Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fifth Avenue Palaces Part I


The Negley-Gwinner-Harter House on Fifth Avenue in Shadyside was threatened with extinction, but a tireless restorer of historic places and the owners who followed staved  off the bulldozers.

In one of Wednesday’s posts, I touched on some of the older, more modest houses that remain a part of the Shadyside fabric. Today, I’m taking a look at five of the remaining palaces from what once was Pittsburgh’s Millionaires Row that stretched along Fifth Avenue from Oakland through Shadyside into Squirrel Hill.

100_1376 Left: The fountain in front of the Negley-Gwinner-House on Fifth Avenue.

The first entry is the Negley-Gwinner-Harter House, the second oldest surviving mansion on the row, which was built for Civil War veteran and attorney William Negley in the Second Empire style in 1871-72.

Stone contractor Edward Gwinner bought the house in 1911 and soon tapped architect Frederick Osterling to design a three-story addition, a porch and the interiors of some rooms to update a home that was then less than stylish. The work was complete by 1923.

Dr. Leo Harter began years of renovations when he obtained the house in 1963, but a 1987 fire badly damaged the third floor and nearly signed the structure’s death warrant.

But days before it was to be torn down in 1995, Joedda Sampson, who is known  for her work restoring historic places in Pittsburgh, came to the house’s rescue.

After a year and $1 million, Sampson worked her usual magic on the place, which also boasts great landscaping, a fountain in front and patio inside its cast-iron fencing.

The Negley-Gwinner-Harter House has passed through several owners since Simpson’s intervention, but it never fails to impress and charm me when I walk past.

Next door is the Moreland-Hoffstot House, which was completed in 1914.  Built for Andrew Moreland, who held various positions in the iron and steel industry in the early 1900s, he lived there through 1926.

100_1379The house is a second-generation copy of the Grand Trianon  in Versailles, which Louis XIV built for his mistress. Architect Stanford White based Rosecliff, the Newport, R.I., mansion he designed for the Oelrich family of New York, on the French landmark.

When Moreland married into the family, White’s work in Newport was the model.

Henry Phipps Hoffstot bought the house in 1929 and lived there until his death in 1967. He served as vice president of operations of the Pressed Steel Car Co. from 1918 to 1933 and president of its subsidiary, the Koppel Industrial Car and Equipment Co., from 1918 to 1936. His son, Henry, extensively restored it. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Click for more details on the Moreland-Hoffstot House.

100_1383 The Moreland-Hoffstot House’s neighbor to the west is the Hillman House, which was built in the late 1870s as a red brick, three-story structure with 10 rooms for James Rees, a boat builder.

In 1919, John H. Hillman Jr. bought the property and commissioned architect Benno Janssen to design a new house. But Hillman decided to remodel the house instead. E.P. Mellon, architect and Mellon heir, encased the old house in limestone. It remained in the Hillman family until 1975 and now houses condominiums.

Part II: Sunnyledge, Howe-Childs Gate House and Mudge House.

Fifth Avenue Palaces Part II


The physician who served Millionaires Row built Sunnyledge in 1888 to house his home and office. It now holds a small hotel and restaurant.

Welcome back to my tour of the remnants of Pittsburgh’s Millionaires Row. My first stop is Sunnyledge.

Dr. James McClelland, the founder of Shadyside Hospital and the physician for the Carnegie, Frick, Mellon and Scaife families – some of his future  neighbors on Fifth Avenue, wanted nothing to do with the Queen Anne design for a proposed new house.

Instead, he turned to Longfellow, Arden and Harlow, a successor firm to architect H.H. Richardson and the creators of the Carnegie Library and Museums in Oakland, to draw up a suitable structure for his office and home. It was completed in 1888.

The doctor's office was in the turreted corner tower and had a separate porch and entrance.

One of the McClellands' daughters spent 94 years in the house and had planned to make the building, which remained unchanged over the years, into a private house museum upon her death. However, the curator  Ms. McClelland selected soon followed her in death and the furnishings were auctioned.

