Girls Club Planetarium
For Girls, Their Own Way to Reach the HeavensBy JAMES BARRON
It is the capstone of a $20 million building packed with hard-won triumphs for Ms. Pentecost and the Lower Eastside Girls Club, which she helped establish in the mid-1990s.
The building is so new that the ribbon-cutting ceremony will not be until next week, but already girls are streaming in after school for snacks in the new juice bar, tutoring sessions in airy new classrooms and glimpses of the not-quite-finished garden. Ms. Pentecost promises that the fountain will be installed in time for the ceremony.
Upstairs, there will be a recording studio in an Airstream trailer, a 1958 model, a sleek, silvery caterpillar that was hoisted into a big room on the second floor before the window installers arrived. As they might say on the Internet radio station it will serve, more about that in a minute.
The Girls Club has grown from a staff of volunteers and about 20 girls to a payroll of 20, a budget of $2.4 million a year and about 1,000 girls, many of them from working-class backgrounds. Six of the founders are still involved. So are four alumnae from the early days who now work for the club in a building that occupies six lots that were once all but abandoned. Above the Girls Club, reached by a separate entrance, are apartments that rent for as much as $3,400 a month, although half are leased at “affordable” rates.
But a planetarium?
“It dawned on me that you can’t teach earth science if you don’t teach sky science,” Ms. Pentecost said as a display of the earth’s magnetic field swirled overhead. “We’ve always done environmental work, and the environment is bigger than the dirt under our feet.”
The dirt under their feet is five miles from that more famous planetarium, the Hayden, in the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side.
“To be able to go up to the Rose is a treat,” Ms. Pentecost said. “Down here, we can give them a daily dose of science. And if we’re going to turn out scientists, they need a lot of exposure and a lot of inspiration, and as a community planetarium, we’re in a position to provide both. The hope is we can be the portal, and they’ll get inspired. New York City has so much, but someone has to open the door.”
The Girls Club was formed in 1995 after neighborhood women complained that their daughters were not allowed to be part of local boys’ clubs. “The topic was, how can it be possible that we have three boys-only clubs and no place for girls to go?” Ms. Pentecost recalled. “I was attempting to not make it my problem because I had two sons, but I realized it was my problem because it was a feminist issue.”
Now, 18 years later, one of the boys’ clubs has closed. Another, the Boys Brotherhood Republic, at 888 East Sixth Street, between Avenue D and the East River, became the Boys and Girls Republic after it was acquired by the Henry Street Settlement in 1997.
But the Boys Club of New York’s Harriman Clubhouse, at 287 East 10th Street, near Avenue A, still serves only boys. “We decided that is what we are good at and what we want to keep doing,” said Helen Frank, a spokeswoman for the Boys Club of New York. “There is definitely a need for single-gender organizations.”
Ms. Pentecost said the Girls Club would have some programs that will be open to boys as well as girls, among them “recording arts” training, for future recording engineers and voice-over artists. They will work in the Airstream trailer once it is retrofitted by John Storyk, an architect and acoustician who designed studios for Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston and Bob Marley, among others.
The Girls Club also has a cafe and a chef — a male chef, one of Ms. Pentecost’s sons, Will.
“I always kind of helped out,” Mr. Pentecost said. “For 15 years, it was, ‘We’re going to build a building.’ Everyone believed in my mom, but it was, like, ‘Sure.’ And once they broke ground, it was like, ‘Wow.’”
He was not the only other Pentecost on the premises. Ms. Pentecost’s husband, Dave, a longtime video editor for the “MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour” on PBS, was pitching in on the planetarium. He had worked briefly for a company that makes planetariums in the 1980s.
“The fact that nobody wanted us turned out to be a blessing,” Ms. Pentecost said. “We could do what we wanted to do. Any other organization, if you said, ‘I want a planetarium,’ there would be bean counters all over you saying it’s not feasible. We never did a feasibility study.”
From somewhere in the darkness of the planetarium, Dave Pentecost said, “We’re ready to play with the big boys.”
Immediately, Ms. Pentecost said, “The big girls