The Pittsburgh streetscape is the mirror image of its fellow urban pillar of the Commonwealth, Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, city planners made the decision to knock down most of the its building stock that came after the 1840s to promote a Colonial appearance. In Pittsburgh the city planning was dome by a fire that ignited on the southeast corner of Ferry and Second streets at noon on April 10.1845. Before the windswept flames burned themselves out virtually every building in the downtown area was gone. Only one life was lost but an estimated 1,100 houses were destroyed along with cotton-factories, iron-works, glassworks, hotels and several churches in a general desolation. So all of Pittsburgh’s buildings date to after the 1850s.

Coincidentally, this is about the time the Pennsylvania Railroad reached the Allegheny River from Philadelphia and oil was discovered north of the city near Titusville. Pittsburgh was set to explode. The city’s great industrialists - Carnegie, Frick, Oliver and Phipps - were making unthinkable fortunes in steel mills and factories and finance. And soon they were itching to throw millions of dollars into building monumental skyscrapers to their legacies.

The avenue of choice for this building splurge was Grant Avenue, historically the outer limit of Pittsburgh. Grant Avenue was at one time Grant’s Hill, a natural eastern boundary for the city but also an impediment to a growing metropolis. Over the decades some 60 feet of “the Hump” would be removed. And after the most famous architect of the 20th century, Henry Hobson Richardson, constructed the epic Allegheny County Courthouse in 1884 it ignited a wave of modern skyscrapers that converted the street into downtown Pittsburgh’s showcase thoroughfare. 

Our walking tour will begin in a small park in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s tallest skyscraper and later explore the narrow 25-foot wide street that emerged as Pittsburgh’s Wall Street in the late 1800s and early 1900s... 

Mellon Green
Sixth Avenue and Grant Street

This tiny oasis of green space between gargantuan office towers was carved out in 2002. It provides a pedestrian link through the downtown Mellon campus of four major buildings and a tree-lined promenade of rustic terrazzo and granite pavement directs pedestrians through the park to one of four downtown “T” (transit) stations. A granite fountain, designed by Geoffrey L. Rausch to symbolize the strength and stability of Pittsburgh, serves as the focal point, while ample landscaped seating areas, including a wisteria-covered, trellised seat wall framing the lawn, invite passersby to stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery. 


U.S. Steel Tower
600 Grant Street

At sixty-four stories and 841 feet high, the U.S. Steel Tower was the tallest building between New York and Chicago when it was completed in 1971. It has an exposed frame of Cor-Ten weathering steel (a U.S. Steel patent); the steel is self-oxidizing and is free of any further rust.  The exterior features eighteen exposed vertical steel columns, each set three feet outside the curtain wall, such that columns and curtain wall connect at every third ?oor. The columns run the full height of the building and are filled with a mixture of water, anti-freeze, and an anti-corrosive so, should the tower ever be engulfed in ?ames, it would keep cool for four hours before collapsing in the heat.

First Lutheran Church  
615 Grant Street

First English Evangelical Lutheran Church was born on January 15, 1837, as the first English-speaking Lutheran congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains. There were once four churches on Grant Street back when it still had the feel of a small-town main street in the late 1800s. This High Victorian Gothic church, built in 1888, is the only survivor of those days. The graceful dimensions of First Lutheran Church complement the massive Courthouse down the street.

Koppers Building
436 Seventh Avenue at southwest corner of Grant Street

Andrew Mellon, mega-wealthy businessman who was doubling as Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s, engineered four key public and private buildings on this once-blighted corner in the early days of the Great Depression. Here, as principle shareholder with his brother, R. B. Mellon, in Koppers and Gulf, manufacturer of construction materials, Mellon gave the city one of its most sumptuous Art Deco creations. Designed by Chicago architects Graham, Anderson, Probst and White -- the successor firm to the father of the modern skyscraper, Daniel Burnham - the building rises 35 stories with two setbacks. The ?rst three stories of Koppers are polished gray granite, while the tower is Indiana limestone. A chateau-style copper roof tops off the creation, spotlighted at night in a dramatic green glow. The interior, splashed with colorful marbles on the floor and walls, bronze metalwork and polychrome cornice moldings is one of Pittsburgh’s most splendid. The cast-iron mailbox mailbox is the Koppers Building in miniature, roof included. 