In 1997, Sunnyledge underwent a conversion that created the small hotel and restaurant that occupies this jewel on the corner of Fifth and Wilkins avenue today.

The oldest remaining structure on Millionaires Row is the Howe-Childs Gate House, which is now part of Chatham University.

An entry in the Council of Independent Colleges' Historic Campus Architecture Project describes it:

Constructed ca. 1861 and originally known as Willow Cottage, the Howe-Childs Gate House is the oldest wood frame house in Pittsburgh and the oldest existing house from the city's ‘Millionaire's Row. Built by Thomas Marshall Howe, a prominent Pittsburgh industrialist, bank president and former congressman, the building was the entry to Greystone the family's ‘country’ estate. Mary Howard Childs, the widowed daughter of the General, and her three children were the first known occupants of the house.

Former owners of the two and one-half story clapboard Gothic Revival/cottage style house include members of the Howe and Childs families and also that of Pittsburgh oil magnate, Michael L. Benedum. In the 1950s the Benedum Foundation leased the house to Chatham College and in 1959 the foundation donated the house to the university for use as a residence hall and academic building. The university later sold the house in 1985. One year later the City of Pittsburgh designated the structure a Pittsburgh Historic Landmark.

After nearly 15 years of deterioration, Chatham University re-acquired the house and grounds in 2000 and without delay began to ensure its survival. To save the structure, the university immediately invested $2.2 million into the exterior and interior renovations and the renewal of the grounds. ... The restored exterior has created a gracious entrance to the campus while the fully renovated interior includes a conference room and guest rooms for campus visitors.

Fortunately, it was a happy ending for a large piece of Pittsburgh history.

The final stop in this trip down Millionaires Row is the Edmond and Pauline Mudge House, which is now the Mudge Graduate House of Carnegie Mellon University.

Although it looks to be newer, the structure on the corner of Fifth and Morewood  avenues was built in 1922 for the Mudges, who then donated it to CMU in 1958.

This is how architecture historian and Pitt professor Franklin Toker described Mudge House in his book “Buildings of Pittsburgh”:

"The smooth limestone mansion was the last of its generation to be built on Fifth Avenue. The house has a symmetrical facade, with large curved bays that extend three floors in height on each side of the one-story , semicircular portico. ...

"Sympathetically extended with echoing wings when it became a college dormitory in the 1960s, Mudge House remains one of Shadyside's essential visual anchors."

Another notable stop on Fifth Avenue – the McCook House and an adjoining Tudor house,  now known as Mansions on Fifth – will be featured in a future post. I figured any house that had scandal, an elopement, religious conversion and a reconciliation in its past deserved its own entry.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shadyside Survivors

A wonderful relic from the days when Shadyside was farmland. I'm so glad it's still here!

After more than 125 years, this 19th century classic still holds court on Ellsworth Avenue.

As shady as Shadyside appears today,  it was an even more sylvan setting in the 1850s. The area contained farms and  large estates of the wealthy sons and daughters of Pittsburgh pioneers, whose names pepper street maps.

The arrival of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1860 and the streetcars that followed made commuting to downtown easy and made Shadyside an even more attractive place to live. The improved transportation  led to a building boom that created many of the buildings and streets we have today.

However, a few places remain to remind us of that earlier time.

Above is 4841 Ellsworth Avenue, which was part of the Aiken estate in 1870. In his book “Pittsburgh: A New Portrait,” Franklin Toker wrote the house probably was built circa 1860. Online sources give the date of construction as 1875.

Toker calls the style “Italian bracketed,” and it was popularized in a book of country houses in 1850. That means it was created by a builder and not an architect.

One of its best features is a verandah that wraps around three sides. The original 10 acres that surrounded the house was cut down to about two, but there’s still room for tennis courts and a pool.


