TABLE OF CONTENTS
Discovery Hall Science Center Records
An Inventory of the Collection
Discovery Hall was an experiential science learning program for children which operated in Austin, TX from 1984 to 1993. The program was founded by a group of volunteers with a vision to create a “hands-on center for students of all ages to experience science,” similar to San Francisco’s Exploratorium. Founding members of Discovery Hall included Bob Crampton, a Lockheed Corporation engineer, and Jack Turner and Karl Trappe, physics professors at the University of Texas in Austin with an interest in teacher education. While Discovery Hall’s architects chiefly described their program as a ‘science museum,” the organization actually administered a variety of independent educational programs including the museum, summer camps, after school science clubs, Texas Science and Technology Week and the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair. The unifying factor in all of Discovery Hall’s programs was to foster a love of science and technology in the children of Austin through hands-on experimentation.
Discovery Hall held its first camp program in the summer of 1984 and its first after-school club that September. In October 1984, the center was offered space in a multipurpose “Arts Warehouse" at 4th and San Antonio Streets in downtown Austin. In its first few years, Discovery Hall was run entirely by a group of volunteers chaired by Keith Zimmerman; the program’s only paid employee between 1984 and 1986 was Mike Wren, a repairman who also constructed exhibits for the museum space. A fundraiser, Suzan Krasoff, was hired in 1987.
In the summer of 1988, the landlord of the Arts Warehouse declared bankruptcy and Discovery Hall was forced to close its exhibit space and operate its other programs out of donated private school spaces for six months. The museum was reopened in December 1988 at 401 Congress Avenue, a former Greyhound bus station at a rental rate of “$1 per month.”
The period between 1988 and 1991 saw Discovery Hall continue to develop new educational programs while attempting to transition its administrative structure into that of a “mature organization.” In 1989, the program applied for tax-exempt status and appointed its first five-person board, chaired by interim director Jack Turner. Joyce Statz, a project manager at Texas Instruments, joined the board in 1990. Discovery Hall applied for grants, including from Georgetown’s Lola Wright Foundation, organized several popular festivals, including “Robofest” showcasing the work of Austin-area nonprofit robot designers The Robot Group, and hosted traveling exhibits. By 1991, Discovery Hall employed 10 staff members, including exhibits manager Pablo Garcia and camp directors Roger Stryker and Collins van Nort.
Many of the new events and programs established at this time emanated from relationships between Discovery Hall and the greater Austin community: a partnership with the Austin-Area Junior League in 1988 led to the purchase of a “portable planetaria”, while IBM sponsored an electronic “interactive Christmas tree.” Discovery Hall’s organizers saw themselves as participating in Austin’s burgeoning hi-tech economy. As IBM manager William Mitchell wrote in the company newsletter in September 1987, “the scientists and inventors of tomorrow - the IBMers of tomorrow - are the kids at Discovery Hall today.”
In July 1991, Discovery Hall was forced to vacate 401 Congress. The board and newly appointed director Keren Cummings began a difficult search for a new museum space. The economic downturn of the 1980s which had deflated Austin property prices was beginning to lift, and the revitalization of downtown made the rent-free or discounted spaces Discovery Hall had depended upon scarce. A financial audit commissioned by the board in 1991 raised further questions about Discovery Hall’s ability to remain self-sustaining in the long term. After a failed attempt to purchase a building located at 700 Congress Avenue, the board contracted with PriceWaterhouseCoopers to conduct a Feasibility Study, which was completed in December 1991. Based on interviews with prominent community members, the study’s final “Woodburn Report,” found that the Austin community was uncertain of Discovery Hall’s Mission and confused by similarities between Discovery Hall and the Austin Children’s Museum. It concluded that “Austin area community and businesses could not provide the support” that Discovery Hall’s board members envisioned.
In response to the study, the center narrowed its focus to running outreach programs and finding stewards for its remaining programs and equipment. The last paid staff member left the program in July 1992. In 1993, Discovery Hall ran its final Texas State Science and Engineering Fair and held a fundraiser to cover outlying operations costs before disbanding and ceasing all operations. For the final fundraiser, Board member Joyce Statz wrote a ‘postmortem history’ of Discovery Hall, which has formed the backbone of this Administrative History.
