Having been in and around Pittsburgh for most of our lives, we were excited to find that they offer an Open House like Chicago and New York.
Known as Doors Open Pittsburgh, the event took place over a weekend featuring 50 buildings downtown and on the North Side.
I had the opportunity to email a number of times with Bonnie Baxter, the founder of the organization that coordinates the event. Her input was instrumental in our planning that allowed us to visit over 30 of the sites over two (busy) days. Bonnie has done a great job pulling together an event of this scale – it shows her pride in her hometown.
The next 4 posts are fairly long but give a brief overview on each of the venues we visited.
Frick Building – As we were walking down Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh waiting for the start of Doors Open Pittsburgh we saw a couple of people in their orange DOP volunteer shirts. Striking up a conversation with them, we found out that one of them, Al, was headed to the nearby Frick Building.
Al also volunteers with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, and was more than happy to share his knowledge of Grant Street, and the nearby buildings as we walked along. This was a precursor of what was to come, as for the entire weekend we met enthusiastic volunteers who are proud of their city and the architecture.
Once we arrived at the Frick Building we entered the lobby from the Fifth Avenue Side. Al then gave us a personal tour of the lobby.
This unique lamp served as a cigar lighter feed by natural gas with a perpetual flame (since there is no smoking in buildings anymore the flame has been extinguished.)
The current main lobby elevators reflect the Art Deco look.
The re-purposed telephone booths are fantastic. Al pointed out that most people under the age of 25 can’t even guess what they were used for.
In what started a trend that we kept most of the weekend, most of the buildings have very stylish mailboxes that had to be photographed.
Grant Street in Pittsburgh used to have a large ‘hump’. In 1914 this hump was taken out, but as a result what used to be a ground level entrance sudden was 15’ in the air, so any building that pre-dates the removal had to be retrofitted with a new entrance in what was the basements. The Frick Building is one of those buildings, having been completed in 1902.
As a result the second floor/mezzanine level has a very ornate elevator lobby since it used to be the primary entrance.
The elevator doors are a piece of art in themselves.
One final look at the lobby; a stained glass window by John LaFarge titled Fortune and Her Wheel.
Whatever history thinks of Henry Clay Frick, he did build an amazing building. Thanks to Al we had a great tour of the lobbies.
Benedum Trees Building – Our first ‘official’ visit was to the Benedum-Trees Building. I had been fortunate enough to secure ‘insider tour’ tickets for this building, with a visit to the 18th floor to visit the offices of the Benter Foundation.
The 19 story building was completed in 1905 along the Fourth Avenue financial district. The name came from the Benedum Trees Oil Company, founded by Mike Benedum and Joe Trees in the early 1900s.
Our tour started in the lobby with another classic mailbox, along with the building directory sign and some great lighting.
We then headed up to the 18th floor.
Our visit was topped off (literally) by checking out the roof top terrace, with commanding views around downtown – despite being somewhat surrounded by newer, taller buildings.
Later that afternoon we were able to look back from Mt Washington to see where we had been.
Bank Tower Building – Completed in 1902 as the Peoples Savings Bank Building, the Bank Towers exterior features figures carved by John Massey Rhind.
Easily the most impressive feature of the building is the spiral staircase that goes the entire 16 floors.
A very nice bonus to this stop was visiting the offices of MCF Architects, where one of the principals showed us the offices, and some of the amazing work they have completed, as well as historic drawings they have.
Their security gate is modeled after da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
Dollar Bank – Designed by Isaac Hobbs & Sons of Philadelphia in the late 1860s, the Dollar Bank Building on Fourth Avenue is built primarily out of brownstone. Hobbs was known for his ornate design of houses, and it is clear it was carried over to this design.
Built in the Beaux Arts style, it’s most famous exterior feature are the large lion sculptures, symbolizing a ‘guardianship of the people’s money’.
The original lions are located inside the building.
The lobby is impressive, and is used to this day for it’s original purpose, a bank.
The Park Building – We spent most of our time at the Park Building staring up at the cornices.
Built in 1896, this 15 floor building depicts men kneeling, holding up the building. We have seen this used previously, most recently in the ‘Ruins’ in Indianapolis.
continued in the next 3 postings.