Planetarium Marks 45th Anniversary

Facility Honors Mr. Vanderbilt’s Love of Exploration, Generates Revenue

On June 29, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum will observe the 45th anniversary of the opening of its Planetarium, now known as the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium.

Photo by JenniferVacca Audience viewing a show in the Vanderbilt's Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium
Photo by Jennifer Vacca
Audience views a show in the Vanderbilt’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium

The anniversary coincides with the final stage of the Planetarium’s technological update – the installation of a cutting-edge SkyLase laser light-show system with entertainment programs, from Audio Visual Imagineering, Inc.

The Planetarium’s advanced GeminiStar III system – which includes a Konica Minolta Infinium-L star projector, full-dome video and surround-sound – offers audiences a spectacular, immersive experience.

Suffolk County built the $1-million Planetarium in 1971 as a way to increase visitorship and to produce operating income to supplement the museum’s original $2-million trust fund. The Planetarium enhanced the Museum’s ability to carry out the science-education aspect of its mission and honored William K. Vanderbilt II’s love of science and astronomy – and his use of celestial navigation when he traveled the world’s oceans in the early twentieth century.

Following an extensive $4-million makeover and technological update, the Vanderbilt Planetarium reopened on March 15, 2013, as one of the finest and most advanced in the United States and the largest astronomical facility on Long Island.

Suffolk County provided $3.9-million of the financing for the Planetarium renovation.

Private donations totaling $160,000 financed building enhancements; new theater seating; an improved heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system; a lobby facelift and a new gift shop.

Following the reopening, the Planetarium received the most generous gift in the Museum’s history. Charles and Helen Reichert pledged $1.7 million over 20 years to support the Planetarium, its programs and its future. In their honor, the facility was named The Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium.

Lance Reinheimer, executive director, said, “We are especially grateful to the Reichert family, Suffolk County and private donors for their extraordinary support of the Museum, its education programs, and its enduring value to Long Island.”

On June 28, the day before the 1971 public opening, the Vanderbilt held a private event for a select group of 120 business leaders, legislators, friends of the Vanderbilt, and planetarium directors from other cities. Suffolk County Legislator John V.N. Klein, then chairman of the Legislature, called the show “spectacular” in Newsday’s coverage. “I am overwhelmed,” he said, adding that the Planetarium “is a great educational asset to the community.”

In 1987, after welcoming more than 2.2 million visitors, the Vanderbilt refurbished the Planetarium, acoustically redesigned its newly renamed Sky Theatre, and equipped it with the latest audio equipment. The Planetarium classroom received a makeover, too, with the addition of a then-advanced VCR (video cassette recorder) and video laser-disk equipment.

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