Federal Courthouse and Post Office
northeast corner of Grant Avenue and Seventh Avenue  

The Federal Courthouse and Post Office, filling an entire block, came from the offices of noted New York architects Trowbridge & Livingston in 1932. During a $68 million renovation in 2004-05, the exterior stonework was cleaned, six new courtrooms were added in the original building light wells, and an atrium was constructed to allow natural light to illuminate the new third-floor lobby space and historic fourth-floor courtrooms.


Gulf Tower
northwest corner of Grant Avenue and Seventh Avenue

Trowbridge & Livingston did the work on this tower as well, another project for Andrew Mellon, as the headquarters for his Gulf Oil. This 44-story tower, in two tones of grey granite, was the tallest in Pittsburgh until 1970. The architects went down 90 feet to find a proper footing for their great tower, which Gulf abandoned in 1985. The colossal doorway on Seventh Avenue features a 50-ton granite entablature. Its red-illuminated, stepped-pyramid roof is topped by a weather beacon and a strobe light that signals Pirates home runs and wins.

Bell Telephone Building416 Seventh Avenue  

This seven-story Romanesque Revival building is one of the oldest telecommunications facilities still in use in the country. It was erected in 1890 to serve as Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania’s switching hall. Leading local architect Frederick J. Osterling delivered one of the tallest commercial buildings in downtown Pittsburgh at the time with a rusticated sandstone base supporting a three-story brick arcade and alternating Roman and segmental arches. The exterior load-bearing walls are constructed of thick masonry walls, mostly brick. The interior is wooden post-and-beam construction, as no steel was used to support the building. As the business grew. Bell Telephone expanded into several other buildings on this block, including a 1905 eleven-story tower to the south by Alden & Harlow, the successor firm to the fabled Henry Hobson Richardson of Brookline, Massachusetts.  


Allegheny HYP Club
619 William Penn Way  

Alumni of Harvard (H), Yale (Y) and Princeton (P) had been active in western Pennsylvania for many years, but no one group was large enough to maintain a clubhouse. In 1929, efforts were made to band together and procure a joint headquarters. Small tenement buildings, constructed in 1894 as workers’ row housing were given a Georgian makeover and transformed into a private club. The HYP Club is registered as a National Historic Landmark and continues to be the last remaining tenement housing from 1890s Pittsburgh.

Regional Enterprise Tower  (ALCOA Building)
423 Sixth Avenue at William Penn Way

This 30-story office tower was the future when it was constructed for in 1953. Appearing shortly after World War II, it was intended the showcase the ease of using light-weight aluminum in high-style construction. Aluminum panels could be bolted swiftly on their frames and swivel windows could be cleaned in a snap. However the headquarters for the Aluminum Corporation of America (ALCOA) did not lead a construction revolution into modern America and aluminum-clad buildings are rarely seen today. In 1998, Alcoa constructed a new building on the North Shore along the Allegheny River and donated this iconic building to serve as the headquarters for various nonprofit organizations serving the region.

Mellon Plaza
bounded by Sixth Avenue, William Penn Way, Oliver Avenue and Smithfield Street

This was the site of Turner Hall in the 19th century where Samuel Gompers galvanized attendees of the 1881 meeting of the National Labor Congress into what would become the world’s largest labor organization, the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Ironically, several generations later, in 1949, all vestiges of the AFL’s birthplace would be wiped away for a six-level underground parking garage covered up with terrazzo walks, fountain cascades, and granite benches paid for by those titans of big business - the Mellons. The plaza became a model for cities around the country looking to maximize scarce downtown space.

Smithfield United Church
Sixth Avenue at Smithfield Street  

The congregation of this church is the descendant of the original German Protestant church that received a land grant from the Penn family ion 1787. The present building was built after the congregation sold or leased its land on Sixth Avenue, and the former church was demolished to make way for a commercial building. Henry Hornbostel topped off his 1925 Gothic-style building with an openwork aluminum spire, one of the world’s first structural uses of aluminum.