Above: The present owners of this 1870s cottage on St. James Street are having some exterior work done to ensure it will survive into the 21st century. Right: A better look at the Gothic Revival details that make this cottage so pleasing to the eye.


Another remnant that has defied the odds is the above 1870s Gothic Revival cottage that stands on St. James Street, near Westminster Place. Here’s hoping those undertaking the present renovations will retain the period details as they also work to ensure the cottage’s survival.


Around the corner on Westminster Place is a more grand cottage that appears to have been built a little later than the previous entry. It also has retained many of its original details, including the trefoil design near the eaves on the right side of the house. It has a metal fence on two sides, but I can’t tell if it’s original or a reproduction.

The owners deserve plenty of credit for maintaining the historic details of the three homes in an era when it certainly isn’t inexpensive to do so. Those of us who pass by are well served by the obvious passion they have for these Shadyside survivors.

Mellon Institute


Although Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning peeks above it, the Mellon Institute dominates the corner of Fifth and Bellefield avenues  in Oakland.

Pittsburgh millionaires Richard B. and Andrew W. Mellon founded the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in 1911 as the world's first research and development center for industry.

At first a part of the University of Pittsburgh and now under the Carnegie Mellon University banner, the institute was a problem-solver for industry. Firms would bring their technical difficulties to the institute, then professors would be assigned to develop a solution.

100_1939 After outgrowing two other buildings, R.B. wanted one that would last for centuries. That's what architect Benno Janssen gave him in spades.

Janssen created a hollow square with a five-story colonnade on all four sides -- even though one side faces an alley. The Fifth Avenue side is as long as the Parthenon in Greece. The columns were quarried as 125-ton blocks of limestone that weighed 60 tons each after being carved.

While Janssen's design was meant to represent the serious work the institute performed -- as well as the egos of the two moneyed Mellons -- the result was  a massive Classical Revival structure that appears to overwhelm its Beaux Arts and Gothic Revival neighbors.

Map picture
Like the Rockefellers, who funded the construction of the office complex bearing their name in New York, the Mellons didn’t let the Great Depression stop their building plans. They also helped build the Cathedral of Learning, the Gulf Tower, the Koppers Building and East Liberty Presbyterian Church during that time.

The Mellon Institute received a Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation plaque and is a contributor to the Schenley Farms National Historic District.

Source: “Pittsburgh: A New Portrait” by Franklin Toker

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Schenley Farms Residential District

Schenley Farms Historic District

As part of developer Franklin Nicola’s plans for Oakland that I touched on in previous posts on the  William Pitt Union/Schenley Hotel and Pittsburgh Athletic Association, he desired a residential district that would fit his vision.

The area is chock-full of well-maintained early 20th century domestic structures that feature a variety of architectural styles, such as the above-pictured Tudor.

Nicola insisted that the homes laid out on wide streets named for British and American literary figures be well-crafted, including 13-inch thick  brick walls, and plenty of attention was paid to the slightest detail. Beautiful wooden floors and wainscoting, as well as a finished basement, were part of the houses designed by the cream of Pittsburgh architects.

Schenley Farms Historic DistrictModern conveniences also were part of Nicola’s strategy to attract the middle-class buyers that were his targets. The plumbing was state of the art, and every structure had refrigerators with an entrance door connected to a porch (to keep the iceman from walking through the house), four telephones, lighting fixtures that used both gas and electricity, and a central vacuum cleaner system.

One of the best innovations was Nicola’s insistence that wires be buried and not hung overhead as is still the custom today. For those buying the houses, Nicola saw the buried wires as a way to save on insurance. But I’m sure all who have lived in the them through the years have appreciated that the visual beauty of the neighborhood wasn’t marred by those wires.

Schenley Farms Historic DistrictBigelow Boulevard, once called Grant Boulevard, provides a City Beautiful-inspired buffer between the residential area and the civic and educational sections that make up the Schenley Farms Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For a glimpse into a more genteel past and to see gracious homes that would take the price of two or three McMansions to re-create and that have many times more charm, take a walk down these leafy streets.


