Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bigelow Monument


It's quite appropriate that the first sculpture/monument erected in Schenley Park honors Edward Manning Bigelow, the city director of public works and "Father of the Parks."

He was the man who spearheaded the effort to convince heiress Mary Schenley to donate land for the park, supervised the creation of Highland and Riverview parks, as well as a system of parkways to connect them.

Edward_Manning_Bigelow_circa_1890 A huge throng -- including the statue's subject -- turned out in Schenley Park on dedication day, July 4, 1895. It was said Bigelow's tribute, created by Giuseppe Moretti, was one of only three statues in the country at the time erected to living people.

In 1935, Pittsburgh physician Thomas Diller told the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania that the statue was a "holy terror" and should be moved to a list prominent place.

However, the head of the Carnegie Institute and the historical society, as well as Bigelow's sister, Mary, objected to the move.

They eventually prevailed and the statue of Bigelow can still be seen greeting those who cross the Schenley Bridge to enter the park.

Source: “Discovering Pittsburgh's Sculpture” by Marilyn Evert and Vernon Gay, 1986, University of Pittsburgh Press

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Same News, Different Decade


I recently spent some time in the microfilm department of the Carnegie Library in Oakland perusing Pittsburgh newspapers for research on the Westinghouse Memorial.

While reading through microfilmed issues of the Post-Gazette, as well as the defunct Press and Sun-Telegraph, I came across the following items that piqued my interest.

They help to illustrate that the crazy, sad, funny, outrageous and cruel things people do that we read, see and hear in the media today are far from novel. The only differences are the toys, tools and appliances available to the human race in the 21st century are more advanced.

These items also help to prove that while we shake our heads over the latest example of barbarism or stupidity, and we long for the “good, old days” when these things didn’t happen, the fact remains that they’ve happened pretty much since homo sapiens first appeared on this planet.

Here are some of the things that caught my eye. I recorded them as they were published, stilted language and all. I’m sure you’ll find that if you point your browser to the nearest news site you will come across similar tales of the human condition.

I greatly enjoyed reading and recording the following items and will provide similar posts regularly. My commentaries on some of them are in italics.

Please leave any reactions you have in the comments section.

The following are from the Oct. 7, 1930, issue of the Press:

Here’s an example of how prejudice against smokers isn’t a new issue.

Smoking too much

CHICAGO -- Mrs. Anna Silvers did not mind when her husband brought strange women home with him, but she did object to their smoking in her house, "because it injured her prestige and social standing in the community," she stated today in a divorce suit filed here.

Man, 80, kills wife

SEATTLE -- William J. Christie, 80, shot and killed his wife yesterday, then wounded himself fatally. Before he died, he told physicians that he wakened to find his wife threatening him with a revolver. He seized it and fired in self-defense, he said.

From the Oct. 7, 1930, issue of the Sun-Telegraph

Government agents did everything they could to stamp out that tool of the devil known as beer.

Brewery Raided,
Mouthful of Beer Evidence

A mouthful of beer was evidence upon which prohibition agents based their raid of an alleged wildcat brewery at Curry and Library roads, Bethel Township, and arrested pretty Pauline Campbell, 16, and her father, Thomas Campbell, 48, the agents testified before the United States commissioner today.

The agents testified that on September 27, at Campbell's barbecue stand which was part of the property, they bought four bottles of high-test home brew from Pauline.

farmeral_beer_im_icon_clip_art_9550 When her father cautioned them that they would not be allowed to take the beer from the place, one of the agents, so he testified, succeeded in retaining a mouthful until he left the place. Analysis revealed its high test, the agents added.

Two days later the agents raided the place and reported seizing 3,000 bottles of beer. Today Pauline and her father were held for court on charges of sale, possession and manufacture of beer.

Platform for Pittsburgh
and Western Pennsylvania

(Published Monday, Oct. 13, 1930)

1. A better, cleaner, more beautiful city
2. Rapid Transit
3. Repeal or modification of "blue laws"
4. Establishment of Pittsburgh metropolitan district
5. Community Fund for charities
6. Town Hall, seating at least 15,000
7. Voting machines to insure honest elections
8. Development of river transportation
9. Development of air transportation
10. Electrification of railroads

Some of these goals were met:

  • The “blue laws” strictly prohibiting many Sunday activities eventually were eased. What became the Steelers couldn’t exist until that happened.
  • The Town Hall the paper mentioned came to fruition 30 years later with the opening of the Civic Arena.
  • A Community Fund, now called the United Way, was created.
  • Greater Pittsburgh Airport in Moon opened in 1952 to relieve the overwhelmed Allegheny County Airport.

Some of the goals are still in the sights of today’s leaders.

  • Public transit is far from rapid and even less capable of serving the community’s needs.
  • The consolidation of the county’s many municipalities into one entity remains a far-off dream.
  • While Pittsburgh is far cleaner and more beautiful today than in 1930, much remains to be accomplished.

From the Oct. 22, 1930, issue of the Press

The alleged benefits of shale are nothing new.

Oil From Shale

WASHINGTON -- Oil can be produced from shale with reasonable satisfaction, according to reports of the United States Department of Commerce. Experiments being conducted by the United States Bureau of Mines at Rulison, Col., produced shale oil by retorts of types now available for large scale operations.