Gimbel’s Department Store  
Sixth Avenue at Smithfield Street

The former Gimbel’s store building was built to house the Kaufmann and Baer Department Store, which was purchased by Gimbel’s in 1926.  It is a thirteen-story structure sheathed in white terra cotta and detailed in the Classical style.  Particularly noteworthy are the two-story arcade and the heavy projecting cornice at the roofline.

Trinity Cathedral
328 Sixth Avenue

This slice of Pittsburgh was part of a land grant from the family of William Penn, on some of the farthest reaches of land of the Pennsylvania founder. Quakers didn’t settle this land, however, it was Presbyterians and Anglicans who found their way out here. This is the third church building for Trinity Cathedral; the first Episcopalian house of worship was a block further down on the site of the Wood Street Galleries. Gordon Lloyd created this Victorian-era church building in the English Gothic style in 1870. Trinity Cathedral is located on a terrace that is the remains of a low hill that had been used as a graveyard by Native Americans, French, British, and American settlers; a portion of that graveyard still survives between Trinity and First Presbyterian. In 1864 a funeral was held here for composer Stephen Collins Foster, the most famous popular song composer of the 19th century. Trinity was Foster’s home church, but he is not to be found in its graveyard; after the funeral he was buried at Allegheny Cemetery. 

First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh
320 Sixth Avenue

This congregation traces its history back to 1773 when David McClure and Levi Frisbie arrived in the region to minister to Scotch-Irish settlers who were meeting in member’s homes. The first church was a simple log structure erected in 1787. In 1805 a yellow brick structure was built around the log church which continued to host services inside. When the brick church was completed the logs were dismantled, passed through the windows and used in other frontier buildings. That church stood until 1853. The current twin-towered church in the English Gothic style was designed by Theophilus P. Chandler in 1905. A pair of 150-foot-high trees in Oregon were felled for the ceiling supports of the sanctuary that is is distinguished by 14 memorial stained-glass windows; 13 were designed and installed by the famous Tiffany Studios.

Duquesne Club
325 Sixth Avenue

 In 1940, Time Magazine wrote, “For of all U. S. businessmen’s clubs, the Duquesne is among the richest and most discreet. Its big, squarish, brownstone-fronted building in the centre of the Golden Triangle is the citadel of Pittsburgh tycoonery. There Mellons, Scaifes, Weirs, Benedums, McClintics, other Pittsburgh bigwigs eat, drink, relax, play poker, shoot craps, make deals. Some 35 corporations maintain suites for business purposes at the Duquesne.” Founded in 1873, the Duquesne Club is the oldest and most prestigious of Pittsburgh’s private clubs. That “squarish” brownstone clubhouse was designed by one of the successor firms to H. H. Richardson, the architect of the Allegheny County Courthouse, in the Romanesque style. The original building was symmetrical, with its arched entrance located between two shallow projecting bays.


Oliver Building
535 Smithfield Street

Henry W. Oliver was born in Ireland in 1840 but the family was in Pittsburgh before young Henry was talking. Oliver began working at the age of thirteen as a messenger boy for the National Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh. He served in the Civil Wa before returning in 1863 to manufacture nuts and bolts on a small scale. His brothers joined the enterprise and within 20 years the company was one of the largest manufacturers of bar iron and iron specialties in the United States. Oliver was one of the first iron barons to exploit the great Mesabi ore region in Minnesota and eventually spun off the Oliver Iron Mining Company from his other interests in a venture with the Carnegie Steel Company. Oliver passed away in 1904 and his family directed the construction of this 24-story skyscraper in 1909 as a memorial. Daniel Burnham & Company designed it in the classical base-shaft-capital form typical of early high-rise buildings with a stone base supporting a terra cotta skin that rises to a graceful arcade and cornice at the roof.

