Architecture & Neighborhoods

The Story of an Icon

With the completion of the Tower at PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh has yet another generation of skyscraper design in its picturesque cityscape. Though our first tall steel-frame building—Longfellow, Alden & Harlow’s Carnegie Building of 1895—was lost in 1952 for the Kaufmann’s store annex, the Frick building of 1902 remains with several close contemporaries giving Pittsburgh more …

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South Side Visions

I only met my husband’s grandfather a few times; he died at age 92, shortly after my husband and I were married in 1988.   However, I think of Lee Dittley often, when I look at his charming paintings of the South Side of Pittsburgh. With only a ninth-grade education, he went from working in …

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Wilkinsburg renewal

Shortly before he died last year, Korean War veteran Jack Ward stood inside the doorway of the Save-A-Lot grocery store in Wilkinsburg’s Penn Avenue business district. Wearing his Marine cap and shirt with service patches, he handed out pamphlets about the proposed sale of alcohol in some borough restaurants. A previous referendum had failed, but …

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The City-County Building

Ask people their favorite downtown Pittsburgh building, and many will tell you Henry Hobson Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. Pittsburgh’s first really famous piece of architecture has been popular consistently since its 1888 completion. But the truly memorable public space is actually right next door, the City-County Building, completed in 1917. The soaring three-bay …

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Life on the Monongahela

In the last Ice Age—10,000 to 110,000 years ago—what is now the Monongahela River flowed north across Pennsylvania into the St. Lawrence watershed. At some point, an ice dam gave rise to Lake Monongahela, which was 200 miles long, 100 miles wide and hundreds of feet deep. Now, a series of locks and dams largely …

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Monsignor Rice’s trampoline

To understand how I, a lapsed Catholic from the East, came into possession of a small, slightly cracked trampoline that used to belong to Pittsburgh’s most famous “labor priest,” you must begin, as South Hills summers always do, with the St. Anne’s Fair. Glimpsed from a seat on the outbound Castle Shannon T, the fair …

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New life in an old neighborhood

Polish Hill is one of Pittsburgh’s more eccentric and paradoxical neighborhoods. Its showcase church, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is especially stately and conspicuous, while the angular streets that weave it to the hillside are suitably European. But the neighborhood suffered acutely in Pittsburgh’s post-war population decline and persisted more as an under-maintained vehicular pass-through. …

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Pittsburgh’s tiny troubles

“Tiny houses” are a hot trend on the Internet and occasionally in real life. The widespread but not entirely formal movement includes residences of between 100 and 400 square feet, depending who is counting. They come from builders and owners who want to live more economical and less complicated lives by getting rid of possessions, …

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From melons to motorists

Why exactly does motor square Garden have a dome? The Renaissance-style cap in oxidized copper and glass sits confidently on a low-rise multiple gable structure in buff brick that is more ancient Roman. Pittsburgh Press writer George Swetnam once called the combination “odd but charming.” The building definitely holds its own architecturally among much larger …

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A new front door

Nestled comfortably at the intersection of Schenley Park and the Junction Hollow Railway, at the border of Oakland and Squirrel Hill, the campus of Carnegie Mellon University could appear as a serene grove of academia, where eminent professors and industrious students perambulate through green spaces from one building to the next. In fact, a remarkably …

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Chronicling the Courthouse

In January of 2013, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article mentioned money being raised to restore the circa 1888 Allegheny County Courthouse to its former glory. Designed by architect H.H. Richardson, who died in 1886 at the age of 48 and never got to see his masterpiece completed, the building is considered to be one of the …

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The Enduring Dollar

They don’t call it the lion’s share for nothing. Those sculpted felines at Dollar Bank’s Fourth Avenue building have grabbed the limelight. A crowd attended their unveiling last year, with substantial press coverage, because master carver Nicholas Fairplay had both restored the original lions, which were placed inside the Dollar Bank building, and replicated them …

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From drab to daring

You could easily miss the Sharpsburg Community Library, even at its Main Street location next to the post office. This is not a Beaux Arts gem of the Carnegie system. Rather, it is 1,300 square feet in a one-story concrete-block former Indian restaurant. The little facility is well used and beloved, but we are lucky …

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Behind the Camera

Darrell Sapp isn’t a household name, but around Pittsburgh, most people have seen his work whether they know it or not. His photography has graced the pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 35 years. What is it like to wake up every day and do the job of your dreams? For Sapp, it all starts …

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Hatfield and Home

At the corner of Hatfield and Home streets, lively currents in Lawrenceville’s past, present and future converge in vivid architecture. Historic rowhouses line the street in one direction, and in another are some of the remains of industrial infrastructure. The substantial remaining open space toward the river seems to ask almost vocally what to do …

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Raising the Bar

The widely repeated story goes something like this: Gary Saulson, PNC’s senior vice president for real estate, would regularly have lunch at a certain restaurant, from which he would have a direct view toward the Liberty Travel Building, a billboard-slathered misshapen lump, whose prominent location at the corner of Liberty and Sixth meant that its …

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A Sustainable Aesthetic

What is sustainable, or green architecture, anyway, and what is it supposed to look like? The fact remains that the operation of buildings uses 40 percent of the earth’s energy resources, so construction aimed at reducing that consumption is both admirable and necessary. But do you know it when you see it? A high-tech skyscraper …

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Steel City Spectacle

In recent years, it has been difficult to imagine the Highland Building as a “great success as the modern office building,” as proclaimed in a 1910 newspaper ad. The property on South Highland Avenue facing East Liberty Presbyterian Church hasn’t been occupied for a generation. Twenty-five years of neglect have seen a veritable jungle sprouting …

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Downtown!

I moved to Pittsburgh with my wife, Audrey, on May 1, 1972 when I accepted a job with The Hillman Company. We moved here from sunny Denver, Colo., and in our first month, it rained 28 days. We thought it was among the dumbest decisions we had ever made, but we’ve lived here the past …

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Bridges of Allegheny County

Whether they’re crossing chasms, spanning rivers or connecting communities, bridges have always been the metaphoric heart of Pittsburgh. Their architects and builders— from 18th-century military pragmatists to the best design firms in the world—have expanded the art of the possible, from the humble to the magnificent, from arch to suspension to truss. Presented here is …

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The Golden Triangle Shines

Ten years ago, the death knell tolled for a much-vaunted plan to re-energize Downtown Pittsburgh through an explosion of eminent domain and new retail. The ambitious plan, led by Mayor Tom Murphy, succeeded in creating a gleaming new building that housed a Lazarus department store, as well as an unfortunate remodeling of the former Mellon …

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Quite Contrary

Sometimes an observer can find a gem where he might least expect it—in this case, Northview Heights housing project. As with many of the city’s projects, it’s not easy to get to there. But if you’re going, drive up above the North Side, just beyond where Federal Street and Perrysville Avenue meet, and continue climbing. Neighborhood …

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