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REUBEN H. FLEET SPACE THEATRE AND PLANETARIUM

BALBOA PARK SAN DIEGO

 

In the early 1970’s the estate of Reuben H. Fleet, founder of Convair Aircraft, bequeathed a sum of $6 million to build a memorial for one of San Diego’s most important persons.  Sandy Fleet, Reuben’s son, was the trust administrator and responsible for determining a fitting memorial for his father.  With the Queen Mary and the Museum of the Sea as recent past experience, Romm was retained to recommend possible themes.

 

As building aircraft was the Fleet family business, a tie-in with airplanes was logical.  However, Balboa Park already had a reasonable aircraft museum dating back some years.  Something else had to be found that would work as well.  With NASA in the daily press some tie-in with space seemed to be reasonably synergistic.  But how to show it?

 

While working with Cousteau, and with exposure to the exotic projection technology in the three world fairs, Romm had become familiar with a number of exotic film projection systems and industry experts.  He contacted the Academy Award winning special  effect company, Film Effects of Hollywood (Lynwood Dunne, the father of special film effects; Cecil Love, the inventor of the optical camera; and Don Weed, a leading expert in exotic projection systems) for advice and counsel.  They had spent years trying unsuccessfully to create 3D without glasses but were very knowledgeable about every type of projection technology then known.  Romm’s idea of using a planetarium to anchor the project was quickly accepted, but the project still needed something more innovative than a planetarium alone.

 

During his Expo ‘67 activity Romm had met Graham Ferguson, the man responsible for creating a special effect show at the fair, known as the Cruciform.  Graham’s company, known as IMAX, had built its first theatre in Toronto shortly after the fair.  He had an even newer format called OmniMax, a 70 MM format which more closely approximated 35MM aspect ratios.  Romm invited Graham to San Diego to discuss the possibilites.

 

Like many great ideas, the concept of combining a Spitz Planetarium Starball ball projector  to an Omnimax projector drivenn by a computer rose up  out of the middle of the table. Having the right people in the room also helps.

 

Now, 30 years on, this single idea has become the standard for more than a dozen space theatres around the world, with the latest installation being New York’s Hayden Planetarium.

 

As with acorns giving birth to mighty oaks, small ideas radiating out from the tiniest pebble can have far reaching effects.  

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