Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dispute: Ownership of Brashear Time Capsule

The lid was removed and contents removed and kept in their original order.
Photograph of Brashear Telescope Factory Time Capsule
immediately after being opened. As the contents were
removed for inspection and photo-documentation, the
contents were kept in their original order while in the
Time Capsule. (Image Source: Al Paslow)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

A dispute has arisen over the legal ownership of a Time Capsule uncovered during the demolition of the historic Brashear Telescope Factory building on Pittsburgh's North Side. Although the City of Pittsburgh has owned the land and building since 2012, the Jadell Minniefield Construction Company believes the emergency city demolition contract allows them to keep all salvageable materials from the demolition.

The Brashear Telescope Factory building, built in May of 1886 near the site of the original Allegheny Observatory and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, was originally the home of the John A. Brashear Company which had manufactured hundreds of telescopes and precise scientific instruments for observatories and scientific institutions throughout the world, in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

With limited formal education, John Brashear had transformed his love of Astronomy into a business, due to his expert craftsmanship in producing exquisite optics for telescopes and other instruments. He was Acting Director of the Allegheny Observatory, and later Acting Chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania (today's University of Pittsburgh), refusing permanent appointment to both positions. He, along with two other civic leaders, assisted Andrew Carnegie in designing the Carnegie Technical Schools (known today as Carnegie Mellon University).

Demolition of the historic Brashear Telescope Factory building, which had been vacant for about 20 years, was necessitated after a wall of the building collapsed onto a nearby two-floor apartment building. The apartment building had to be evacuated, until city inspectors declared the building safe for occupancy.

The wall collapse had occurred on March 16, with demolition of the rest of the building beginning the next day. When the author and editor of this SpaceWatchtower blog, Glenn A. Walsh, viewed the site on the evening of the Vernal Equinox (March 20, the official beginning of the season of Spring), the majority of the building had been brought-down, with the exception of small portions of the north and south walls. In a March 24 electronic mail message, Antique Telescope Society member Al Paslow reported that the demolition was completed, and the site has been covered in straw, as of Tuesday afternoon (March 24).

The demolition crew reported to have found the Time Capsule on March 22, while bringing down the last wall, on the north side of the building. They were unsuccessful in attempts to contact the city and the Heinz History Center regarding the find. So, on Tuesday when Al Paslow visited the demolition site, it was decided to open the Time Capsule and photo-document the contents.

On Wednesday morning, shortly after the SpaceWatchtower blog published the story of the finding of the Time Capsule, Matthew S. McHale, Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Pittsburgh Department of Law, sent an electronic mail message to SpaceWatchtower Editor Glenn A. Walsh seeking information on the whereabouts of the Time Capsule and contents. By early afternoon, Mr. Walsh had confirmed that the demolition company retained possession of the Time Capsule and contents, thanks to the assistance of another member of the Antique Telescope Society, Janet Gunter (who also serves on the Boards of the Perry Hilltop Citizens' Council and the Allegheny City Society historical association). Mr. Walsh, then, transmitted this information to Mr. McHale.

When the City Law Department sought possession of the historic artifacts, the Hazelwood demolition company maintained it was part of the salvageable materials from the demolition, and hence, the demolition company retains ownership of the Time Capsule and contents. The City Law Department is now looking into their legal options for obtaining control of the historic artifacts. The demolition company is consulting with their attorney.

More details in Pittsburgh's morning newspapers ---

Kerlik, Bobby. "Brashear capsule donation sought by history center."
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 2015 March 26.
Link >>>

Hasch, Michael. "Demolition of Brashear factory in Pittsburgh's North Side uncovers time capsule."
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 2015 March 26.
Link >>>

Majors, Dan and Amy McConnell Schaarsmith.
"Who owns the time capsule found at historic Brashear factory?"
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2015 March 25.
Link >>>

Photographs of Brashear Telescope Factory Building Time Capsule Contents, from the Al Paslow Astronomy Collection:
Link >>>!i=3951044359&k=RCqKLfF

More on John A. Brashear: Link >>>

More on the Allegheny Observatory: Link >>>

John Brashear - Links to Special Resources: Brashear Telescope Factory Building:
Link >>>

Related Blog Posts ---

Update: Historic Brashear Time Capsule (2015 April 9):

Link >>>

Historic Brashear Telescope Factory Time Capsule Found & Opened  (2015 March 25):

Link >>>


Historic Brashear Telescope Factory Wall Collapses (2015 March 18):

Link >>>


Brashear House & Factory: Nomination to National Register of Historic Places  (2012 Oct. 11): 

Link >>>

Historic Nomination: John Brashear House & Factory, Pittsburgh (2012 Sept. 13): 

Link >>>

Centennial: New Allegheny Observatory Dedication (2012 August 28):

 Link >>>

Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory: New History Film (2012 April 19) :
Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

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Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
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* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
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* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
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* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
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* Public Transit:
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