Mellon Bank/Lord & Taylor’s
514 Smithfield Street

Trowbridge & Livingston, the architectural firm of choice for the Mellon family, delivered this grand vault for the headquarters of Mellon bank in 1924. This building conforms to the classic image of the banking house: a somber gray stone exterior that greeted depositors inside with a long, subdued hall lined with colossal marble Ionic columns and a grand balcony running its length. 

Park Building
northwest corner of Smithfield Street at 355 Fifth Avenue

Standing on the former site of the Pittsburgh Iron Foundry, which supplied artillery and projectiles to American forces in the War of 1812, architect George B. Post designed this building for steel magnates David and William Park in 1896. It is considered the oldest surviving steel-framed skyscraper in Pittsburgh. Post followed the Classical form of skyscraper design (stone base, brick shaft, and ornamental cap) with his most spectacular affectation being a row of crouching male figures (called “atlantes” or “telemones”) supporting the decorative cornice at the roofline.  An unfortunate remodeling during the 1960s altered the windows and their historical ornamental surrounds in the central section of the building.

Kaufmann’s Department Store
Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street

Kaufmann’s was founded in Pittsburgh in 1871 by Jacob and Isaac Kaufmann. The flagship store in on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street was constructed in 1887 and became known as the “Big Store.” In 1913, architects Janssen and Abbott designed a larger white terra cotta-sheathed section with Renaissance Classical detailing and a large ornamental public clock at the corner. This clock became a popular meeting place, and prompted the coining of the phrase “Meet me under Kaufmann’s clock.” In the late 1920s, Edgar Kaufmann commissioned an Art Deco redesign of the main floor of the department store with striking black Carrara glass columns, bronze metalwork, terrazzo floors, and a million dollars’ worth of new elevators. The building was the largest department store in Pittsburgh with 12 stories and 750,000 square feet of selling space and covering the entire block. Edgar Kaufmann would later make one of the most famous commissions in the history of American architecture when he hired Frank Lloyd Wright, who created the iconic “Fallingwater” in the southwestern Pennsylvania woods.


Honus Wagner Store
320 Forbes Avenue

Honus Wagner, the legendary Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop and one of the five original members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, moved his sporting goods store into this building, the former Royal Restaurant (the name can still be seen on the decorative upper facade) in 1952. 

Colonial Trust Company  
314 Forbes Avenue  

In 1902 prominent local architect Frederick J. Osterling designed this building for the Colonial Trust Company. It survives as the downtown’s best example of Edwardian Baroque, a style characterized by the rusticated ground-floor level, the pairing of the colossal columns, and the elaborate cartouche that breaks into the crowning pediment. As you walk through these downtown blocks you will see many buildings, including this one, have been assumed by Point Park University - 22 as of this counting. Today this is just an elaborate exit - to see the magnificently restored classroom, theater and library walk around the corner to the entrance at 414 Wood Street.  

Olympic Theatre
313-317 Forbes Avenue  

This building started life as the Olympic Theatre. When J.C. McCrory Company took over in 1937 a geometric Art Deco facade in buff brick was applied. 

Courthouse Tavern
310 Forbes Avenue

This building was constructed in 1888 but the facade and interior goes back only to the 1920s when this was the Wheel Cafe, a favorite stop on the burlesque circuit.

2T Jewelers
428 Wood Street at 5th Avenue   

This building was constructed in 1888 but the facade and interior goes back only to the 1920s when this was the Wheel Cafe, a favorite stop on the burlesque circuit.   

Skinny Building
241 Forbes Avenue  at Wood Street

The Skinny Building is a mere five-feet, two-inches wide, built just after Forbes Avenue was widened in 1900. Officials at the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau have proposed the slim architectural curiosity as the world’s skinniest building but have yet to displace the Sam Kee Building in Vancouver in the Guinness Book of World Records. That building has a second-floor balcony that juts out four feet and that stretches almost from one end to the other while the Skinny Building never expands in all its three stories. Next door on Wood Street, the elegant stone building with fluted Doric columns was built in 1925 for John M. Roberts & Company, a family-owned jewelry store. 