From the July 5, 1900, issue of the Press

Kicked a Boy

Andrew Notta was selling balloons on Twenty-seventh street at 8:30 a.m. and was greatly annoyed by boys. He kicked Dan Curtin, 10 years old, in the stomach and was arrested by Officer Carver. The boy was taken home by friends.

The biggest difference between the following ad from the Press and today’s ED cures is that Viagra is more slickly marketed.

Cures Weak Men Free, Insures
Love and A Happy Home For All

How any man may quickly cure himself after years of suffering from weakness, lost manhood, varicocele [a widening of the veins along the cord that holds up a man's testicles], etc., and enlarge small, weak organs to full size and vigor.

Pharmacist Simply send your name and address to Dr. L.W. Knapp, 1128 Hull Bldg., Detroit, Mich., and he will gladly send the free receipt, with full directions, so that any man may easily cure himself at home. This is certainly a most generous offer, and the following extract taken from his daily mail shows what men think of his generosity:

"Dear Sir---Your method worked beautifully. Results were exactly what I needed. Strength and vigor have completely returned and enlargement is entirely satisfactory."

All correspondence is strictly confidential, mailed in plain sealed envelope. The receipt is free for the asking, and he wants every man to have it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Steven Foster Statue


This tribute to Pittsburgh-born songwriter Stephen Foster sits next to Carnegie Music Hall, near the Forbes Avenue entrance to Schenley Plaza in Oakland.

Stephen Foster, the composer of many timeless songs, such as “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Camptown Races,” and “Old Folks at Home,” was born July 4, 1826, in Lawrenceville, which was laid out by his father.

The statue of Foster that now stands beside Carnegie Music Hall near Forbes Avenue in Schenley Plaza began its life in 1900 in Highland Park.

The Pittsburgh Press began a campaign to raise money to create the sculpture, and Foster's popularity in his hometown made it an easy job.

From the pennies of school children to the checkbook of Andrew Carnegie, the people of Pittsburgh made it possible for sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, whose work is all over the city, to create a suitable sculptural salute.

Morrison Foster, the composer's brother, assisted Moretti, who was determined "to have the likeness photographically exact," a story in the Press reported.

When the work was dedicated in 1900, thousands lined up along Highland Avenue as a parade worked its way to Highland Park, where 3,000 children sang Foster's songs and his daughter unveiled the statute.

However, respect for the statue didn't last forever, as vandals took advantage of its out-of-the-way spot in Highland Park, stealing the pen and banjo several times.

To cut down on the vandalism, the sculpture was moved to its present site, which also is across the street from Pitt’s Stephen Foster Memorial. It was rededicated on June 29, 1944.

The statue isn’t without controversy, as many have objected to the depiction of a barefoot black man sitting below Foster, which is supposed to indicate his subservience to a white man.

Source: “Discovering Pittsburgh's Sculpture” by Marilyn Evert and Vernon Gay, 1986, University of Pittsburgh Press

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Westinghouse Memorial


This memorial erected to honor the memory of industrialist George Westinghouse has graced Schenley Park since 1930.

I’ve detailed the monuments and landmarks ruthless Gilded Age business tyrants like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Mellons built for themselves to display their wealth and power, and as a way to achieve immortality.

They pretty much had to bestow such honors upon themselves because the employees they squeezed to earn their large fortunes weren’t going to do it.

However, George Westinghouse was a different case.

George_WestinghouseRight: George Westinghouse from the Library of Congress

The man who made complex transportation systems possible with the invention of the railroad air brake and who made the production and transmission of electricity over vast areas possible was beloved by the workforce that stretched from East Pittsburgh around the world.

The working population held Westinghouse in high esteem because he believed an employer could make huge profits while treating his employees in a humane fashion.

At the company town created in Wilmerding for the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, the concern for living conditions, as well as the educational and cultural growth of employees and their families, was paramount.

In 1869, WABCO became the first employer to implement nine-hour days, 55-hour work weeks, and half-holidays on Sundays.

Westinghouse Logo Although Westinghouse lost control of his companies after a financial downturn in 1907 and he died in 1914, the nearly 55,000 workers at his former firms decided they wanted to do something to honor him.

To that end, the employees chipped in to erect a monument in Pittsburgh, the heart of Westinghouse’s industrial empire.

The Westinghouse Memorial is an elaborate sculpture that once faced a small pond and a fountain in a picturesque spot in Schenley Park, not far from what was the campus of Carnegie Tech.

Architects Henry Hornbostel and Eric Fisher Wood designed the monument and the surrounding landscape, including the pond, trees, and location of black granite benches.

100_2201 Right: “The Spirit of American Youth”

The organizers chose sculptor Daniel Chester French, who also created the statue in the Lincoln Memorial, to design the sculptures, including a statue titled “The Spirit of American Youth,” a snapshot of a young man taking inspiration from the life of Westinghouse.

The center portion of the monument depicts Westinghouse between a mechanic and an engineer, with the surrounding panels (created by sculptor Paul Fjelde) illustrating Westinghouse’s achievements.

At the monument's dedication Oct. 6, 1930, which was broadcast by KDKA and Westinghouse radio stations in Chicago and Boston, all the bronze figures and reliefs had been covered in gold leaf. After the festivities, Hornbostel said that finishing touch, "will be enhanced by the smoky atmosphere of the city, [and] will endure for thousands of years, as is shown by traces of gold still to be seen on the monuments of the Roman Caesars."