A view of the Schenley Farms Historic District’s residential area as seen from the University of Pittsburgh’s  Cathedral of Learning.

Map picture

Here’s a map of the residential area.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Christopher Magee Memorial


Although Christopher Magee, the boss of the Pittsburgh political machine during the Gilded Age, and his partner William Flynn were called the most corrupt politicians in the country by muckraking  journalist Lincoln Steffens, Magee still managed to receive a memorial, which stands outside the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh  in Oakland.

In his book “Pittsburgh: A New Portrait,” Pitt professor Franklin Toker writes that Magee's help in getting city land for the library probably explains its erection and dedication in 1908..

It also didn’t hurt when Magee, who also was the transit baron of Pittsburgh, came to Andrew Carnegie’s aid again when he offered a cabbage farm he owned for the site of Carnegie Technical School.

However, according to Toker, the powers that be – possibly Carnegie  himself – vetoed the addition of a bust of Magee on the monument.

Noted architect Stanford White designed the base. But after White's 1906 execution at the hands of crazed Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw at New York’s Madison Square Garden, it was left to Henry Bacon, who became the architect of the Lincoln Memorial,  to execute White’s design.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who also created the Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, the Sherman monument in New York and the nude statue of Diana on the tower of White’s Madison Square Garden that scandalized Manhattan, designed the bronze relief.

Unfortunately, both Magee and Saint-Gaudens were dead before the monument’s dedication July 4,  1908. Henry Hering, Saint-Gaudens' longtime assistant, completed the work.

A 2008 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story published for the memorial’s centennial offers more information about Magee and Saint-Gaudens, whose studio and home in Cornish, N.H., is a National Historic Site. 

100_1693 100_1694

The Christopher Magee Monument features a woman holding a Horn of Plenty, or cornucopia.

It also displays lines from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.”
(Click for larger images)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hamerschlag Hall


Through trips to the Carnegie Library and Museums, most Pittsburghers are familiar with the backside of  Carnegie Mellon University’s Hamerschlag Hall. Here is the side that faces the CMU campus.

Handed the assignment of designing a building to house  workshops and a boiler room at Carnegie Technical School, which became Carnegie Institute of Technology, then Carnegie Mellon University, architect Henry Hornbostel (a name that will pop up often) certainly made the most of it.

100_2050 Right: This is a copy of the piece that graced the bow of the cruiser U.S.S. Pittsburgh. The original once rested here.

The exteriors of  this and the original campus buildings are made of Kittanning brick, a cream-colored brick that normally was used for industrial purposes, which showed the world that this would be a practical and modern institution instead of a red-brick Ivy League school.

The great arch at the entrance, as other the other campus buildings Hornbostel designed, employs Guastavino tile.

Here’s how Franklin Toker, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, described Hornbostel’s handiwork in his book “Buildings of Pittsburgh”:

"Machinery Hall, renamed Hamerschlag for the school's first director, is an architectural silk purse made from a sow's ear. The building program demanded little more than a boiler plant below and workshops above, but Hornbostel decked it out in the guise of Leon Battista Alberti's  St. Andrea at Mantua, with a high temple pediment surmounting  an enormous ceremonial entrance arch.

"The crowing touch was the most poetic (and risqué) smokestack in the nation: an industrial-brick cylindrical Temple of Venus penetrated by a circular brick chimney, the whole further enriched by helical stairs recalling the spiral minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra."

Modernist architect Philip Johnson once called it "the most beautiful smokestack in the world.”

100_2052 Left: “The most beautiful smokestack in the world.”

While I’m certainly not in the league of Johnson or Toker when it comes to architecture, I call Hamerschlag Hall a delight.

I think it’s delightful because of Hornbostel’s talent and because no expense was spared to create a fantastic home to serve such a down-to-earth purpose.

