The Master of Ceremonies at the September 1966 opening of the Hall of Science was John R. Dunning, president of the Hall’s Board of Trustees, and Dean of Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Dunning had worked on the Manhattan Project and built Columbia’s first cyclotron. (Atomic energy was a central theme in the early Hall of Science exhibits and the Atomic Energy Commission an key collaborator, thanks to “Ray” Dunning.)

Among the distinguished guests he welcomed that day were Mayor John Lindsay; Robert Moses; Queens Borough President, Mario Cariello; Wilfred Johnson, Commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission; Robert Jastrow, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Major General Marvin Demler, commander of the Research and Technology Division of the Air Force Systems Command; and Jacob Zack, a director of New York City Board of Education;

John R. Dunning

John R. Dunning

The Star-Spangled Banner was played by the Department of Sanitation Band. And as the New Yorker noted, “a priest, a minister and a rabbi offered an invocation, a blessing and a benediction, respectively, at strategic points in the program.”

From the podium, speakers referred to the Hall as “the existing structure,” as a not-so-subtle way of reminding everyone that the Hall of Science was not yet complete. More construction (and fundraising) was still to be done. Although the Hall of Science was planned as a permanent museum, the facility was not easily converted from a Fair pavilion. A New York Times review declared it “not yet a true museum” but a “leftover” building “ill-suited to serve, by itself, as a museum.” With a “cavernous basement” full of “Fair holdovers.” A 1967 report by the City Planning Commission termed the Hall’s exhibit collection a “hodgepodge.”

The dedication of the Hall of Science took place “on the day of the heaviest rainfall since 1903,” and there was already a leak in the roof of the Great Hall. Still, tens of thousands of visitors would come to the Hall of Science each month and big plans for expansion had been under consideration since even before the World’s Fair opened.  More on those plans in future posts.

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