However, the work of vandals forced the removal of the gold leaf in 1941.

On dedication day, nearly 15,000 people crowded the memorial site to hear the speeches and bands that were part of the festivities. A lavish banquet for the movers and shakers who came to honor Westinghouse was held the night before at the William Penn Hotel.

Westinghouse signature Reporters and photographers from Pittsburgh newspapers were on hand to record the ceremony for their readers and posterity.

Honor is Paid Westinghouse By Big Throng
Genius of Manufacturer is Eulogized
at Schenley Park Celebration, Banquet

Here is how the Post-Gazette’s reporter described the scene for a Page 1 story in the Oct. 7, 1930, issue:

On the eighty-fourth anniversary of the inventor's birth, the nations of the world joined hands in extolling the character of the man who had rendered an "inestimable service to mankind and whose contributions to industry played so large a part in the progress of civilization."

An admiring crowd that began to gather in the park during the early afternoon grew to immense proportions before the program was started and stretched far out over the adjoining hillsides with thousands content to stand through the proceedings.

The keynote speaker was James Frances Burke, general counsel of the Republican National Committee:

“It was he who first made safety the handmaiden of speed. It was he who was a leader in multiplying the world's motive power on land and sea. It was he who brightened the pathway and lightened the burden of God's children as they toiled and traveled on their never-ending journey down the ages.”

After Burke's address, the unveiling took place to the accompaniment of the combined Westinghouse bands, with the industrialist's nephew, Herman Westinghouse Fletcher, in charge. Westinghouse’s brother, H.H. Westinghouse, also was in attendance.

Westinghouse and Union Switch and Signal Company employee choruses also sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America.” The Right Rev. Alexander Mann, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, gave the invocation.

Labor, Capital Pay Honor to Westinghouse

The Press also set the scene in a Page 2 feature:

Men from workshops which rest their foundations on the inventive genius of Westinghouse joined with leaders assembled from throughout the nation in dedicating the George Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park yesterday.

Representing the employees who funded the memorial, George Munro, a foreman at Westinghouse Air Brake Company, said, "Those who knew him best loved him most. … This memorial, in its beauty, symbolism, and strength, typifies the character of Westinghouse."

U.S. Rep. James M. Beck of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh mayor Charles H. Kline also weighed in on the industrialist’s legacy.

100_2199Left: One of the tablets extolling Westinghouse’s achievements.
“George Westinghouse was a master builder of this economic nation, which is more truly represented by the genius ability of this country than the documents of all its lawyers,”  Beck said.

Kline told the crowd, “Time may cause this memorial to decay, but when a thousand years have passed, the readers of history will find still brilliant the name of George Westinghouse.”

In a statement sent by Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon to be read at the ceremony, he wrote, "George Westinghouse earned an important and permanent place in history by his many contributions to the advancement of civilization.”

Nations Honor Westinghouse

This was the lead of the story that was buried inside the Hearst-owned Sun-Telegraph:

Industrial giants of many nations paid tribute yesterday to the memory of a boy who toyed with trinkets -- to George Westinghouse, who gave the world 400 inventions and almost single-handed revolutionized modern mechanics.

In a supposedly exclusive column for the Sun-Tribune, but which bears the name of the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, former president Calvin Coolidge wrote from Boston:

“George Westinghouse had that combination which is so rare of both inventive and business genius. ... Because he lived, industrial life is more human, more safe and more productive. He ranks as one of the great benefactors of mankind.”

All in all, it was quite a fitting day of tribute for a giant who had a huge impact on his world.

And the monument that was the centerpiece of that day remains an impressive one, although the pond and fountain that once graced the site are filled with sediment and weeds.

According to an Aug. 25, 2011,  blog post on the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Website, the organization and the city have teamed up to create a plan to restore the pond.

However, 11 months later, there has been no update on how the planning is progressing. The only information I could find was an April 4 response to a comment on the original blog post that states the city had taken the lead in the design and cost estimation process.

The clock is ticking for starting construction this season, but I hope the city and the conservancy can get their ducks in a row to restore the pond to its former beauty.


A portrait of George Westinghouse sits between a depiction of a mechanic and an engineer in the centerpiece of the memorial.

Map picture

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bellefield Hall


Pitt’s Bellefield Hall once served as the home of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association.

When Andrew Carnegie built his library and museums in Oakland around the turn of the 20th century, he laid the first foundation blocks of what would later become Pittsburgh’s first cultural district.

With the backing of Edgar Kaufmann, the department store head and owner of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the Jewish community decided it wanted to locate a facility for the cultural benefit of their young people there as well.

100_1892 To design what would house the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association, the organizers engaged architect Benno Janssen, whose work we surveyed in the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and the Mellon Institute posts.

What Janssen gave them in 1924 was a combination of an Italian palazzo and Stratford Hall, the Tidewater Virginia family seat of the Lee family and the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.

He also provided a practical building that contained sports facilities, including an indoor pool, meeting rooms, and a splendid concert hall that provided an excellent venue where world-renowned musicians displayed their talents.