The  building now houses the CMU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and laboratories for the Department of Mechanical Engineering

Hornbostel left his mark in Oakland and other parts of Pittsburgh, and his work will turn up often in this blog.

For the basics on Hornbostel, see Wikipedia.


Hamerschlag Hall looms over Junction Hollow.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Late Crossing the Finish Line


There were plenty of funny signs at this year’s Pittsburgh Marathon.

I’ve been concentrating so much on my historic places photos and posts I forgot I had some photos from  May’s Pittsburgh Marathon. I put a few up on my Flickr page – if you don’t mind seeing more rain, that is.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New People

I decided to put up a second post today after stumbling across this story:

As reported today by Al Jazeera. (What?  You expected this to be from a U.S. media source? They’re too busy roasting Wieners!)

Government researchers in Brazil say they have found one of the world's last uncontacted tribes in a remote corner of the Amazon rainforest.

Aerial pictures revealed by the Brazilian government's agency of indigenous affairs (Funai) showed four large thatched huts fully surrounded by various crops in the Vale do Javari region.

Aloysio Guapindaia, a Funai director, also said they would work to keep the tribe isolated and safe. The tribe is thought to belong to the Pano linguistic group that straddles the border between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.

Can you imagine a group of people who have never seen a car, TV, cell phone or even a horse? Or a bunch who have never heard of Wiener, Lady Gaga, Sarah Palin, or LeBron James, (add the name of your own overhyped pseudocelebrity)?

How I envy them.

William Pitt Union/Schenley Hotel


While it now serves University of Pittsburgh students as the William Pitt Union, this Beaux-Arts beauty designed by Rutan and Russell – successors to H.H. Richardson – began its life in 1898 as the Schenley Hotel.

The hotel was part of real estate developer Franklin Nicola’s civic plan for Oakland inspired by the City Beautiful movement at the turn of the 20th century. (See the Pittsburgh Athletic Association entry of June 20.)

Many famous people, including four presidents, signed the hotel’s register. It also was the site of a dinner celebrating the formation of  U.S. Steel in 1901 and a speech by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev during his American tour in 1959.

Lillian Russell, a major showbiz star of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lived in Suite 437 – now the offices of the Pitt student newspaper – and married Pittsburgh newspaper editor Alexander Moore in the hotel.

100_19221Left: A roaring panther statue stands outside the William Pitt Union.

Italian actress Eleonora Duse, a contemporary of Russell’s who wowed audiences on two continents, died of pneumonia April 21, 1924, in Suite 524.

With the 1909 opening of Forbes Field, located across Forbes Avenue, the Schenley Hotel became the Pittsburgh base for visiting teams and hosted Hall of Famers like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Stan Musial. Visiting reporters also bunked a short walk from the ballpark. That didn’t stop them from submitting vouchers for taxi rides to their editors, however!

The coming of the automobile age brought the building’s service as a hotel to an end. With competition from downtown hotels and the lack of parking provided in Nicola’s plan for Oakland pressuring the profitability of the Schenley Hotel, it was sold to Pitt in 1956.

The hotel originally served the university as a dormitory before an 1980 renovation prompted by rising enrolment turned it into the Pitt student union.

More recent work created a food court, space for student organizations, a home for the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame, and renovations that restored some of the old hotel’s Gilded Age glamour.

Pitt’s ever-expanding presence in Oakland certainly hasn’t been welcomed by all, but the university should be saluted for repurposing such grand structures as the Schenley Hotel.


Above: A stairway to nowhere now is part of the William Pitt Union’s Tansky Family Lounge, which once was the Schenley Hotel’s lobby. The plaque at the center honors Italian actress Eleonora Duse, who died in the hotel in 1924.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Colonial Place

Colonial Place

Colonial Place Historic District lies off Ellsworth Avenue, between South Aiken and Amberson avenues, in Shadyside. It consists of homes designed by architect George Orth and built in 1898. They sit in a green, leafy setting originally designed by landscape artist E.H.  Bachman.

