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.