The YMHA, which became the Jewish Community Center, was making plans to build a larger facility on Wightman Street in Squirrel Hill, so it entered into a lease-purchase agreement with the University of Pittsburgh in 1984.

While it had no concrete plans for the building, Pitt performed yearly renovations on it until assuming full ownership in 1994.

Now called Bellefield Hall, the structure still houses sports facilities, including intramural programs, meeting rooms, and rehearsal space, a recording studio, and a renovated auditorium for the School of Music.

The building is listed by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and is part of the Schenley Farms National Historic District.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mellon Treasure Plundered

Photo by Lee Paxton

The stately former Mellon Bank building is a shell of its former self.

This blog has featured many success stories of historic buildings and sites that, through the foresight and passion of their owners, have made a successful transition into the 21st century.

These places, large and small, from the Sellers House to Highland Towers to the Cathedral of Learning, continue to serve the purposes for which they will built and add a great deal to the landscape of Pittsburgh.

This is a story of the tragic loss of an architectural gem that was lost for no good reason.

The powerful Mellon family commissioned the architectural firm of Trowbridge and Livingston, which also designed the Gulf Building on Grant Street for the Mellons, to create a palace of money for them downtown.

Mellon Bank logoOpened in 1924 on Smithfield Street, the Classical structure displayed a solid, conservative face to the city while the interior featured a forest of tall, Ionic columns that added dignity to the open banking floor.

Called “the Cathedral of Earning” by some witty folks, the interior was a remnant from another age.

But it wasn’t destined to last forever.

In 1999, then Mayor Tom Murphy, in an attempt to revive downtown Pittsburgh, lured Lord & Taylor to open a department store in the building.

The city pumped nearly $12 million into the effort and ripped the heart out of the banking floor by pulling down the columns.

But to add insult to injury, Lord & Taylor couldn’t compete and pulled out in November 2004.

It’s been empty ever since.

In his book “Buildings of Pittsburgh,” Pitt professor Franklin Toker laments the fate of this elegant space:

“Serene and majestic on the outside, Mellon Bank has covered the block of Smithfield between Fifth Avenue and Mellon Square since 1924, but it has been destroyed inside. The long and airy banking hall, one of Pittsburgh's prime architectural and social spaces, vanished in 1999 when its short-sighted owners and an overeager city hall let Lord and Taylor rebuild it as a faux-Manhattan emporium.

“Fifteen tons of Italian marble in each of the Ionic columns was smashed and hauled away, leaving just their steel cores. Gone was the vast basilica-like space of the hall, 65 feet tall and 200 feet long; gone were the aisles coffered and painted deep blue with speckles of gold leaf; gone was any hint that the world's earliest venture capitalists once operated out of Pittsburgh.

“Befitting its place at the heart of Mellon operations, the hall commemorated [Andrew W.] and [Richard Beatty] Mellon with portraits and inscriptions on the walls of the vault.

"After Lord and Taylor's quick demise a few years later, the now banal interior awaits some new use.”

While it’s true that the building had been empty for some time before the tragic Lord & Taylor enterprise, that fact didn’t justify what was done to a unique building that New York would have been proud to claim.

Here’s hoping that some use can be found to salvage what’s left of the Mellon Bank building.

But I won’t hold my breath.

Mellon Bank 2

Photo by City of Pittsburgh

This was how the majestic banking floor of Mellon Bank’s landmark building on Smithfield Street looked before it was gutted for the Lord & Taylor scheme.

Mellon postscript

While doing some research on this blog entry, I found a recent Post-Gazette review of the biography of Thomas Mellon – founder of the family fortune and dynasty – written by his great-great grandson, James.

A dour man whose only interest was business and the gaining of even larger piles of money, Thomas Mellon objected to city taxpayers supplying $40,000 for the creation of the Carnegie Library and the construction of H.H. Richardson’s masterpiece, the Allegheny County Courthouse. A plain brick one would do for him.

But what struck me about this piece was how little things have changed in 150 years.

With the Civil War raging and the Union, as well as business interests, threatened, James Mellon, 18, wanted his father’s permission to put off learning the coal and iron business to enlist in the Army.

In withholding his permission, the elder Mellon held a belief that he saw as trumping any idea of patriotism or duty: His son should be making money.

This is what he told James:

"I had hoped my boy was going to make a smart, intelligent business man and was not such a goose as to be seduced from his duty by the declamations of buncombed [or bullshit] speeches."

So, just like today, the poor of the 1860s fought the fight for the rich.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Press of History

"Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms."

The Hatch Brothers

While it takes some doing, it’s possible to find something more than funny kitty tricks, stupid human tricks, and old TV stuff on YouTube. While sifting through the millions of tons of chaff, I sometimes come across a few kernels of wheat like the video posted above.

The video provides a bit of history about Nashville’s Hatch Show Print, which was founded in 1879 and now is part of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

One of the last letterpress print shops in the nation, Hatch Show Print has been churning out show-biz posters, especially those promoting country music, the old-fashioned way for more than 130 years.

Click on the video and what you’ll find is not a static museum, and the presses aren’t collecting dust. Instead, they still are employed to create products in the 21st century.

They don’t use computers and Photoshop, as is the norm today. They pull out old type from drawers, carve wood blocks for graphic elements or pull one from the archives.