100_1865If you walk down Colonial Place, which is a dead-end street between Ellsworth and the busway/railroad tracks, you’ll find comfortable homes that are built on the same basic plan but that have been individualized so there is no cookie-cutter  effect modern housing developments often display.

There are  two huge houses, also designed Orth, flanking the entrance of Colonial Place. I’m not sure if they are part of the historic district recognized by the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation – I found little information about the place -- but it’s obvious they are way out of scale from the others.

More than 100 years later, these homes are still sheltering families and adding to the beauty of Shadyside.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Calvary Episcopal Church

This Gothic Revival gem has stood near the intersection of Shady Avenue and Walnut Street in Shadyside since 1907. It was created by Ralph Adams Carm, a prolific designer of church and university structures in the first part of the 20th century. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and several buildings at Princeton University also are among his handiwork.

Noted stained glass artist Charles Connick designed nearly 70 windows between 1920 and 1939.
Industrialist Henry Clay Frick provided $12,000 for the church's chimes. According to a New York Times story of Aug. 24,1907, some of those attending the chimes' debut were scandalized because popular songs joined sacred tunes on the playlist.

In 1921, Westinghouse Electric Company and the church teamed to provide the first radio broadcast of a church service.

The building was designated a Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation landmark in 1969.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pittsburgh Athletic Association

At the turn of the 20th century, what would become the Oakland section of Pittsburgh was mostly open fields. Andrew Carnegie had built his library and museums there, which inspired a grand vision in a real estate developer named Franklin Nicola.

With the City Beautful movement as an additional inspiration, Nicola envisioned a civic center that would house cultural instutions and progressive housing in a much more pleasant atmosphere than that offered by the smoky city a few miles to the west.

Nicola sold his idea to such shrewd businessmen as Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, H.J. Heinz and Andrew Mellon, who backed his venture. After buying land from Mary Schenley, who inherited vast tracts of property in the Pittsburgh area, he began to make his vision a reality.

Over time, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), a world-class hotel and a fine housing development -- Schenley Farms -- grew in the area.

Nicola also saw the need for a place where "a sound mind in the sound body" could be developed. Again, he reached out to Pittsburgh's business community and found a receptive audience. This led to the formation of the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in 1908.

To house the new club, Nicola turned to architect Benno Janssen, who based the resulting structure pictured above on a Venetian palace. When completed in 1911, it featured a third-floor pool, running track, bowling lanes and a room for fine dining.

The PAA, which is still going strong more than 100 years later, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

For more, visit

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial

In an effort to honor the dwindling number of Civil War veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization comprised of Union Army vets, conceived the idea of a memorial hall in the 1890s.

In 1907, architect Henry Horbostel, who designed many buildings in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, created a Beaux-Arts masterpiece on a heroic scale for the GAR, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

The hall, which is the largest structure in the United States dedicated solely to saluting those who have served in all branches of the nation's military, contains a museum with rare artifacts from the Civil War to present conflicts.

It also has a 2,500-seat auditorium, a banquet hall and meeting rooms. The building also served as the setting for the Memphis courthouse scenes in the film "Silence of the Lambs."

The Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial, which is its formal name, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ellsworth Terrace

Ellsworth Terrace by sportsedit15224
Ellsworth Terrace, a photo by sportsedit15224 on Flickr.

A bonus entry for a Saturday

I discovered these cool Arts and Crafts Style rowhouses that make up Ellsworth Terrace while on a photo expedition along Ellsworth Avenue, near the intersection of Neville Street, in Shadyside.

I wasn't able to turn up any information on the development, so if anyone can help, I'd appreciate it.

Sellers House

Sellers House by sportsedit15224
Sellers House, a photo by sportsedit15224 on Flickr.

