The atom smasher needs your help
As you may know, Pfaffmann + Associates proposed the idea to move the Westinghouse atom smasher to the site of the new Forest Hills Municipal Building, but that proposal will depend entirely on fundraising and people willing to help. They recently posted this notice:
“Now that the Forest Hills New Municipal Building is underway, I [architect Rob Pfaffmann] am posting to remind anyone who can devote time and leadership on the future of the Atom Smasher need to step forward. We are willing to donate probono time on technical feasibility and budgeting, but if this is going to be successful we need residents, Westinghouse Alums, and others with experience in fundraising to step forward! firstname.lastname@example.org”
— Posted on the New Forest Hills Municipal Building Facebook page.
So if anyone out there is interested and able to help out, or offer support in any way, please let them know asap!
Over the holidays I finally got to see the model Westinghouse atom smasher in the Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad and Village display. Kudos to the Science Center for creating such a unique and popular way to keep its history alive. There is always a long line of people snaking around the miniature railroad exhibit—that’s probably thousands of people who have now seen the atom smasher for the first time!
Close attention to detail is given to recreating all the individual elements, buildings, etc., in the miniature village. The exhibit’s brochure tells us that the atom smasher model’s creator drew “inspiration from photographs, archival records, and memories of community members” to prepare the design files “for a 3-D printer to produce a liquid resin replica of the generator’s signature pear shape.” So while it obviously isn’t preserving the actual atom smasher, the model is going a long way to helping a new generation see it, and ask “what is that thing?!” Imaginations captured, and the story of an artifact or place carried forward— that ultimately is the whole point.
Meanwhile, I checked in on the real thing on December 29, 2016. As of January 20, it has been TWO years since the “developer” knocked over the atom smasher while promising to “save” it, but it still languishes exactly where it was left. We saw that two utility poles had been knocked down at the west end of the property, and their wires downed with them, along with several large branches from a few of the trees near the old back gate, and yellow caution tape around the area. It all gave the sad impression that the place has become more shabby and unkempt in the last few months than it had over many years before that.
We’ll continue to hope for a better future for the atom smasher, while enjoying all the new attention it’s gotten from its debut in the Miniature Railroad!
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…!
Check out the Fall 2015 issue of Western Pennsylvania History, the magazine of the Heinz History Center!
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.