Go ahead and take a few steps back in time by checking out the video. I think it’s great that this business has been saved and still is relevant today.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rodef Shalom Temple


The graceful Rodef Shalom Temple has been an imposing presence at the corner of  Fifth and Morewood avenues since it opened in 1907.

The Jewish congregation formed in 1847 and that eventually would join the Reform movement and be called Rodef Shalom had a good problem: it kept growing larger.

After building several structures in Allegheny City – today’s North Side – a new temple was to be constructed in the more wide-open spaces of the East End at the border of Shadyside and Oakland in what was becoming the city’s cultural center.

100_1416 Left: An (off-center) shot
of the detail and electrified menorah over the main entrance on Fifth Avenue.

Rodef Shalom turned to architect Henry Hornbostel, who also designed such Oakland landmarks as Carnegie Mellon University’s Hamerschlag Hall and U.S. Bureau of Mines/Hamburg Hall, and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, for a suitable design.

Hornbostel created a Beaux Arts masterpiece for Western Pennsylvania’s oldest Jewish congregation. Employing yellow brick, with terra cotta pieces providing bursts of color and detail, the building has a 90-foot high squared dome that used the Guastavino vaulting system instead of steel.

A unique feature at Rodef Shalom, which opened in 1907,  is the Biblical Botanical Garden that pairs biblical verses with plants native to the Holy Land.

Rodef Shalom Temple entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and is listed with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

For information, visit Rodef


A closer view of  Rodef Shalom Temple’s  green-tiled square dome and its terra cotta detail features.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gardner Steel Conference Center

Pitt bought this Early Modern building designed by Pittsburgh architects Kiehnel and Elliott in 1920.

The building now called the Gardner Steel Conference Center has served many functions since it was completed in 1912.

It began its life as the home of the Central Turnverein, a German-American social and athletic association, which later was known as the Central Athletic Association.

Right: A detail on the corner of the building.

During World War I, the Early Modern building designed by Pittsburgh architects Kiehnel and Elliott hosted the Student Army Training Corps.

To relieve crowded conditions at the dental school, Pitt bought the structure in 1920 and built an annex to hold 200 dental chairs.

It also housed the now-defunct Pitt Club, a faculty and staff club, and what would become the Pitt Alumni Association, which later moved to Alumni Hall.

Today, what’s known as the Gardner Steel Conference Center holds the Office of Technology Management, classrooms, and computer labs.

The building’s name honors 1891 Pitt graduate Gardner Steel, who made his fortune investing in the Oklahoma oil  boom. A member of one of the university’s first football teams, left most of his $300,000 estate to Pitt when he died in 1928.

The Gardner Steel Conference Center is a contributing building to the Schenley Farms National Historic District and is listed by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

Gardner Steel Conference Center, University of Pittsburgh

Photo by Michael G. White

The Thackeray Avenue entrance and its art glass transom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wheels on Walnut


This sporty Morgan greeted the public during the Vintage Grand Prix Car Show Monday on Walnut Street in Shadyside.

The 2011 Vintage Grand Prix kicked off Monday with the annual car show on Walnut Street. From Aiken Avenue east to Negley Avenue, really old, somewhat old, and fairly new cars lined the street to undergo inspection by serious car buffs and curious patrons of nearby shops.

However, heavy storms literally put a damper on things. Torrential rain hit Shadyside at about 5 and 6:30 p.m., forcing some car owners to cover their beauties with tarps. The rain eventually ended at about 7:30.

Despite the weather, plenty of people still came out to admire these machines from the past. Many owners couldn’t have been prouder to talk about their labors of love with visitors, and the crowd seemed genuinely interested in their stories.

There are more activities this week leading up to Sunday’s race day, which is my favorite day of the summer. Since 2002, I’ve been heading to the golf course in Schenley Park to watch drivers take their vintage vehicles on the serpentine roads there.

I’ve also been a guest of a couple of friends who set up shop for a daylong party near a hairpin turn in the course. They’ve been doing it for years, and a good time is had by all. It’s great to see so many of the same faces each year – even if it’s the only time I see them.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast is calling for extremely hot temperatures for the next week. After what happened to me Saturday at Grant’s party, I might have to pass this year.

But things can change – both the weather and my mind – before then.

For more information, visit the Vintage Grand Prix Website.

Below are a few photos I managed to snap between showers that should whet your appetite for Sunday’s big event.

100_2115 The owner of this 1950s Oldsmobile wipes down the front half after the first rain storm blew through.

100_2162 This 1932 Franklin with an air-cooled engine was one of the standouts on the street Monday. The owner said it took three years for him to get it looking this fine.


This Fiat owner explains the unique items on the car’s engine to a curious passerby.


A young lady sits inside a 1931 Model A Ford.


The young lady’s friend captures the moment.


The gentleman who owns this 1956 Jaguar said it took five years and $100,000 to return it to pristine condition.


Two storms couldn’t keep people from the cars.


Some folks weren’t so fortunate.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two for One

Here are a couple of short items I decided to combine into one post. The first is a few shots of a muggy Monday morning on Walnut Street. The other is a comedy skit from the 1980s that proposes a world without Rupert Murdoch.

Part One


The Walnut Street business strip is quiet early this morning it prepares to begin another week.

100_2112 But it’s not completely quiet as delivery drivers take advantage of nearly empty streets to restock stores after a busy weekend.