Also known as the Calvary Church Rectory, the Sellers House is a wonderfully preserved Italianate/Second Empire villa located on a large lot in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

When the house was built by Priscilla and Francis Sellers in 1858, Shadyside's clean air and distance from the dirty, disease-ridden city attracted the wealthy, who erected large houses like the Sellers House.

The coming of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1860, which offered those who worked in the city an easy commute, sparked an even larger building boom.

In 1947, the family of the last resident donated the house to nearby Calvary Episcopal Church, which used it as a school and meeting place before transforming it into the rectory. I'm not certain if it still serves that purpose, however.

The Sellers House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

For more information, visit

Update: After further research, I found out the church sold the house and it’s back in private hands.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hunt Armory

Hunt Armory by sportsedit15224
Hunt Armory, a photo by sportsedit15224 on Flickr.

Hunt Armory, which occupies a city block between Walnut and Alder streets in Shadyside, is the home of the First Battalion of the 107th Field Artillery regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard, which traces its origin to the Civil War-era Hampton Battery.

The facility honors Capt. Alfred E. Hunt, one of the founders of Alcoa, who commanded Company B -- the first to volunteer its services in the Spanish-American War -- in Puerto Rico during that conflict. Hunt died of malaria in 1899.

But the armory has served as more than the base for the regiment. As the largest auditorium in Pittsburgh until 1961, it hosted presidential campaign stops, Billy Graham crusades, circuses, opera performances, car shows and concerts, including an apperance by Led Zeppelin in 1969.

A good example of Classical Revival architecture, Hunt Armory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

For a bit more on the Hunt Armory, visit

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Roslyn Place

Roslyn Place by sportsedit15224
Roslyn Place, a photo by sportsedit15224 on Flickr.

Just around the corner from my world headquarters is Roslyn Place, which sits off Ellsworth Avenue, near the intersection with Aiken Avenue. What's unique about it is that it features the last wood block street in Pittsburgh and one of the last in the United States.

The Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation plaque states the street was laid in 1914, but a 2010 story in the Tribune-Review stated its construction was completed in 1916.

According to the Trib article, the wood block street, which serves an attractive housing development, was created by Pennsylvania Railroad chief engineer Thomas Rodd, has an uncertain future, due the city's financial problems.

Here's hoping something can be done to preserve this unique feature.

For more, see the Trib:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Highland Towers

Highland Towers by sportsedit15224
Highland Towers, a photo by sportsedit15224 on Flickr.

When it opened on Highland Avenue in Shadyside in 1913, Highland Towers Apartments was the height of modernity.

The building, which originally contained four 10-room flats, featured such mod cons as electrical connections in every room, clothes dryers, a central vacuum cleaning system, and a room for servants in each unit.

But architect Frederick G. Scheibler Jr., who designed many houses and apartments in the East End during his career, also created an Arts and Crafts gem that remains a delight to the eye of passersby.

Scheibler, who probably was somewhat influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan while he was designing the structure, used four different colors of brick in patterns that impart a pleasing texture to the exterior.

Inside, he employed Rookwood tile, Carerra glass in the bathrooms, and art glass windows.

The above photo shows a closer view of the central baconies.

"The progressive architecture of Frederick G. Scheibler Jr." by Martin Aurand, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, contains a chapter about Highland Towers that features floor plans and promotional materials used to sell the apartments when they opened in 1913.

The Pitt Press posted a digital edition of the book at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Frick Building and Annex

Henry Clay Frick was a colossus among titans during the Gilded Age and beyond. Frick initally made his mark by creating a firm that turned Southwestern Pennsylvania coal into coke, a prime ingredient in the steel-making process, which brought him to the attention of steel baron Andrew Carnegie.

Frick became a Carnegie partner and the two made plenty of tax-free profits until the violent Homestead Strike and other frictions ruptured their personal and business relationships permanently. (Years later, Carnegie reportedly requested a face-to-face meeting with Frick, who supposedly told a go-between, "Tell Mr. Carnegie I'll see him in hell.")