CVS Pharmacy
239 Forbes Avenue

Most drugstores don’t come with a colonnade of massive Corinthian columns. This was once Donahoe’s Market and Cafeteria, a Pittsburgh landmark for nearly a half-century starting in 1923. A tip-off to the building’s heritage is the “D” above the second-floor windows, the Classical panels of fruits and vegetables, and the elegant urns in the window pediments. The third floor was once a dance hall.

G. C. Murphy Company Building
219 Forbes Avenue   

This Art Deco building, festooned with geometric shapes and stylized ferns and flowers, was erected in 1930 by H. E. Crosby, corporate architect of the G.C. Murphy Company, at a cost of $250,000. George C. Murphy founded Murphy’s in McKeesport in 1906. By the 1930s, there were 170 stores in 11 states. Even during the Depression 40 new stores were built. 


Burke’s Building
209 Fourth Avenue

John Chislett, an English architect, constructed this spare Greek Revival building in 1836 for attorneys Andrew and Robert Burke. As a rare survivor of the Great Fire of 1845, it is the oldest office in the commercial district and just about carries the city’s history of Greek Revival architecture by itself. The design is accented by a minimum of classical ornament-- a slightly projecting central bay with two pediments, double laurel wreaths and fluted columns at the entrance.

Benedum-Trees Building
221-225 Fourth Avenue

On commission from Haynes Allen Machesney, an attorney, Pittsburgh architect Thomas H. Scott designed this transitional skyscraper in 1905. The classical base-shaft-capital composition with a three-story Corinthian entrance and intricately molded balcony and cornice all harken back to the Victorian era but the choice of light colored granite, white brick and terra cotta building materials demonstrate a forward-looking design. The building was purchased in 1913 by oil prospectors Michael Benedum and Joseph Trees. The elaborate interior lobby with marble, bronze, and plaster ornament is largely intact.  

Investment Building
235-239 Fourth Avenue  

This 21-story skyscraper was built as the Insurance Exchange at the tail-end of development along Fourth Avenue, in 1927. Washington, D.C. architect John M. Donn used limestone, and a dark, textured brick to give it a modern face. At the top, notice the corners chamfered with obelisk-like elements.   

Centennial Building
241 Fourth Avenue

In a city that cherishes its architectural heritage like Pittsburgh, it is unusual that a sophisticated building could escape design credit. But that is the case with the three-story Centennial Building, which, in fact, was completed in 1876. 

Arrott Building
401 Wood Street at northwest corner of Fourth Avenue

Frederick J. Osterling turned his pen loose tocreate this highly ornamented skyscraper in 1902. He gave the 260-foot high tower alternating bands of reddish-brown brick and white terra cotta marching up to a palatial capital and massive cornice. On the way he added stone balconies with elegant colonnades. The lion’s heads on the exterior are a popular motif on many downtown buildings. The deep entry arch and the arcades in the upper floors are impressive, as is the small but ornate lobby. 

Pittsburgh National Bank
northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Wood Street  

The architects Alden and Harlow provided this early downtown skyscraper (1902) with an exuberantly rusticated base of pink granite and a highly contrasting deep red brick and terra cotta shaft. Unfortunately, much of the terra cotta was removed in the 1960s. The corner entrance arches are enlivened by sculptures by John Massey Rhind.

Union National Bank
southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Wood Street

Architects MacClure & Spahr calmed things down a bit on the corner of Wood Street and Fourth Avenue with their simple design of gray granite for the Union National Bank in 1906. In addition to the lack of ornamentation, he building materials are appreciably lighter than those used at the time, as well. The rounded corner with its Doric columns suggests a seriousness and power inside. The interior lobby, uses green Cipollino marble columns, one of the first uses of Cipollino marble since antiquity, since the quarries were only reopened around 1905. The beginning of the former bank’s second century will be as condominiums. 

Commercial National Bank
315 Fourth Avenue

Dating to 1897 this building has long ago lost its dignity as a former bank but it retains the slender Roman bricks and unglazed terra cotta detailing. The bull's-eye wreathes are notable survivors.