This guy felt that because his car could make a U-turn on Walnut Street it was the right thing to do. I’m sure the person who was behind him would disagree.

Part Two

After all the explosive revelations about the sordid dealings conducted by a London newspaper owned by media octopus Rupert Murdoch, this video appears timely -- even though it’s more than 20 years old.

British comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry send up “It’s a Wonderful Life,” only this time it’s Murdoch instead of George Bailey who wishes he’d never been born.

The video is funny, especially the ending, but be careful at work or if you are sensitive because it contains some naughty words.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grant!!


On Saturday night, my good friend and fellow X-8 brother Grant celebrated his 50th birthday in a big way with a catered affair at his deluxe accommodations on Walnut Street.

The Fluted Mushroom furnished delightful delicacies, such as chicken slathered with orange barbeque sauce, stuffed mushrooms, and spring rolls, as well as professional service of said goodies and cold adult beverages.

Hamburgers cooked to perfection on Grant’s fabulous infrared grill were prepared for Pittsburgh friends, as well as friends and family who made the trip from Canada to honor the birthday boy.

It was great to meet some of the folks who play big parts in Grant’s life. The good feeling floated across his backyard like the smoky haze from the cooking burgers.

However, the party ended much too early for me after I suddenly became dizzy. It was fortunate that I decided to sit on a large cooler because no sooner than my friend Richard asked me if I was OK, I fell over in a dead faint.

I also was lucky that Grant and his friend, Chris, are doctors and took command. They then appraised my situation and summoned paramedics.

Because my blood pressure was abnormally low, everyone advised me to take a trip to the Shadyside Hospital ER.

It turns out I was dehydrated. I neglected my hydration program Saturday and paid the price on a sultry summer evening. But an IV quickly set things right.

Even though I was quite embarrassed by what happened I’m just glad it didn’t put a damper on the festivities, because I know that Grant and his ladylove Katie had worked hard to put it all together.

But I’m immensely more happy that I had good friends to look out for me in my time of need.

There’s no price you can put on that.

Anyway, here’s wishing Grant a happy birthday. I’ve already got his 65th penciled in my social calendar.

(Along with the photo above, I’ve posted a few party shots at Flickr. Although they were captured early in the evening – and I got none of the man of the hour – there are some fun snaps. Check them out if you are so inclined.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heinz Memorial Chapel


Near the Cathedral of Learning on the Pitt campus stands Heinz Memorial Chapel. Designed by architect Charles Klauder, who also designed its much-taller neighbor, based the chapel on Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, Mont-St.-Michel and St. Maclous in Rouen.

Charles Connick, a Pittsburgh-born artist, created the stained glass windows in his Boston workshop.

The idea for the chapel began with H.J Heinz, the founder of the Pittsburgh-based worldwide food empire, who saw it as a way to honor his mother, Anna Margaritta Heinz.

HJ Heinz In 1914, Heinz gave $100,000 to Pitt for what he stipulated to be a chapel  "exclusively used for the religious and social activities of the student body of the university."

Upon Heinz’s death in 1919, his three children, Howard, Irene, and Clifford, decided to bolster the endowment to create a memorial for both their father and grandmother.

Howard Heinz, Pitt chancellor John Bowman and the university’s business manager, aided by a couple of high-level clergymen, were the driving force in seeing the chapel project through to completion.

Their efforts were needed as the groundbreaking didn’t come until 1933, the cornerstone wasn’t laid until 1934, and the chapel didn’t open until November 28, 1938, shortly after it’s pipe organ was installed.

The chapel is used for interdenominational services and weddings of Pitt students, alumni, faculty, staff, and members of their immediate families. Employees of the H.J. Heinz Co. also can be married there.

It’s such a highly popular site for weddings that some parents of incoming female students make a reservation for a future wedding when they bring their daughters to the university for their first freshman semester.

While the stonework of the neo-Gothic building is superb, the real gems of Heinz Chapel are the 23 windows Connick created, including the 73-foot tall transept windows, which are among the tallest in the world.

Along with the usual religious suspects, the windows feature the likenesses of such secular figures as Bach, George Washington, and Daniel Boone.

Other Pittsburgh churches containing works by Connick include East Liberty Presbyterian Church and Calvary Episcopal Church.

Heinz Chapel is a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmark and contributing property to the Schenley Farms National Historic District.

For information, visit Wikipedia and the Heinz Chapel website.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Positively Fourth Avenue

The Marcellus Shale gas boom in Pennsylvania has had everyone talking. It’s created a gold-rush mentality among many while many decry the negative effects it has produced.

But it’s old news for the western side of the commonwealth, as the same thing happened after Edwin Drake’s well first produced oil near Titusville in 1858. Before long, oil companies, including one in which Andrew Carnegie was an investor, and wildcatters were drilling on any parcel of land they could acquire.

Edwin drake

 Right: Edwin Drake

Boomtowns as sinful and rowdy as any in the Wild West sprang up overnight as thousands of men poured into the area trying to get their piece of the action.

The petroleum, or rock oil, which previously had been thrown away as useless, became valuable when Pittsburgh inventor Samuel Martin Kier discovered a method of refining it into kerosene to replace whale oil as fuel for lanterns.

Kier set up the nation’s first commercial refinery at Seventh Avenue and Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh, now the site of the U.S. Steel Building.

