The Marie Drake Planetarium

Where the stars always shine in Juneau
1415 Glacier Avenue

History of the Marie Drake Planetarium


  • Bill Overstreet became the Juneau School District's Superintendent. He presented to the school board the idea of adding a planetarium to the plans for the new Marie Drake Junior High School.


  • New Marie Drake Junior High School opened with a planetarium room sustaining a 30 foot dome with theater style concentric seating and a SPITZ star ball machine.The projector cost $36,000
  • The planetarium was the first in Alaska. It was built with the aid of a 50% federal matching grant under the terms of the National Defense Education Act. It remains the largest planetarium in Alaska.
  • A full time teacher, Albert Shaw, was hired to teach school classes and give public presentations. His title was planetarium director. He went to two summer trainings in the lower 48. He developed a planetarium program for k-6th grades given in the planetarium. He also did programs for higher grade levels in their regular  classrooms. He also gave public presentations. The school district paid  his salary and the planetarium had budget for things such as instructional supplies.


Last record of public show was in 1975. Around this time the use of the planetarium fell and soon died out. The room was converted into an additional classroom and storage room.


$5,409 obtained for Marie Drake Junior Hight School through an education consolidation and improvement act chapter II block grant.  Title of project:  Planetariuim Studies. The major expenditure was repair and maintenance of projector by a man from California. Locking covers were also put on projector.


$2,000 obtained for Marie Drake from ESEA Title IV-C Teacher Incentive Initiative Grant.
1,430 people were served, mostly elementary students.


Around this time theater style seating was removed from planetarium taken to the dump


  • A group of volunteers got planetarium going again. Volunteers started giving programs for the public and school classes.School district allowed use of room and paid for electricity and janitorial work. Occasionally, the school district paid for maintenance e.g. starball repair.
  • In November the school board visited the planetarium as part of its regular meeting.
  • On November 6th, a presentation was given by volunteers to the school board to make more use of the planetarium. Room being used as a computer room. They hoped it could be converted back into a planetarium when new middle school opens. See Juneau Empire article.
  • November 23rd - grand opening held with two shows. Attendance 55 people.


  • November 13th -- a long Juneau Empire article published. "Stargazing, Juneau Style - Marie Drake's Planetarium Makes a Comeback" by Sherry Simpson.
  • Spitz projector serviced (disassembled, cleaned and adjusted) by company technician and it was pronounced in good condition. Spare parts also purchased. This was done at District expense out of the maintenance budget.


  • Planetarium still used full time as a computer lab.
  • School board asked by letter, "when the district considers how to use the Marie Drake building as the result of the new middle school, we recommend the planetarium again become a designated place for astronomy education as a part of the science curriculum. If other activities need to share that space, they should be compatible with the planetarium needs."
  • New 75 watt arc lamp ordered from Spitz at cost of $378..


  • 108 people signed a petition to the Juneau School District Board and Facilities Committee. "We, the undersigned Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium, recommend spending about $45,000 of the Marie Drake Building Remodeling bond funds to refurbish, restore, and equip the Marie Drake Planetarium to an extraordinary multi-purpose facility, upon completion of the new middle school. As indicated below, many of us have attended planetarium shows; we know first-hand the value of this facility and want these educational events to continue."
  • Two letters of support were obtained the principal of Marie Drake Middle School and the School of Education, Liberal Arts and Science at UAS,
  • Planetarium volunteers lead a coalition and  write to Facilities Committee recommending spending $43,500-53,500 from the Marie Drake Middle School Remodeling bond funds to "refurbish, restore and equip the Marie Drake Planetarium as an extraordinary multi-purpose facility, upon the completion of the new middle school."  
  • Despite community support and documentation of planetarium's achievements, I do not think any money was allocated by JSD.


  • In 1994 The Marie Drake Junior High School is replaced by a new middle school (DZ). The old school building is now called the Marie Drake Building. 
  • No record of any shows at planetarium 1994 and 1995


  • Michael Orelove starts volunteering at the planetarium. He becomes unofficial unpaid director in 2001.


  • Spitz maintenance person (Kenny Mowrer) comes from Seattle in September. Cost of almost $2,000 paid by Juneau School District. Additional money ($,200) for maintenance and training provided by and donations from public planetarium show audiences.
Summer Solstice (June 20) - Dedication of downtown community sundial.

Juneau Community Planet Walk created at Twin Lakes - Opening celebration September 1st.

Tidal Gauge created at downtown dock.

United States Map Created on downtown dock.

  • The Planetarium sign and logo created by Jesse Peterson. It is above the entrance to the Marie Drake building.
  • Michael Orelove moves to Gresham, OR where he continues to be active in the community, including various astronomy related projects. The webmaster is grateful for him for donating written materials which were very useful in documenting planetarium's history and event and show statistics.


Volunteers give a presentation to the Juneau school board.


  • Sundial removed in late October to as part of the Visitor's Center, Customs/Port Building Project.
  • Website updated and expanded by webmaster Cristina Della Rosa.
  • Email contact list started - has 40 people.
  • December 14 - Brief presentation given to school board on regarding upcoming shows. School Board members invited to January co-presentation with the Juneau Symphony and Kyle Pickett.


  • In June, 2011 The Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium (FOMDP) was formed. The board had five members.
  • Planetarium received a new computer overhead projector from the Lions Club in Juneau.
  • Several board members met with Juneau School Superintendent.


  • Planetarium received $500 from Holland American for a new laptop computer.
  • Planetarium receives $2,500 from Douglas-Dornan Foundation grant foundation for new projector. This is first grant specifically for a new digital projector system.
  • On January 10th, The Juneau School District passed a motion to support planetarium.
  • On January 25,  get letter of support from JSD superintendent.


  • Planetarium receives $1,000 donation from Lions Club.
  • Website changed to .org 
  • Planetarium has 125 people on its email list.
  • By-laws written for FOMDP non-profit.


  • Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium recieve IRS non profit status. 


  • Planetarium has 360 people on email list
  • Facebook Page created. Marie Drake Planetarium. It has 70 likes by end of 2016


Spitz Projector turned 50. 


  • Awarded $25,000 Rasmuson grant.
  • Awarded $10,00 matching grant from the Juneau Community Foundation's Blackwell Fund
  • Held successful Digital Planetarium Week. Click here for details. Three educators from Museum of Flight came to Juneau. 
  • Started Learning and Sharing Astronomy class for JSD teachers and other educators.