What Do You Do with a Historic Atom Smasher?

With the Westinghouse site on the Forest Hills/Chalfant border sold to a developer, the structure needs a new use or a new home.

The iconic blue "W" within a circle that was the Westinghouse logo is a bit faded. The odd, pear-shaped metal structure a bit weathered. And its future uncertain at best.

It was on the hill above Ardmore Boulevard, nestled between Chalfant and the "lettered" avenues plan in Forest Hills, where the world's first industrial Van de Graaff atom smasher made history in 1937—and Westinghouse Electric and the nation became a dominant force in nuclear energy.

The Forest Hills landmark, which smashed its last atom in 1958, is one of 50 historical "milestones" listed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In 2000, the atom smasher was designated historically significant by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. That provides no legal protection, though.

About 10 years ago, when Viacom ended up owning the Forest Hills property after a series of corporate changes that dismantled the former Westinghouse Electric, the future of the atom smasher structure was placed in jeopardy. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the Sen. John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center and the Carnegie Science Center all declined to accept the atom smasher as is at that time.

Gary Silversmith, a Washington developer, just bought the former Westinghouse property—about 11 acres and the atom smasher—from CBS. He's considering building apartments at the site, according to Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill, and realizes the atom smasher might not be the best marketing tool.

Fortunately, Silversmith also recognizes the importance of the structure. He suggested to O'Neill that, perhaps a high-tech company led by people who recognize the importance of the artifact could use it as public art.

Do you have any suggestions of places to relocate the historic atom smasher or a possible use for the several-story structure? Tell us in the comments section.


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Patricia Clarke January 31, 2013 at 03:04 PM
So sad that our local "history" and "science" centers can't find room for this piece of important Pittsburgh science history, yet have lots of room for football memorabilia.
Michael Martin January 31, 2013 at 07:37 PM
You would think the Westinghouse Nuclear Division would be able to find a place for it.
Kali Kare February 01, 2013 at 03:28 AM
Why won't the Heinz History Center help it out?
Marni Blake Walter February 04, 2013 at 06:53 PM
As a Forest Hills native, I'll be very sad to see the atom smasher go, if it comes to that. Personally I'd love to help create a local heritage center with this great piece of history as its centerpiece. That idea, however, would require a pile of money (from Westinghouse? Smithsonian? Anyone?). I hope that the Pittsburgh community can rally to save the atom smasher in some way! -Marni Blake Walter


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