a huge staff of people who stayed on for a long time. They, it took four and a half years, and it was $140,000 to build just the projector of like this million-dollar planetarium project.
Woody: So, Nicole, you've done a lot of [00:10:00] research on this. Explain to me why this projector is so complicated that it would take so many people, so long a time, and so much money to create.
Woody: Apparently is not just some light going through a lens with a little, some star dots on it.
Nicole: I’m sure someone will correct me. But…
Nicole: So, the Zeiss manufacturer had the, the, there was no longer a patent for it, but there were also no plans. They were kind of working from scratch. And I found this wonderful, very technical article written by Morrison Planetarium’s lecturer, Leon E. Salanave.
Nicole: Salanave. For the astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1953. So, if you really wanna get in the weeds of this…
Woody: They're still around by the way.
Nicole: Message us. I'll send you a link to this article, but we're not gonna go into that much detail here. Anyways.
Woody: But these projectors, they change. Like the thing is, it's not just a static, here are the stars, right?
Woody: They can like move around and say, now we're in this nebula, and now we're moving to this part of the universe.
Woody: So, there is sort of a…
David: And then move across the [00:11:00] sky in the way that, that, that simulates the, the turn of the earth.
Woody: So, there's a whole early programming situation involved here. We don't have computers that are really easily accessible, but this thing is essentially programmed to do things.
Nicole: So, we take the meaning, cause we're all in this together now, right?
Nicole: We take optical parts salvaged from US Air Force cameras.
Nicole: And then we have to work on how the projections function.
Nicole: So, there's about 3,800 stars in this original that they're, that they're mapping in this original projector. And light is focused through these optical lenses.
Nicole: Which is really just a lantern slide, which is just, you know, a glass that you signed things through and they had to calculate the position of each individual star in order to, in, in order to finalize each lens. And those computations were done with the IBM installation at the University of California Computer Laboratory at Berkeley.
Woody: Okay, I'm [00:12:00] getting this. So, think of it like making a Disney movie and you've got all these little cells, right?
Woody: That make the animation, so you've gotta make all these little lenses that show some part of the night sky or the, the, all the sky. And then they have to switch and they have to like be perfectly calculated. So, if you go, oh, that's that star, then this one should be this much away. And it's also on a dome.
Woody: So, it's gotta project in like the feeling of a, a dome feeling, not just flat.
David: Right. And I mean, they move in parallax, right? Because the, the closer or farther away a star is, the position of it versus you versus the other stars is going to, that's why it needs like 40, 40 lenses sticking off the thing, right?
Nicole: Yeah, exactly.
Woody: Okay. All right, so I can see why this takes a long time. I'm not sure why they're doing it, but I can see why it takes a long time.
Nicole: So, there's four miles of [00:13:00] electrical wiring with hundreds of slave switches and servo motors.
Woody: Sounds like early Star Trek or something.
Nicole: And all the actions synchronized to the voice of the lecturer. And there was an instrument, which is what David was talking about earlier, that was controlled at, the instrument, the projector was controlled from an electrical console located off the center of the amphitheater. And, really importantly, the motors were actually really smooth and scarcely audible at the time. Which, if you think about 1950s technology, that, that was not easy to accomplish. So, this all contributed to the illusion of reality that was widely touted about the new planetarium.
Woody: And when it opened, it was called undoubtedly the best in the world for its realism.
Nicole: By Wagner Schlesinger. Who was the director of Adler Planetarium in Chicago. So, he knows, he knows his stuff about projectors.
Woody: Yeah, he didn’t say his planetarium was better. [00:14:00] So, that's pretty good. And there's also even like, not only it's light, but there's slight coloring, right? Like if you look at a planet, it has a slightly different color. And so, one guy after it opened, wrote a letter to the planetarium that said, quote, “if a slight cool breeze had blown across my face, I would've thought we were all outdoors.” High praise.
David: If only they had added that.
Nicole: Just somebody going [blowing sounds] next to you.
Woody: So, but when it opens, so, okay, I go to this, I see it, it's open, I look at all the stars, it moves, we go through the night sky.
Woody: There's a guy talking, a narrator, but something is missing if I go right away. Right? What is missing?
Nicole: Yeah. True to San Francisco, people instantly started to complain, because where was the moon.
Woody: They forgot the moon.
Nicole: They didn't forget it.
Woody: Wagner Schlesinger says you forgot the moon.
Nicole: They didn't forget it. The Morrison Planetarium’s reply was, it's in the shop.
Woody: It was being worked on.