Colonial Trust Company
317 Fourth Avenue  

This sprawling institution once had fronts on Fourth and Forbes avenues and a third entrance on Wood Street. The Classical features incorporated into this 1902 building by Frederick J. Osterling are the Corinthian columns, distinguished by capitals decorated with acanthus leaves; the cartouche, or ornamental tablet, above the entrance arch; and the triangular pediment. 

Commonwealth Trust Company
316 Fourth Avenue

The two-story base of this high-rise is done in a Classical manner with Ionic columns supporting an entablature bearing the company name. The shaft above is a repetitive design in which pairs of windows area separated vertically by flat pilasters and horizontally by small decorative panels.

Keystone Bank
322 Fourth Avenue

Although this building has been altered in recent years, largely through the filling in of windows, several of the original sculptural elements remain.  Keystones bearing lions heads cap the ground floor arches, and an eagle with wings spread perches on a keystone, Pennsylvania’s state symbol and the buildings namesake. J. J. Vandergrift (1827–99), the famous Pittsburgh riverboat captain and oil magnate, was president of Keystone Bank and a founder of the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange. 

Times Building
336 Fourth Avenue   

This mid-rise office building constructed for the Pittsburgh Times newspaper was one of Frederick Osterling’s early commissions in 1892. He followed the fashionable Richardsonian Romanesque style with rusticated masonry and a series of arches resting on short columns. The Fourth Avenue front is faced in granite; the Third Avenue front is faced in sandstone. 

Industrial Bank
333 Fourth Avenue

Architect Charles M. Bartberger usually busied himself with private homes in the East End but in 1903 he delivered a powerful vault with an over-scaled Neoclassical arch in smooth, coursed granite for the Industrial Bank. The Pittsburgh Stock Exchange was housed here from 1962 to 1974.

Union Trust Company
337 Fourth Avenue

The early maestro of the skyscraper, Daniel Burnham of Chicago, made his first mark in Pittsburgh with this building in 1898. Between 1898 and 1910, the firm designed sixteen buildings in Pittsburgh, including the Frick Building (1901-02), the Oliver Building (1908-10), and the Highland Building (1910) in East Liberty. Here he delivered a Grecian Doric temple for Union Trust; today the building is the headquarters of the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania. 

Fidelity Trust Company
341 Fourth Avenue

This mid-rise office building, designed by James T. Steen, has a rusticated granite facade in the Romanesque style, popularized in Pittsburgh by the contemporary Allegheny County Courthouse on Grant Street.  In addition to designing the side wings for the Dollar Savings Bank, Steen was also the architect for several office and warehouse buildings in the Penn Liberty district downtown.

Dollar Bank
340 Fourth Avenue

This Connecticut brownstone hall housed the first mutual bank in Pittsburgh.  The wildly ornamental Baroque facade for the 1870 structure came from Philadelphia architect Isaac Hobbs, who honed his trade on many picturesque houses in the region. The interior sports Pittsburgh’s best-preserved banking space. For generations the life-sized lions have represented the gateway to Pittsburgh’s “Wall Street” along Fourth Avenue. The two lions, each carved by Max Kohler in 1871 from a single block of Connecticut brownstone, were lifted by a crane, loaded onto a flatbed truck, and transported to Oberlin, Ohio for restoration in 2009. When they return in 2009 the recumbent beasts will be displayed inside where they will no longer be damaged by weather.  

Pittsburgh Bank for Savings
northwest corner of Smithfield Street and Fourth Avenue

Many of the early skyscrapers in American cities were inspired by Italian Renaissance palazzos with dark stonework and exuberant Classical detailing. That’s what is seen here, in a work of 1903 by Alden & Harlow, the city’s leading local architectural firm between 1896 and 1908. The granite and pompeiian brick facade is heavily rusticated and articulated by horizontal banding.  The base of the building has been remodeled, however, the Fourth Avenue entrance remains intact.

Grant Building
330 Grant Street at Fourth Avenue

Henry Hornbostel designed this 40-story tower in 1930. The beacon on top of the building was the largest such beacon in the world when constructed. It spells out ‘Pittsburgh’ in morse code.