He never patented his process, so others set up their own refineries in the city, making Pittsburgh the center of the industry.

Kier refinery marker The oil flowed toward the city on Allegheny River barges and rudimentary pipelines, creating vast fortunes nearly overnight.

Those fortunes joined the ones amassed by the steel industry that dominated the city and the region. The steel firms of Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, their partners and their competitors all piled up plenty of cash in those days of low, low corporate taxes and no income tax.

To handle all that wealth, banks and brokerages – even the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange -- sprang up on Fourth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, leaving behind architectural treasures that prompted the formation of the Fourth Avenue Historic District.

Since I wanted to use more than a few photos of what became Pittsburgh’s “Wall Street,” I created another video slideshow of the area, which entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

(Yes, I wasn’t happy with my last video creation experience, but I followed the keep-it-simple-stupid game plan, so it was much less trying and time consuming.)

The first building is the Dollar Savings Bank. Founded in 1855 as the Pittsburgh Dollar Savings Institution, its directors commissioned Isaac H. Hobbs & Sons of Philadelphia to design a headquarters building, which opened in 1871 and still serves today's Dollar Bank.

It was built largely of Connecticut brownstone and granite, with marble and brass features inside.

The Dollar Bank was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The next structure in the video is the Times Building, which was designed by architect Frederick Osterling for political boss Christopher Magee to house his newspaper, the Pittsburgh Times, in 1892.

Although they probably never met, Osterling certainly was under the influence of  H.H. Richardson when he designed the eight-story structure.

Osterling also designed the Arrott Building, which follows Daniel Burnham's Union Trust Building – the first of 11 buildings the renowned Chicago architect would complete in Pittsburgh – for Frick in 1898.

The basic Classic Revival building with a row of Doric columns in the front is now the home of the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania, which has an intimate restaurant in the basement vault.

Other buildings in the video include the Peoples Savings Bank, Union National Bank and the Commonwealth Trust Company.

Today, it’s hard to fathom that only the national banks of New York City held more money than those on this narrow street. But the size of those bank buildings is a dead giveaway.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cathedral of Learning


Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning towers over Oakland and the East End.

The Cathedral of Learning was created to make a statement about the importance of education in Pittsburgh.

Chancellor John Bowman, who took office in 1921, had a vision for a “tall building” to do that job and to provide more space for the growing university.

Bowman explains his inspiration in this quote:

The building was to be more than a schoolhouse; it was to be a symbol of the life that Pittsburgh through the years had wanted to live. It was to make visible something of the spirit that was in the hearts of pioneers as, long ago, they sat in their log cabins and thought by candlelight of the great city that would sometime spread out beyond their three rivers and that even they were starting to build.

100_1685 Left: This panther-headed fountain graces the Bigelow Boulevard side of the Cathedral of Learning.

Frick Acres was the name of the eventual site, which, with help from the Mellon family, the university bought in November 1921.

Philadelphia architect Charles Klauder, a master of the Gothic style, was assigned the task of marrying that form to a skyscraper. It took Klauder two years to develop the plans, and the project didn’t begin until 1926

Bowman fearlessly championed the building’s construction and didn’t let objections by some in the Pitt and Pittsburgh communities to such a tall structure or the Great Depression keep him from reaching his goal.

Construction on what would become the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere was completed in 1934. Part of the money to build the 42-story structure came from the dimes of school children, who received a certificate to indicate the contribution of one brick.

100_1997 Right: Students often gather in the Gothic Commons Room to study.

The facility holds the chancellor’s office, several university departments, classrooms, computer labs, a theater, a cafe and the Commons Room, a four-story Gothic masterpiece funded by Andrew Mellon.

Students can study in quiet in the Commons Room because of the Guastavino acoustical tiles that act as the stones between the ribs of the vaulting.

A unique feature of the Cathedral of Learning is the Nationality Rooms that were furnished by the ethnic groups who immigrated to Pittsburgh.

The building, which students have called “the drunken compass” because it can be seen throughout the East End, joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Much more information about this fascinating place can be found at Wikipedia.


This reproduction of a Welsh schoolroom is one of the 27 Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Something New

I didn’t have a post Tuesday because I spent the time on a little experiment: making my own video.

My computer came with Windows Movie Maker, so, after having my it for a few years, I decided to give it a try. While the subject is far from timely, I grabbed some shots from my 2009 vacation trip because I had many more to choose from.

Like most free software in general, and Microsoft software in particular, it leaves much to be desired. It’s quite cumbersome to use and has no way to do batch operations on photos or videos.

To get the zoom and fade effects, I had to right click twice on each photo, which was a time-consuming process but better than having to access the choices in the bar at the top.

Also, the blue-screen title cards were easy to do, but the titles on the photos were a bit complicated because they often got out of skew with their intended shot and I had to adjust them – many times.

The biggest problem came when I was nearly finished. I foolishly added a music clip that was about three minutes longer than my video. It appeared that I was able to shorten it to fit, but I eventually junked it,.

However, even after deleting it, the video time still registered as being three minutes longer. No matter what I tried, it wouldn’t get any shorter.

Instead, I had to start from square one, which didn’t make me very happy, but at least it took less time to do it the second time around.