Nicole: Yeah. So, they were pressed for time coming up to the opening [00:15:00] and they were working on the moon. They were trying to get it right and they were like, you know what, we're just gonna table this so we can get the rest of the equipment up and running. And this too, you know, they, people kept talking about how much more lifelike all the stars were as compared to other planetariums. Because they had colors and they were different sizes. Well, the moon, instead of just discs of light that people used for the moon in other, in other projectors, Morrison's used a photo of the moon taken at Lick Observatory.
Woody: So, it was even more realistic.
Woody: And did they have a Pink Floyd soundtrack?
Nicole: Not yet.
Woody: Okay. Good to know.
Woody: All right. So, the planetarium was a very popular item at the Cal Academy before the new building was done. And it's, they put a new planetarium in the new building, right?
Nicole: Yeah. Still called Morrison Planetarium.
Woody: Okay. And is it the same, but the projector, which is the whole point of this podcast…
Woody: Is not the same projector?
Nicole: No, the projector was retired in 2003 and like all the, the audio and everything was pulled out, especially, or after, you know, the reconstruction in 2008. And Lindsay Palaima, [00:16:00] who is a good friend of mine and works at Cal Academy, said that old projector's actually now too heavy to put in the, on the flooring of the new planetarium. It, the flooring won't support this 1950s…
Woody: Did they return all the lenses to the Navy? Or the Air Force or whatever.
Nicole: I'm told it's in storage.
Woody: Oh, so it's in storage. Okay.
Nicole: So, but I, you know, special thanks to Lindsay cause she ans, she, she pointed me towards Dan Tell and Bing Quock at the Morrison Planetarium, who patiently and thoughtfully responded to all of my questions about this stuff. So…
Woody: We should have had them.
Woody: Because I can't even figure out how to say astronomical.
Nicole: We'll get there.
Woody: We'll get there. Okay.
Woody: All right. It's time, I believe now for the Pearl of the Podcast.
David: Well, Woody, Nicole.
Woody: Are you gonna read the pearl?
David: I am gonna.
Woody: I thought you were asleep there.
Woody: Under the planetarium with Pink Floyd playing.
David: That it, I can't say that didn't [00:17:00] happen.
Woody: That you went, went saw the Pink Floyd show, go to sleep.
David: But before the Planetarium was approved for Golden Gate Park in November of 1948, the Board of Supervisors considered putting building it at, at the top of Twin Peaks as part of a push from supervisor Marvin Lewis to improve the area. That would be a great improvement, right? When the board voted nine to two for Golden Gate Park, Lewis submitted another resolution to build a restaurant and public viewing area on Twin Peaks instead.
Nicole: He didn't care what went up.
David: There isn't on those either.
Woody: They did build a, a viewing area.
David: Public viewing area. Yeah.
Woody: No restaurant though.
Nicole: People, there were all kinds of editorials that people were writing into the newspapers about this plan to put it up there. And one of 'em was like, you idiots, you don't have to put a planetarium on top of a big hill. You can put 'em anywhere.
Woody: It’s true. Okay. Now it's time for a listener mail. Hey David, how does somebody send in listener mail?
David: Woody, it's very simple. You send an email message to [00:18:00] email@example.com.
Woody: Is there any other way?
David: Well, we look at our comments on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, things like that.
David: You can, you can write a postcard to us. You can walk into our office at 1617 Balboa, our home for history, and deliver your podcast feedback to our face.
Woody: I have some listener mail. I have some listener mail.
David: Do you?
Woody: It's from Woody LaBounty.
David: Oh, okay.
Woody: Dear Podcast team. Speaking of the planetarium, I just listened to your podcast and I'm totally confused.
Woody: Just because I, it's me, not you. On April 2nd, I will be appearing at the planetarium.
Woody: The Morrison Planetarium at Cal Academy as part of Nightlife at the Academy, talking about San Francisco history.
Nicole: Wait a minute.
Woody: At the Planetarium.
David: Are you gonna…
Nicole: [00:19:00] I'll be there too, manning a table in support of your talk.
Woody: Yeah, isn't that cool? I'm gonna be…
David: Will, will I be there?
Woody: I don't know.
Nicole: You better be.
David: Well, what I mean, so…
Woody: Write us a letter on…
David: Are they gonna put, are they gonna project you onto the dome of the planetarium.
Woody: I wish. No, we got some real mail here.
Woody: This one is an In Memorium listener mail. From who Nicole?