City-County Building
414 Grant Street

Henry Hornbostel, who had come from New York City to Pittsburgh in 1904 to design the Carnegie Technical Schools (now Carnegie Mellon University), won the design competition for the City-County Building in 1913. Rather than compete with the towers and pointed roofs of the Allegheny Courthouse next door, Hornbostel limited ornament at the City-County Building to the high triple-arched portico, the Doric colonnade above it, and the barrel-vaulted interior galleria. That ground floor interior is one of Pittsburgh’s finest interior spaces - a 43-foot high by 150-foot long light-filled corridor flanked by bronze columns and framed, at either end, by great arched windows spanned by catwalks.

Allegheny County Courthouse & Jail
436 Grant Street  from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue

Henry Hobson Richardson, of Brookline, Massachusetts, was the most famous architect of the 19th century. After the city’s Greek Revival courthouse burned in 1882, Richardson won a design competition to create a replacement. Richardson would die, prematurely, in 1886 at the of 47, two years before the Courthouse was finished. On his deathbed he is reported to have said: “If they honor me for the pigmy things I have already done, what will they say when they see Pittsburgh finished.” It is indeed among America’s most imitated buildings; many architectural historians regard it as the finest public building in the United States. It was no less important to the City of Pittsburgh. When Richardson came to town there were no monumental buildings in downtown Pittsburgh. In fact, there was no real downtown Pittsburgh, only street after street of sprawling industry. Richardson’s courthouse was designed to tower over the city, providing an anchor for a defined streetscape. With a model of great architecture on a grand scale suddenly placed in their midst, Pittsburgh’s titans of industry were eager to emulate its designs for their new commercial palaces that soon lined Grant Street. Richardson, who had studied in Paris, was inspired by the 11th- and 12th-century castles of France and Spain. His intimidating design for Allegheny Courthouse included great, round-arched door and window openings. Some things have been compromised in its 125 years (the towering Frick Building across the street eliminated its position as centurion of the city) but most of its impact remains as awe-inspiring as the master architect intended it. A self-guided walking tour brochure for the courthouse and jail is available inside.

Frick Building
437 Grant Street

Funny how things work out. Magnate Henry Clay Frick was responsible for a number of Pittsburgh’s most notable buildings - this one he built for himself in 1902. This specific site is thought to have been selected to dwarf the Carnegie Building, owned by Frick’s long-standing business nemesis Andrew Carnegie, that stood next door to the west. The Carnegie Building is now half-a-century gone and the building that the Frick tower looms over, effectively blocking satisfying views, is Henry Hobson Richardson’s masterpiece, the Allegheny County Courthouse. The Frick Building has an architectural pedigree itself; master builder Daniel Burnham contributed a classic base-shaft-capital design with a ring of columns around the base.    

Union Trust Building
501 Grant Street  

Truly, look up, Pittsburgh, for a gander at the City’s most fantastical skyline. The Flemish Gothic roofline is the stuff of legend. Some say the abundance of pointed gables were demanded by the Catholic Church of Henry Clay Frick as pseudo-chapels for building on the site of the old St. Paul Cathedral. Chapels for commerce maybe. Called the Union Arcade when it opened in 1917, inside there was space for 240 shops and 700 offices. The office floors were built with a strength remarkable today, since tenants were apt to bring in massive iron safes and locate them as they pleased. Four street entrances, now as originally, meet at a dramatic interior space beneath a stained-glass dome.

William Penn Hotel
southwest corner of Grant Street and Sixth Avenue

This is Pittsburgh’s classic downtown 1920s hotel, distinguished by the Art Deco Urban Room on the 17th floor. Deep light courts (easily noticed from Mellon Square) allow the maximum number of guest rooms to have natural ventilation and outdoor views. The towers are clad in red brick, not a common sight in downtown Pittsburgh, a Colonial affectation that namesake William Penn would surely appreciate. During a $22 million renovation in 2004, many of the building’s original elements were restored.