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North Carolina man fighting to save Toronto planetarium

Last Updated Jan 25, 2017 at 11:42 am EDT

A North Carolina man is fighting to save the McLaughlin Planetarium from being demolished as the University of Toronto expands.

Jeff Balmer is an architecture professor and a former Toronto resident, now working at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“The building is a fantastic example of mid-century architecture. It’s a real masterwork and it would be a terrible loss for that building to be demolished,” he told CityNews via Skype on Tuesday.

“The city ought to have a major planetarium like it did in the past. [Toronto] is the largest city in North America without a significant planetarium,” Balmer said.

There is a planetarium at the Ontario Science Centre but it is much smaller. A spokesperson for the Ontario Science Centre told CityNews that planetarium is extremely popular and usually packed.

The McLaughlin Planetarium is seen in a 1969 brochure, taken from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada website. RASC.CA
The McLaughlin Planetarium is seen in a 1969 brochure, taken from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada website. RASC.CA

 

Click here to see the full 1969 brochure.

The McLaughlin planetarium opened to the public in 1968 and closed its doors in 1995. The University of Toronto bought the planetarium in 2009.

At first, the school and architecture firms architectsAlliance and Diller Scofidio + Renfro planned to turn the existing space into a recital hall, or a centre for the astronomy and astrophysics program. Ultimately, the school said it would demolish the building – but they will still have a planetarium-like experience somewhere else on the campus.

“[Keeping the building] was not a viable solution,” Scott Mabury, the vice-president of university operations at U of T, told CityNews.

“The existing concrete monolith is really not purposeful for a modern planetarium experience,” and demolition is moving forward.

“That process right now is deeply in the schematic phase. The architects are meeting with academic leaders,” Mabury said, and the artists’ renderings for the new building should be ready by the summer.

File photo of the Sam The Record Man music store on Yonge Street. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Don Denton
File photo of the Sam The Record Man music store on Yonge Street. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Don Denton

 

Balmer’s love for Toronto’s iconic images runs deep. In 2014, he helped save Yonge Street’s Sam the Record Man sign from destruction. Ryerson University is still in the process of selecting a vendor to reinstall the iconic sign.

“Being part of a team that brought about that good news felt fantastic,” Balmer said.

While he knows the planetarium may not have the same happy ending, he hopes his petition can spark an important conversation.

“I think the more important thing is that this issue of cultural heritage or architectural preservation sort of stays in the public mind. It needs to be an ongoing discussion as we work through the pressures of development and growth in the city.”

Click here to see a petition to save the planetarium.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said U of T plans to have a planetarium on campus. In fact, they’re hoping to have a “planetarium-like” experience.