Nicole: Michael Rabette. And we just learned, Michael passed away recently and we're, he, he would always write to us. He would always call. This is, oh, this one's kind of personal for me, cause I just had such a lovely experience with Mike, and he wrote in, “Love the podcast. Grew up on Golden Gate Avenue at Willard. Love the history of the area. And now I live in Oregon, but will always consider the Richmond home. Keep up the good work.” And so, we're sending lots of love to his family. And I, I, I'm also gonna take us an opportunity to say that when you call us, when you write with us, you know, you really have an impact on us. We really care deeply about all you guys who are part of our [00:20:00] Outside Lands community. So, thank you for being a part of the family.
Woody: And now it's time for events.
David: Where can you see all of our events?
Woody: Mostly at our home for history. Oh, you mean where can we see them? Where can find out about them? The listing. outsidelands.org/event.
David: Yeah, and they're right on the front page and you can click there and look at all the events that we have scheduled.
Woody: We're all about events, cause on March 12th, 2020, which is this year, that's a Thursday, 7:00, at our home for history, 1617 Balboa Street. We will have an event that is in support of our first exhibition at our home for history. What's it about, Nicole?
Nicole: Well, it's called Ice Skating in San Francisco. And I'll be talking about the rink on 48th and Kirkham, that is the subject of Darcy Westerlund's wonderful photographs.
David: W’ell, you will also talk about other San Francisco ice rink favorites like Leggs or Sutro’s or [00:21:00] Winterland.
Nicole: Winterland. Yes, I will talk about all those things, including the very first ice skating rink in San Francisco that brought the ice skating craze to our city.
Woody: This is this Thursday, by the way. It might be sold out.
Woody: For all I know. But if it's not, it's $10 for members. And $20 for non-members.
David: We really need to start videotaping these, because you guys are doing all kinds of great ice skating moves.
Woody: I’m just imitating Nicole.
Nicole: Swish, swish.
David: Put them in the Ice Follies over here.
Woody: All right. Quickly, March 21st, a Saturday, in the afternoon, we're gonna be at the Sunset Branch Library meeting and greeting, pressing the flesh, talking Sunset District history. Free of charge.
Nicole: Pressing the flesh.
David: I've got another free one coming up after that too.
David: March 28th we're gonna have the opening reception for our new exhibit, Monumental Golden Gate Park. Come out and see this thing. It's curated, co-curated by Golden Gate Park, historian Chris Pollock. And we will have some [00:22:00] amazing never before seen relics from Golden Gate Park, including Chris Pollock.
Woody: Will there be cheese and crackers?
Nicole: Oh no.
Woody: Don't tell him that. Will there be cheese and crackers?
David: There probably will be cheese and crackers.
David: And other things. And some beautiful watercolors and illustrations by Richmond District artist Patrick Mahar. Mahar. Oh, I'm sorry, Patrick. Anyways, that's your.
Woody: Usually your so good.
David: That's March 28th. It's a Saturday night, 5:00 to 8:00 PM and that's free too.
Nicole: Thanks. Thanks to District one supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
Woody: You know, that's a good exhibit and a good reception for an exhibit, because, you may not know this, but this year, 2020 is the 150th anniversary of Golden Gate Park. And I hear…
David: Au contraire. I do know that.
Woody: Oh, okay. Well, au contraire, contraire, you may [00:23:00] not know this, they're gonna have a big 150th anniversary Community Day to celebrate that anniversary, April 4th, a Saturday, all day long in Golden Gate Park. Did you know that?
Nicole: I did. I've been going to all the planning meetings for it.
Woody: Oh, that must be fun.
David: We're gonna have a table there somewhere. And we're gonna lead a couple of walks.
Woody: It's a small park. They'll find us.
David: Somewhere in the park.
Nicole: No, we're working it out. We're working it out with Rec and Park on exactly where we should be. And, but we're, David and I will be leading a bajillion walking tours all day.
Woody: That’s good, because I was worried there was gonna be no history at the history commemoration of Golden Gate Park. So, I'm glad you guys will.
David: Au contraire, there will be.
Woody: Yes. Well, au contraire, I have a preview for next week. I know that makes no sense in French. Pardon me, English. My preview says, that we are not done with Morrison Planetarium yet.
David: That's so good, because I have a lot more questions.
Woody: Yes. I, I'm confused as well. But I think we'll have expert help coming because next week we're getting ready to step inside the [00:24:00] vortex.
Nicole: Do-do-do-do-do [mimicking Twilight Zone theme].
Woody: That's copyrighted.
Woody: Nice ice skating tip.
Nicole: That's just my move.
Woody: See you next week.
Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.
Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.
The Outside Lands San Francisco podcast is also available as a subscription via iTunes and by RSS feed.