Befitting his stature, Frick commissioned Chicago architect Daniel Burnham to create what would become the tallest building in Pittsburgh when it opened in 1902. Frick wanted it to be so tall that it would put the neighboring Carnegie Building in a perpetual shadow.

Upon its opening, the building had 20 floors, including a basement. But when the level of Grant Street was lowered in 1912, a new entrance had to be created in the basement.

Burnham also designed an annex, seen here in the left of the photo, which opened three years later.

In the marble-clad lobby are two bronze lions sculpted by Alexander Proctor and a stained-glass window, "Fortune and Her Wheel," made by John LaFarge [see]

The Frick Building and Annex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Burnham was a skyscraper pioneer who created the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, and supervised the "White City" of Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

For more on Burnham's facinating career, see:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Winter Mausoleum

Winter Mausoleum by sportsedit15224
Winter Mausoleum, a photo by sportsedit15224 on Flickr.

Here's a shot of the Winter Mausoleum located in Pittsburgh's Allegheny Cemetary, which joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The structure was built for Pittsburgh buisnessman Emil Winter in 1930 and is said to strongly resemble the one built for F.W. Woolworth in New York's Woodlawn Cemetary in 1920.

For more on this Egyptian Revival mausoleum, visit

On the left is one of the busty sphinxes that guard the entrance to the mausoleum.

Allegheny Cemetary was founded in 1844 and followed the lead of Mount Auburn Cemetary, near Boston, in the rural cemetary movement that focused on nature and the pleasant surroundings of what was then countryside. They were a healthier alternative to overcrowded city churchyards.

Allegheny Cemetary was the sixth in the US and the first west of the Allegheny Mountains to adopt this style.

For more, visit Wiki at

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pennsylvania Union Station

In 1898, Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and brother of painter Mary Cassatt, comissioned Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham to design a station/hotel/office building to serve Pittsburgh.

Burnham, a skyscraper pioneer who created the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, and supervised the "White City" of Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, designed this classic structure for Cassatt and the PRR.

The best feature of Union Station, which was completed in 1903, is the elaborately styled rotunda that sheltered passengers dismounting from their carriages.

Above is a view of the rotunda and its skylight. At left is a design element inside the rotunda that features Pittsburg with its missing "h," which was removed by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 1891. It was restored in 1911.

The building was converted to apartments and ground-floor office space in the mid-1980s and serves as Pittsburgh's Amtrak station.

The routunda entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 while the entire building joined in 1976. Both also have been recognized by the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation.

For more on Burnham's facinating career, see:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail

Hello out there!

My blog has been inactive for quite some time, but since I've joined some Flickr groups that deal with historic places, especially the National Register of Historic Places and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation placque program, I've decided to post some of my entries here on Above Bellefonte.

I love the history of Pittsburgh and its great treasure trove of architecture and places. I also love sharing it with those Flickr groups and those who happen to stumble across this blolg.

I welcome you go share any thoughts you might have or requests for any featured places you might want to see here in the commets section.

"If they honor me for the pigmy things I have already done, what will they say when they see Pittsburgh finished?" -- H.H. Richardson

Richardson, who also designed Trinity Church in Boston, the Marshall Field Warehouse Store in Chicago and created his own style, Richardsonian Romanesque, considered this the crowning achievement of a notable career that was cut short by his death at age 47.

In the 1880s, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh were emerging as industrial and financial powers, and the county government turned to Richardson in 1884 to create a courthouse and jail complex that would reflect that power.

The architect certainly met and exceeded that desire with a pair of massive buildings that dominated the center of the growing city at the time of their construction.

The jail was completed in 1886, the year of Richardson's death. Under the supervision of Richardson's successor firm, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the courthouse was completed in 1888.

The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

For more on H.H. Richardson:

For more on the courthouse and jail: