The Cultural District was the vision of H.J. Heinz II, grandson of Henry J. Heinz, who was Chief Executive Officer of the company his grandfather founded for 25 years. It as his belief that the arts could spearhead an urban revitalization and economic development of a city’s blighted area. The turn-around started in 1971 with the restoration of Heinz Hall, once a motion-picture palace, into a home for the Pittsburgh Symphony.
In 1984 the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust was formed to transform a fourteen-square block area of downtown Pittsburgh along the Penn-Liberty corridor. Today two dozen venues attract over 2,000,000 people to the Cultural District every year in one of the City’s best preserved and most nearly intact districts.
Pittsburgh’s streets were laid out in 1784 by the surveyors George Woods and Thomas Vickroy, who were agents of the Penn family in Philadelphia. This has historically been a diverse mix of urban uses and by 1900 many important local architects had left their mark on the Penn-Liberty area. A rail line ran down Liberty Avenue at the district’s southern edge and an elevated rail line was slated to run along the Allegheny River shore. But with the Depression of the 1930s the commercial buildings, theaters, hotels and stores began to slide into decline.
Our walking tour will explore these blocks of rebirth along the Allegheny River up but first we’ll start where Pittsburgh started, at the confluence of two great rivers coming together to form a third...
101 Commonwealth Place
Point State Park is at the confluence of two rivers forming a third. The Monongahela River, which originates in Fairmont, West Virginia, flows northward over 128 miles to Pittsburgh. The Allegheny River begins 325 miles upriver near Coudersport and drains northwestern Pennsylvania and part of New York. These two rivers meet here, beginning the Ohio River, which flows 981 miles to Cairo, Illinois where it joins the Mississippi River which reaches the Gulf of Mexico by New Orleans, Louisiana. This was once the western terminus for the Pennsylvania Railroad, covered with railyards and warehouses. Then the heavy industry disappeared leaving behind dilapidated hulks of buildings. The National Park Service had plans to create a park here as far back as the 1930s but it wasn’t until August 30, 1974 that Point State Park was formally opened when this majestic fountain at the headwaters of the Ohio River was dedicated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. When the fountain is in operation, there are over 800,000 gallons of water in the system - the main column of the fountain shoots water 100 feet high. The circular basin of the fountain is 200 feet in diameter and the water, which is obtained from a 54-foot deep well, within the fountain is re-circulated.
WALK AWAY FROM THE POINT, TOWARDS DOWNTOWN AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE.
Point State Park
During the mid-1700s, the armies of France and Great Britain vied for control of the Ohio Valley. Four different forts were built at the forks of the Ohio within a period of five years. The British, in the form of a group of Virginians, came first. In 1754, French forces captured Fort Prince George. George Washington led British forces to recapture the fort, but suffered his first and only surrender at Fort Necessity, 50 miles to the south. The French then built Fort Duquesne at the Forks, which gave them control of the Ohio Valley. In 1755 General George Braddock led the British to capture the forks, but was defeated at the Battle of the Monongahela, eight miles from the fort. Not willing to meet defeat a third time, General John Forbes amassed an army 6,000 men strong in Carlisle and marched west. The French, realizing they were badly outnumbered, burned the fort and departed two days before the British arrived on November 25, 1758. The British then constructed Fort Pitt, named in honor of William Pitt, secretary of state of Britain, that was destined to be the most extensive fortification by the British in North America. In 1777, the Continental Army used it for its western headquarters. The first Peace Treaty between the American Indians and the United States was signed at Fort Pitt in 1778. Fort Pitt was finally abandoned in 1792 due to its deteriorating condition. It had served to open the frontier to settlement as Pittsburgh became the ‘’Gateway to the West.’’ The location of Fort Duquesne is marked by a granite tracery (outline) within the Great Lawn area. The center of the tracery contains a bronze medallion depicting the fort. The locations of four of the five bastions (projecting parts of the fortification) of Fort Pitt have been delineated. Built by Colonel Henry Bouquet in 1764, the blockhouse is the oldest architectural landmark in Western Pennsylvania.
LEAVE POINT STATE PARK ON THE EAST SIDE AND TURN LEFT ON PENN AVENUE.
Commonwealth Place to Stanwix Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard to Penn Avenue
Gateway Center, a complex of high-rise office buildings and a hotel, was one of America’s first urban renewal projects when it was developed in the 1950s. Ninety industrial and warehouse buildings were demolished for the first trio of gleaming steel high-rises.
120 Fifth Avenue
Standing as the maître d’ to downtown Pittsburgh is this 1980s skyscraper from modernist architect Hugh Stubbins. It is dominated by over-scaled windows and the glass central inset inside a granite jacket.
Joseph Horne Co.
northwest corner of Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street
Joseph Horne was born in Bedford County and moved to Pittsburgh where he landed his first job in the retail trade with Christian Yeager. In 1849, at the age of 23, he bought the F.H. Eaton store and eventually renamed it the Joseph Horne Co. as it evolved into one of America’s earliest department stores. In 1879, a new central location was built at the corner of Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street. The building was a 7-story landmark and the first department store in the city’s downtown district. The iconic regional department store chain operated for nearly 145 years until it ceased operation in 1994 and was swallowed up by the Federated Dept. Stores, Inc. The Beaux Arts building from the early 1900s has been redeveloped but the facade remains.
TURN LEFT ON SIXTH AVENUE.
Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel
107 Sixth Avenue
This was the Fulton Building when it was commissioned in 1906 by Henry Phipps, the most socially minded of the U.S. Steel magnates. It is the sole survivor of a set of downtown skyscrapers he built. The Fulton’s trademark was its seven-story-high arch fronting the Allegheny River that was designed by New York architect Grosvenor Atterbury to draw the moist air from the water to cool the building by pushing the hot air up. Federal funds were tapped to transform the building into a four-star hotel. Forty thousand pounds of baking soda was used to clean the copper cladding on the light well, making it the largest copper restoration project on the East Coast since the Statue of Liberty restoration in 1986. Three hundred pounds of coal dust was removed from the exterior surface of the skylight, making the lobby space within one of Pittsburgh’s most spectacular.
101 Sixth Street
Originally built as the Gayety Theater, the Byham Theater opened on Halloween night, 1904. It ran for many years as one of the country’s foremost stage and vaudeville houses, with appearances from such stars as Ethel Barrymore, Gertrude Lawrence and Helen Hayes. The Gayety boasted pressed copper cherubs painted with a bronze patina, imitation gold leaf, stained glass windows, plaster columns and wainscot of scagolia, an Italian faux marble technique. In the 1930s, the theater was renamed The Fulton and became a full time movie palace. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust purchased the theater in 1988 and following the first of four planned phases of renovation, the Fulton was reopened in May 1991. It was later renamed the Byham Theater through a naming gift from the Byham family following the second phase of renovation in 1995.
Allegheny River Bridges
Originally named for the streets to which they connected–– Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth––these identical self-anchored suspension bridges were long referred to as the “Three Sisters” after they were built in the 1920s. Recently, they were renamed to honor baseball legend Roberto Clemente (1934-1972), who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972; Pittsburgh-born pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987); and scientist and author Rachel Carson (1907-1964), who was born in Springdale, about 15 miles up the Allegheny from the Point.
115 Federal Street
PNC Park was built in 2001 as the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. A classic-style baseball park, it was designed to fit in with the existing street grid and to provide terrific views of the downtown skyline. Before the stadium was built, an archaeological dig was conducted on the site. Pots, pans, dinner plates, a book, and other artifacts were unearthed from the 1830s home of General William Robinson, Jr., the first mayor of Allegheny City. Allegheny was the third largest city in Pennsylvania at the time of its forced annexation to Pittsburgh in 1907.
TURN RIGHT ON FORT DUQUESNE BOULEVARD.
east side of Fort Duquesne Boulevard, between Sixth and Seventh streets
Painter Richard Haas, famous for his architectural murals, created this interior of a steel mill, its furnaces pouring white-hot metal, on the Ft. Duquesne facade of the Byham Theater in 1992. The style is known as a trompe l’oeil, or fool of the eye. Haas called the mural “one of the most complicated façades I’ve done.” This is where the original entrance of the theater was.
TURN RIGHT ON SEVENTH AVENUE.
130 Seventh Street
Built in 1907 by the Century Land Company, the Century Building was designed by Frederick Russell and Frank Rutan, disciples of Henry Hobson Richardson, designer of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail and the leading American architect of the late 19th century. The Century Building is faced in matte white or near-white materials, while the solids around the windows are in glossy bronze-green terra cotta. The commercial office building has been adapted into 60 residential lofts, commercial, retail and amenity spaces.
Agnes Katz Plaza
southwest corner of Penn Avenue and Seventh Street
This public space is adorned with linden trees and granite benches designed by legendary New York artist Louise Bourgeois. She also designed the 25-foot bronze fountain cascade, which was dark brown when installed in 1999 but is now turning green. Scattered around the plaza are pairs of eyeball benches.
TURN RIGHT ON PENN AVENUE.
655 Penn Avenue
This is the first of two adjacent buildings on Penn avenue designed by Michael Graves (the second he created, in 2003). The colorful ten-story building features a JumboTron electric message board delivering the latest information about cultural happenings in Pittsburgh. Inside is the 253-seat Cabaret at Theater Square, the newest performance venue in the Cultural District.
621 Penn Avenue
Sitting on the former site of the Lyceum Theater, one of the city’s many vaudeville houses demolished after the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day flood, the O’Reilly is the fourth theater project of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the fifth Cultural District theater. The O’Reilly is the only brand-new theater in the District and home of the Pittsburgh Public Theater. The 650-seat theater is the only downtown performance venue that features a thrust stage, surrounded by the audience on three sides. The theater features 650 seats and state-of-the-art theater technology. The $25 million theater’s namesake is Jack Heinz’s successor, Anthony J.F. “Tony” O’Reilly. It opened in 1999.
TURN AND WALK NORTH ON PENN AVENUE.
Benendum Centernortheast corner of Penn Avenue and Seventh Street
The Stanley Theater was built in 1927 at a cost of $3 million and opened on February 27, 1928. It was built in the Art Deco style by James Bly Clark, an early theater tycoon who helped found MGM. The Stanley was billed as “Pittsburgh’s Palace of Amusement.” In attendance on opening night were Governor John S. Fisher, Mayor Charles H. Kline and Adolph Zukor, president of Paramount Studios. Regular admission cost 65 cents - 25 cents if you came before noon. Notice the old “Stanley Photoplays” sign on the side of the building -- photoplays being the first word for movies. On St. Patrick’s Day in 1936, the theater flooded within two feet of the balcony. Several men were trapped for three days until police arrived in a motorboat and rescued them. After years of decline, the movie palace was purchased and remodeled by the Cinemette Corporation in 1976, and in 1977, DiCesare Engler Productions bought the Stanley to present rock and roll concerts through 1982. The late H.J. Heinz II focused his attention on the historic restoration of the Stanley Theater, and as a result, this became The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s first project after its founding in 1984. It took$43 million dollars and two years, to faithfully restore the glory of the Stanley, now named Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in honor of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, which made the largest contribution toward the rehabilitation. The 2,880-seat Benedum now hosts performances by Pittsburgh’s leading ballet, opera and musical theater companies, and is a stop for touring Broadway shows. The signature piece of the Benedum Center is the original main chandelier which weighs 4,700 pounds, is 20 feet high and 12 feet wide and consists of 500,000 crystal pieces. There are 1,500 feet of brass rail in the theater, most of which is original.
800 Block of Penn Avenue
The Irish Block, named after the family who developed the space in the early 1900s, is a gracious row of buildings, a study in pattern and color.
TURN LEFT ON NINTH STREET.
Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) High School
111 Ninth Street
One of ten City of Pittsburgh High Schools, CAPA is an $80 million state-of-the-art facility built largely through the generosity of The Bitz Foundation. The design of the new building plays off the design of the adjacent historic structure of 1915 by Pittsburgh architect Charles Bickel. Classrooms flow from one building into the other. Student work is displayed on a four-story exterior JumboTron on the Ft. Duquesne Boulevard façade.
RETURN TO PENN AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.
William G. Johnston Building
900 Penn Avenue
This is a tour-deforce of the brick-layers’ craft, built in 1885 and remodeled in 1915. William G. Johnston & Co. were printers and stationers. The building now houses apartments in the upper stories and a ground-floor restaurant.
905 Penn Avenue
This three-story. three-bay townhouse with ornamental window hoods is thought to be the last building constructed in downtown Pittsburgh as a single-family residence. It dates to 1870.
911–13 and 915–21 Penn Avenue
The two buildings at 911–13 and 915–21 Penn Avenue came from the pen of Charles Bickel in the first decade of the 20th century. Bickel opened an architectural firm in Pittsburgh in 1885 and was, by all available records, the most frequently hired architect in the Penn-Liberty area.
931 Penn Avenue
This five-story commercial loft was built by Alfred Gilliand for Levi Wade in 1892. Architect James T. Steen designed this and a neighbor since destroyed by fire in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. A single bay hangs from below the fifth floor, with arches and applied ornamental columns at the upper two stories. Known as the Keech Block, these buildings served the W. H. Keech Co. furniture business.
David L. Lawrence Convention Center
1000 Fort Duquesne Boulevard
The $375 million facility, the cornerstone to western Pennsylvania’s hospitality industry, opened in 2003. The Center is the first and largest certified “green” convention center in the world awarded the Gold LEEDｮ (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the U.S. Green Building Council.
TURN RIGHT ON 10TH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON LIBERTY STREET.
August Wilson Center for African American Culture
980 Liberty Avenue
With its signature four-story glass and metal “sail,” the $39.5 million center is named after the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, and includes a 486-seat theater and two gallery spaces.
Ewart Building/Maginn Building
925/915 Liberty Avenue
Here are two more creations of Charles Bickel in the Richardsonian Romanesque style: the Maginn Building at No. 915 was built in 189 and the Ewart Building at No. 925 rose a year later. Open space is between them.
Liberty Avenue, Seventh Avenue and Smithfield Street
Pittsburgh’s street grid runs parallel and perpendicular to both rivers. Eventually these two grids must crash into each other, and that place is Liberty Avenue. A series of small triangular spaces are occupied with similarly shaped buildings, known as “flatiron” buildings.
Federal Reserve Bank
northwest corner of Ninth Street and Liberty Avenue
This corner building was originally the Federal Reserve Bank, designed in 1911 by Alden & Harlow; the builder was Thompson Starrett of New York whose more famous contract was the Empire State Building. Frank E. Alden and Alfred B. Harlow dominated the local architectural scene from 1896 until Alden’s death in 1908.
809 Liberty Avenue
Formerly known as the Art Cinema, the Harris represented the cornerstone of the redevelopment of Liberty Avenue in 1995. The Harris Theater was the first moving picture house in Pittsburgh to commercially show “art movies” until competition from other city theaters led to its conversion to an adult, pornographic movie house in the 1960s. The Harris was named through a gift from the Buhl Foundation after John P. Harris, co-founder of the Nickelodeon ― the first theater solely dedicated to the showing of motion pictures ― and a Pennsylvania State Senator. Today the theater features contemporary, foreign and classic films, programmed by Pittsburgh Filmmakers.
812 Liberty Avenue
This Beaux-Arts gem was purchased, cleaned, and renovated by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in 2003. The terra-cotta-clad building includes “Space,” a 4,000-square-foot gallery for changing exhibits, and a jewelry store that has been located on the second floor since 1925.
Wood Street Station/Wood Street Galleries
601 Wood Street
The one-time Monongahela Bank now houses one of downtown Pittsburgh’s four “T” stations and an art gallery on the upper floors. The present building was designed in 1927 by Edward Stotz. After apprenticing with notable local architects and touring Europe, Stotz opened his own firm in 1889; it continues today as MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni. Notice the new metal canopy designed by Jeffrey DeNinnos, with ginkgo leaf patterns etched in the glass.
TURN LEFT ON WOOD STREET.
German National Bank
northwest corner of Wood Street and Sixth Avenue
The German National Bank was organized in 1864 and this eight-story Richardsonian Romanesque headquarters was constructed in 1890 on the deposits from the hard-working German immigrant community. It was national news eight years later when a run on the bank forced the German National to close.
TURN RIGHT ON SIXTH AVENUE.
northwest corner of Seventh Street and Liberty Avenue
In 1907 Thomas Hannah modeled thIs building after the Spreckels Building in San Francisco. The Keenan Building was erected for Colonel Thomas J. Keenan, the chief owner of the Penny Press and a man with an eye for publicity. His skyscraper is decorated with portraits of 10 “worthies” associated with Pennsylvania or the Pittsburgh of his time, and the fancy dome was once capped with the figure of an eagle in flight. The building is now used as moderate-income housing: the exterior was repaired and cleaned in 2006.
TURN LEFT ON LIBERTY AVENUE.
Sixth Street between Liberty Avenue and Penn Avenue
A motion-picture palace where live performances were also given, Loew’s Penn Theatre was chosen in the late 1960s as a centrally located home―at first temporary, then permanent― for the Pittsburgh Symphony. During remodeling in 1971, the last maker of architectural terra cotta in the United States was commissioned to match the warm off-white of the original facing, and did an almost-perfect job.
TURN LEFT ON MARKET STREET.
160 Fifth Avenue at Market Street
This Arts & Crafts building, with its deep overhanging roof, wooden window framing and stucco, was designed for the Regal Shoe Company in 1908 by Alden & Harlow, the city’s leading architectural firm. It is part of a restoration project on the block that retains the facades of three historic buildings and integrates their interiors to function together.
204 Fifth Avenue at Market Street
Designed by Janssen & Abbott in 1913, this building is clad in blue and creamy-white terra cotta and decorated in Renaissance motifs. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Camera Repair Service
411 Market Street
This narrow, Art Deco building in buff brick has lots of geometric ornamentation: overlapping brick piers, rows of cubes, horizontal strips of protruding-retracting brickwork, and a vertical chain of rectangles.
Forbes Avenue and Market Street
Market Square, or the “Diamond,” was laid out in 1784 as an open space of market stalls. The first Allegheny County Courthouse was located here; later a market house and City Hall sat in the square. In the early 1900s the Diamond Market was built, occupying all four quadrants of the square. It featured a rolling skating rink on the top floor. The Diamond Market was demolished in 1961 and in 1972 Market Square is designated by the City as its first historic district.
WALK CLOCKWISE AROUND MARKET SQUARE.
1902 Landmark Tavern
24 Market Square
1902 Tavern was Dimling Brothers Bar and Restaurant, a German restaurant, when it opened on Market Square. After 1960, it had many names, including Cheshire Cat and Crazy Quilt. When Jeff Joyce took over and reopened it in 1982, it became 1902 Landmark Tavern -- for the date he saw on old pictures that still hang in the restaurant. At 23 Market Square, Nicholas Coffee has been doing business on the square since 1919.
Old Original Oyster House
20 Market Square
When the Oyster House first opened in 1870, oysters sold for a penny and beer was 10 cents a glass. The enormous fish sandwiches, which require a special bun, were introduced by Louis Americus, who was the proprietor from 1916 to 1970. The building, a Pittsburgh Historic Landmark, has been a favorite location for the movie industry having had 25 films shot at the location.
2 Market Square
Back in the 1930s, Joe Primanti opened a cart in the Strip District selling sandwiches to truckers on the go. It was decided that he should expand to a small restaurant on 18th Street. His brothers, Dick and Stanley, joined him along with nephew John DePriter who was the cook. According to John, “One winter, a fella drove in with a load of potatoes. He brought a few of ‘em over to the restaurant to see if they were frozen. I fried the potatoes on our grill and they looked pretty good. A few of our customers asked for them, so I put the potatoes on their sandwiches.” And the rest is history. The Primanti Sandwich: a true taste of Pittsburgh.
EXIT MARKET SQUARE AND CROSS FOURTH AVENUE TO PPG PLACE.
PPG Place is a majestic six-building complex sitting atop a 5.5 acre, three city block site in the heart of downtown. Completed in 1984, PPG Place is one of three downtown buildings made to show off the company product: the others being the former Alcoa Building and U.S. Steel Tower. The gleaming glass and steel structures were developed by John Burgee Architects with the internationally renowned architect Philip Johnson from New York. The 40-story tower is 680 feet high. This complex, with its thicket of 231 Neo-Gothic spires was designed to weave into the architecture of Pittsburgh and recall its great buildings, such as the Cathedral of Learning and the Allegheny County Courthouse. Nearly one million square feet of reflective glass was used, glazed in 19,750 pieces of glass, which provides a high degree of energy efficiency, unmatched in many new buildings.
TURN RIGHT ON THIRD AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON STANWIX STREET.
Saint Mary of Mercy Church
202 Stanwix Street
William P. Hutchins, an important Pittsburgh Roman Catholic designer of churches, schools, and convents. used vivid red brick to complements the steely gray glass of PPG Place for this church in 1936. To the left of the church entrance, about five feet up, is a plaque indicating the 46-foot“All-time-high water mark” of the St. Patrick’s Day Flood that crested on March 18, 1936. The disaster spurred flood control development on Pittsburgh’s three rivers.
TURN RIGHT ON THE BOULEVARD OF THE ALLIES.
United Steelworkers Building
60 Boulevard of the Allies
The welded stainless steel web of these thirteen-story truss walls is constructed of three di?erent strengths of steel, which progressively lighten as the building rises and the load lessens. This web is dual-purpose, being both the structure and a sunscreen for the interior. With its ?oor, wall, and elevator loads all carried on a central core, the open interior, with spans up to ?fty-four feet, enjoys the highest possible internal ?exibility. When it was constructed in the 1960s it was one of the first buildings since the dawn of the skyscraper age 75 years before to feature load-bearing walls.
34 Boulevard of the Allies
On July 29, 1786, John Scull and Joseph Hall published the first newspaper west of the Allegheny Mountains, the Pittsburgh Gazette. This four-page weekly was produced on a wooden press, the first ever to make the precarious wagon journey over the mountains from Philadelphia. From this tenacious four-page weekly, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in the guise of a half-dozen names, has grown to a metropolitan daily with a circulation of more than 243,000 daily and more than 424,000 on Sunday.
CROSS OVER COMMONWEALTH PLACE INTO POINT STATE PARK AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.