The Discovery Hall Science Center Records document the the development, and ultimate demise, of a science center for children in the 1980s and early 1990s in Austin, Texas. Included in the collection are Board of Directors administrative files, financial records, real estate documents, research files, operational records, education and programing curricula, newspaper clippings, and photographs dated from 1982 through 1994 that highlight the educational activities provided by the Center and provide insight into the efforts of the Board of Directors to create a financially sustainable structure for the museum.
The History, Mission, and Vision series (1989-1992) contains documents pertaining to the development of the city of Austin and Discovery Hall’s place in that community. Included are the “Postmortem History” written by Ms. Statz in 1994; papers generated by the Discovery Hall board while framing a long-range plan, including the organization’s only annual report, published in 1991; official correspondence and planning memos regarding the proposed development of the Seaholm area of downtown Austin into a cultural district, including a copy of a letter from writer James Michener; and the 1992 “Woodburn Report” which includes interviews conducted with public figures in Austin, a list detailing those figures and their importance to the community, and the final published study.
The Board of Directors series (1986-1992) represents the contents of several three ring binders curated by board member Joyce Statz during her tenure on the board between 1990 and 1994. Materials from before Statz’s tenure include board minutes and lists of members from 1984 to 1989. The “Joyce Statz Board Notes” folders contain of minutes, informal memos, handouts from presentations, and correspondence relating to fundraising efforts and produced between the years of 1990 and 1992; these records have been kept as accumulated by Statz to provide a picture of the day-to-day workings of the board during this period of transition. Also included is a “Board Training Book” that was designed in 1991 to be shared with new board members.
The Financial Records series (1982-1994) provides documentation of the day-to-day financial health of the organization, as well as the board members’ efforts to raise money through grant writing and fundraising. It contains annual budgets and balance sheets, letters documenting Discovery Hall’s tax-exempt status, contracts with multiple insurance companies for staff benefits, documentation of an organization-wide audit conducted in 1991, and an application for a loan from 1992. Also included are grant applications, donation receipts and letters of acknowledgement for donations and services rendered, membership lists used in annual phone-a-thon fundraisers, fundraising and grant-writing training materials, and a set of handwritten signs used during the Center’s “High Tech Junk Sale” in 1993.
The Museum Operation series (1989-1992) highlights the daily operation of the Discovery Hall. Materials consist of master copies of the various forms used by the organization, membership and admissions statistics and reports, staff meeting agendas, membership brochures, volunteer program information and a few Poloroid-style photos of staff and offices. The Progamming, Exhibits and Curricula series (1984-1994) documents the day-to-day activities of Discovery Hall’s multiple educational programs, including summer camps, after school clubs, exhibits and community events. Materials include in-house exhibit building guidelines, monthly programing guides, posters and other ephemera advertising events, color photographs of Discovery Hall exhibits and photocopies of published science experiments to be performed by children.
The Publicity series (1984-1992) consists of published articles collected by the Discovery Hall board, about the Discovery Hall program, science education, and science events in Texas. Also include are articles curated for inclusion in a media kit.
The Real Estate series consists chiefly of leases and correspondence regarding Discovery Hall’s tenure in three buildings in downtown Austin between 1988 and 1992: 401 Congress, 700 Congress, and an office in the Norwood building at 114 W. 7th Street. It also contains an application to move an outdoor sign, drawings and plans for the 700 Congress space (some of which are printed on velox sheets designed for use with an overhead projector) and planning and publicity materials for two “Grand Opening” parties.
And lastly, the Research Files series (1989-1994) consists of materials collected by the Board about other science and technology education programs. It includes printed publications, an informational booklet from the Spitz Planetarium company, a set of color slides picturing the exhibits and buildings of other members of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, Chamber of Commerce publications and a book of statistics published by the Capital-area United Way in 1989, and reports about the science-content requirements in Texas textbooks.
Open to all users
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Donated by a member of the Board of Directors.
Discovery Hall Science Center Records (AR.2018.002). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/2018/002
Donation Date: 2018
Two floppy disks labeled ‘Board Manual’ were removed from the collection after attempts to access the content were unsuccessful. Duplicate document (curricula, grant applications, IRS forms) were deaccessioned. All copies of personal checks and the resumes of applicants for jobs as Discovery Hall tour guides were removed to protect private personal information.
Final Processing and Finding Aid By/Date: Abigail Norris, Elizabeth Buchanan and Katherine Tuggey September-December 2018.