Since videos must be uploaded to something like YouTube to be included in my blog, that was my next step. It produced a good news, bad news situation,

The good news was it was easy to do. The bad news was it took more than two hours to upload a video that is a little under four minutes long.

Anyway, after all that it came out OK, though it’s far from perfect. I think some of the photos flew past too quickly, despite my attempts to slow them down. I also wanted better transitions between the photos, but I couldn’t get that feature to work.

Will I do another video? The jury’s still out on that one. I know there’s better software out there, but I’m not going to put the money out to buy it. Writing and photos still will be the mainstays on this blog, but I might give it a try for a shorter video next time.

Thanks for reading Above Bellefonte and for letting me ramble on about this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain


The fountain was completed in 1918 and is a bronze and granite salute to Mary Schenley, who in 1889 donated 300 acres of her vast Pittsburgh holdings for what would become Schenley Park, the jewel of Oakland.

100_1702 Right: One of the four turtles that spews water into the fountain’s basin.

The statue is titled "A Song of Nature," and the fountain was a collaboration between Beaux-Arts designer H. Van Buren Magonigle, a noted designer of memorials, and Victor Brenner, the designer of the Lincoln penny.

Reflecting the time it was created, the statue is a cross between Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and represents the sleeping Earth god Pan being awakened by Harmony, who plays a harp for him.

The fountain is supported by Bellefield Bridge, which was  buried when what was known as St. Pierre’s Ravine was filled in in 1915 to create Schenley Plaza.

The fountain is a contributing element of the Schenley Farms Historic District.


A shot of the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain’s site in Schenley Plaza from the Cathedral of Learning. (A dirty window reduced the photo’s quality.)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer Ice

I know it’s July and the Pirates are playing some fun baseball, but I couldn’t resist posting a few old YouTube videos about the Penguins.

The first video features a young Mario Lemieux, sporting what looks like a half mullet, hawking cars for Colussy Chevrolet during the 1986-87 season. It starts with him showing a kid how to score a goal, then segues into the sales pitch.

His English skills are a work in progress and his accent is much more noticeable than today, but he’s still more understandable than the kid at the end of the ad.

The next video, from the 1984-85 season, shows Lemieux promoting a growth-chart poster giveaway for an October game with Montreal. Mario has no lines in this one. He just puts his hand on a kid’s shoulder and lifts him to the top of the chart. From the kid’s reaction, it’s hard to tell if he’s feeling happy or creepy that No. 66 appeared in his bedroom.

An interesting point about the ad: The poster sponsor (Thrift Drug) and ticket outlets (Kaufmann’s, Gimbels and the Civic Arena) no longer exist.

The final video is a salute to feisty forward Max Talbot, who signed a free-agent deal with Philadelphia earlier this month. Talbot shows his sense of humor in this commercial for A&L BMW.

It’s too bad the Penguins will lose him – especially to the hated Flyers – but GM Ray Shero wouldn’t give him more than a three-year deal and he got one for five years from Philly.

Shero can’t be blamed because even three years might be a stretch for a player of his type. And Talbot can’t be blamed because, with a Stanley Cup ring in his pocket, a player of his type must grab what he can for the future.

At least Talbot exited in a classy manner, which looked even classier since it came during the Jagr saga. He had nothing but kind things to say about Pittsburgh – and that’s as it should be. In his five seasons with the Penguins, the team and the city gave him a stage on which  he could play meaningful hockey.

But Pittsburgh should have nothing  but kind things to say about him, except for a little good-natured booing when he comes to town with the Flyers. Talbot is one of those guys Pittsburgers love: A player who covers a shortage of talent with an abundance of hard work and grit.

He also rose to the occasion in big games – and none was bigger than Game 7 of the 2009 Finals in Detroit, where Talbot ripped the Red Wings for two goals to help the Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup.

During their time with the team, these  two former Penguins players created some cool memories to get a fan through a hot July day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

U.S. Bureau of Mines/Hamburg Hall


This building on Forbes Avenue once housed the U.S. Bureau of Mines Pittsburgh Research Station. It’s now Carnegie Mellon’s Hamburg Hall.

At the turn of the 20th century, a rash of deadly mine explosions and fires prompted the U.S. government to form the Bureau of Mines within the Department of the Interior.

The original mission of the bureau was to provide information and to develop techniques so the mining industry could use explosives safely in the presence of flammable mine gases and dust.  It later added the promotion of safety and efficiency in mining and metallurgy to its list of duties.

Since the city was a hub for a major coal region, the Pittsburgh Research Station became the center of the bureau’s efforts.

Its first location was a plot of land at the Allegheny Arsenal provided by the War Department. In 1917, a new building designed by architect Henry Hornbostel, who also created the buildings at  nearby Carnegie Tech (see Hamerschlag Hall), was dedicated on Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

The main building contained labs between wings for  chemical and mechanical engineering, and a 250-seat auditorium behind the building.

In the 1960s, Carnegie Mellon University acquired the building, renamed it Hamburg Hall and eventually located the H. John Heinz III School there.

While the building was designed separately from the rest of the campus, its still fits in quite well with the rest of Hornbostel’s work there.

The U.S. Bureau of Mines Building entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Source: “A History of the Bureau of Mines Pittsburgh Research Center” by Robert J. Tuchman and Ruth F. Brinkley