Above: The Children’s Museum grand opening in 1983. (Photo courtesy Children’s Museum).
by Kelsey Shea
This Saturday, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh will celebrate its 30th birthday.
The museum’s usual $12-13 per person admission will be waived along with parking costs. There will be free cupcakes, kazoos, live music in Buhl Community Park and a parade that will traipse through all three floors of the museum past water tables, a musical playground, the art studio, the garage, a gravity room, the garden, a radio station and more.
The celebration will spread out over the museum’s 80,000 square foot facility and remind long-time employees of the museum like Lois Winslow, just how much the Children’s Museum has grown in 30 years.
When Winslow began working at the Children’s museum in the late ’80s, the museum occupied the 5,000 square foot space at the bottom of Allegheny City’s old post office building and saw under 10,000 visitors per year.
“It was a charming little place when it first opened,” said Winslow. “But it’s grown to a world-class children’s museum.”
Now retired, Winslow still works part time as the unofficial “Children’s Museum ambassador.”
In the early ’80s, there was talk of demolishing the old postal building in Allegheny Center that now houses the Children’s Museum, but the building was saved by the Junior League of Pittsburgh, and the museum opened on June 12, 1983.
Since its opening, the museum has expanded from a 5,000 square foot space in a basement to one of the top children’s museums in the country with three floors and two buildings that covers over 80,000 square feet.
In its first year, the museum drew about 5,000 visitors to the Northside annually but now draws over a quarter of a million. Where visitors’ stays averaged half an hour in 1983, families now spend an average of four and a half hours in the museum, and the annual budget has grown from $500,000 to $5 million.
In 2004, the museum expanded into the nearby Buhl planetarium building and built the award-winning Lantern building to connect the two historic structures. That same year the Saturday Light Brigade set up its studio in the basement of the museum, and in 2006 the building was certified as a green building.
Throughout its time on the Northside Bill Schlageter, Marketing Director for the Children’s Museum, said that community has always been a focus at the museum.
Back in 2004 Schlageter told the Northside Chronicle that he hoped the expansion would “serve as a significant destination point for families throughout the region and provide a much-needed focus on preservation efforts in our neighborhood.”
In the nine years that followed, Schlageter cited the creation of the Charm Bracelet Project as one of the most significant ways that the Children’s Museum has impacted the neighborhood.
The Charm Bracelet Project was founded in 2006, and is a network of cultural, educational, and recreational organizations that work collectively to foster a vibrant, attractive and accessible Northside that is unified by visible, lasting connections between organizations and amenities.
In 2009 The Charm Bracelet project sponsored the East Park Farmers Market Fresh Fridays, which continues today and is set up in the park on Friday afternoons between 4-6 p.m. from early summer to fall.
In 2011 The Charm Bracelet project installed a mural in the Federal Street underpass that is rotated annually to showcase new artists.
Most recently the Charm Bracelet project completed the fundraising for the overhaul of Buhl Community Park last summer.
Buhl Community Park is a city-owned park that was renovated with $6.5 million raised by the Charm Bracelet Project.
“I think the Children’s Museum since its beginnings has been all about community,” said Schlageter, who added that the museum also worked to help save the New Hazlett Theater.
In her time at the museum, Winslow remembered multiple offers to relocate to the suburbs or different part of the city, but she said the directors were always determined to stay in the Northside.
“We long ago embraced the Northside as hour home,” said Winslow. “The Children’s Museum became a cultural anchor…and helped build a better Northside.”