The Update That Never Was… but it’s preserved in miniature!

In the weeks after the April 2 community meeting (in the previous post), I kept waiting and hoping to have some news to post in an update. I went to that meeting, where Pfaffmann + Associates talked about the idea of moving the atom smasher to the site of the new municipal building and the need for fundraising, etc. There were maybe 10 of us there who happily signed up for a committee to help with it.

Yesterday was the groundbreaking ceremony for the new municipal building, but no mention was made of the atom smasher, which had been featured in earlier versions of this project. Yet it seems like there’s still lots of interest in the atom smasher. Along with the many people from Forest Hills and surrounding areas, and Westinghouse employees, there are whole networks of potentially interested people in organizations like the Society for Industrial Archeology and the Atomic Heritage Foundation. When I did a presentation on the atom smasher at an SIA meeting, many people there commented with support and sympathy. So we’ll continue to hope for the best…!

Newly added to the Carnegie Science Center miniature railroad display

Meanwhile, in the good news, there is new excitement as the model Westinghouse atom smasher just debuted in the miniature railroad at the Carnegie Science Center! Whatever happens to the real one, at least it’s preserved in this wonderful display. From the photos it looks like a really detailed and accurate model. I can’t wait to see it in person!

The Saturday after a Post-Gazette article about the model was published, it was in the top 5 most read and most emailed articles on the Post-Gazette website—and that is just for the MINI atom smasher!!
So, we still don’t know if recent preservation ideas will move forward, but I’m really sure the atom smasher doesn’t suffer from a lack of interest!

Community Meeting on New Forest Hills Borough Building and Atom Smasher, April 2

There will be a community meeting / design development workshop in Forest Hills on Saturday, April 2, 2016, 9:30 a.m. – 12+ p.m. about plans for the new Forest Hills municipal building. Note that there will be discussion about the atom smasher following the design meeting! Quoting from the event’s Facebook page:

Come join us to learn about the progress of the design of the new green Municipal Building! We are looking for your input and support as the design progresses towards construction this summer! BONUS: if you are interested in the Atom Smasher we hosting an after meeting to organize and recruit interest in rasing funds to reerect it at the site of the new Municpal Building.

Pfaffmann and Associates architects have proposed a state of the art facility for the new borough offices, to be located along Greensburg Pike and across from the Westinghouse Lodge. The plans include the idea of moving the historic Westinghouse atom smasher to this new site. More info about the project (schematic design drawings, updates on the community meeting, etc.) can be found on the project’s Facebook page: New Forest Hills Municipal Building.

In general I’m in favor of any plan to save the atom smasher rather than hack it up into scrap metal! It was, is, and should be a significant resource and feature of the community. The proposed location is probably as close as we could hope to its original location, basically being up at the top of the hill instead of the bottom of the hill, and still in the same neighborhood. But especially after last year’s damaging tear-down, I hope that if the atom smasher is moved, all efforts will be made to respect and retain what is left of its historical authenticity and physical integrity.

More to come as the situation develops…!

Feature Article on the Westinghouse Atom Smasher in Western PA History

 

Check out the Fall 2015 issue of Western Pennsylvania History, the magazine of the Heinz History Center!

W PA History cover

I’m very happy to say that my article, “An Unlikely Atomic Landscape: Forest Hills and the Westinghouse Atom Smasher,” was recently published! AND they used my favorite photo on the cover, which was a fantastic surprise as the issue went into production.

When I started digging into archival atom smasher info, I thought I’d find some news stories about people protesting the construction of this huge thing, of mysterious scientific purpose, in their neighborhood. Instead I found this photo. These people stand in a moment in time so different than today. The image inspired me to think more about the community around the atom smasher and why this place was significant beyond how fast the machine could accelerate particles. Read all about it in the magazine! 

This photo (courtesy Heinz History Center Detre L&A) might be from one of the community day events that Westinghouse often held, but the caption in the archives only gives a date of about 1940. If anyone out there has more info about it, or family memories or stories from this time, I hope to hear from you!


Many thanks to the editors of Western Pennsylvania History, and their designers and printers, who produce this beautiful magazine.

Before / After: Atom Smasher Photos

Westinghouse atom smasher, August 2013. © Marni Blake Walter.

Westinghouse atom smasher, 2013. © MB Walter.

Noting the upcoming anniversary of the day the Westinghouse atom smasher was torn down (20 January 2015), below are links to two sets of photos I’ve taken, before and after.

Photos Before / August 2013: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjJRMBMd

Back in August 2013, I had the great fortune to tour the atom smasher up close with Mr. Barry Cassidy (who at the time was managing what we thought would be an exciting preservation/reuse project) and others in preservation and education. There was a lot of enthusiasm for all the possibilities in STEM education, and community and science history, that the atom smasher could offer, and admiration for this offbeat landmark. (And yes for its being a really cool relic to have in your neighborhood… How many people can say they have an ancient atom smasher in their town?!*)

Photos After / April and July 2015: https://flic.kr/s/aHskpXWkvW

Despite all that enthusiasm, we are faced with a different reality since 2015. During 2015 I took a few sets of updated photos in the process or aftermath of site demolition. As a neighbor who saw me there said, better get all the photos you can now…

Westinghouse atom smasher, July 2015. © Marni Blake Walter.

Westinghouse atom smasher detail, 2015. © MB Walter.

I like to document change and record the artifacts around us, so I check on the site whenever I get the chance. Obviously change over the last two years has been dramatic here. I hope readers will find these views of current conditions useful.

For anyone not familiar with Westinghouse in Forest Hills, the photos show what remains of the atom smasher—the very origin of Westinghouse Nuclear—and the pioneering Westinghouse Research Laboratories.

* Ps. If you happen to be someone who does live near another old atom smasher, please leave a comment— we’d love to hear from you too!