Oakland lays claim to being the third largest “downtown” in Pennsylvania after Center City Philadelphia and Downtown Pittsburgh. It is stuffed with museums, prestigious universities, fabled eateries, live entertainment venues, public art, spiritual centers and a huge quotient of “hipness.”

In 1905, Franklin Nicola, who had purchased land from the estate of Mary Schenley two years earlier, put forth a development plan in the City Beautiful style, then sweeping across America, for Oakland. The City Beautiful movement favored boulevards, parks, and formal civic buildings in the Beaux-Arts style evoking ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance. Although Nicola’s plan was not fully implemented, including a never-constructed Oakland town hall, it produced several important landmarks. Oakland, is in fact, now home to three historic districts: The Schenley Farms National Historic District, the Oakland Civic Center Historic District and the Oakland Square Historic District. 

Other major landmark buildings were added to Oakland after the pursuit of Nicola’s designs had ended, including the landmark Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Memorial Chapel of the University of Pittsburgh and Andrew Carnegie’s contributions to the school he founded and the massive civic project that eventually became the Carnegie Museums and Library.

Our walking tour will travel down the two main thoroughfares that bustle with activity through Oakland, Forbes Avenue and Fifth Avenue, but first we’ll begin in the bucolic open spaces of a great city park that was donated by a girl who ran away to elope when she was just a teenager...... 

Schenley Park
Boulevard of the Allies

Mary Elizabeth Croghan did not spend much of her 77 years in Pittsburgh, but few have matched her lasting influence on the city. Born near Louisville in 1826, Mary was the daughter of frontier businessman James O’Hara’s daughter and as her mother’s only heir stood to inherit large tracts of Pittsburgh land. That inheritance was jeopardized when, at the age of 15 in a Staten Island boarding school, she eloped with a 43-year old British sea captain named Edward Schenley. The incident became a highly publicized scandal on both sides of the Atlantic, not helped by the fact that Captain Schenley was AWOL from his post in British Guiana at the time and it was his third elopement. Mary’s enraged father voided her inheritance by an act of the state legislature. Years later after he had calmed down, the two reconciled in England and in 1850 she received her full inheritance. Through the years she donated freely to Pittsburgh churches and public schools and in 1889 she gave the land that would becomethe 456-acre Schenley Park. 


Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
One Schenley Drive

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in the park was a gift to Pittsburgh from steel and real estate baron Henry Phipps in 1893. Phipps directed the building of a splendid Victorian glasshouse designed by the renowned architectural firm of Lord and Burnham. Today Phipps Conservatory is one of the largest celebrations of botanical diversity in the country.


Frick Fine Arts Building
Schenley Drive  

The Frick Fine Arts building, home of the University of Pittsburgh’s History of Art and Architecture Department and Studio Arts Department, houses famous reproductions of 15th-century Florentine Renaissance artworks by Russian Artist Nicholas Lochoff. In 1911, Lochoff was commissioned by Moscow Museum of Fine Arts to travel to Italy and make a series of copies of the finest examples of Renaissance Art. Those copies, considered by some to be the closest replicas to the original works, came to the United States and were acquired by the University and placed in the Fine Arts building. The building’s Italian Renaissance architecture, complete with a cloister-style inner courtyard, makes it truly unique in Pittsburgh. The fountain outside the Frick Fine Arts building was designed by Victor Brenner, the same man who sculpted the portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the U.S. penny. 


Forbes Field Site  
Bouquet Street at Roberto Clemente Drive and Sennott Street

This was the location of one of the most storied ballparks in baseball history - Forbes Field. Named for General John Forbes, the British general in the French and Indian War who captured Fort Duquesne and renamed it Fort Pitt in 1758, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates opened on June 30, 1909. The stadium saw Pittsburgh World Championships in 1909, 1925 and 1960, all in seven games. The Pirates never lost a World Series in Forbes Field. It closed in 1970 and was demolished on July 28. 1971. Babe Ruth hit the last three of his 714 regular season home runs in Forbes Field as a member of the Boston Braves on Saturday, May 25, 1935. It was reported in the papers several days later that the final blow, which was the first ever to clear the then 10 year old right field roof, came to rest on the roof of 318 Boquet Street, a rowhouse which survives to this day. Today a plaque marks the spot where the most famous home run in World Series history, Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7-winning homer left the park in 1960 and flew into the trees. The center-field and right-center brick walls still stand, along with the base of the flagpole. Home plate remains in almost its exact original location, and is now encased in glass on the first-floor walkway of the University of Pittsburgh’s Wesley W. Posvar Hall across the street.


Stephen Foster Memorial
4301 Forbes Avenue

The Stephen Collins Foster Memorial is an academic facility of the University of Pittsburgh conceived In 1927 when the Tuesday Musical Club, founded in 1889 by affluent female musicians, and University of Pittsburgh Chancellor John Bowman agreed to collaborate on a performance hall dedicated to native son Stephen Foster that would house the club’s recitals. The main structure houses the two theaters: the 478-seat Charity Randall Theatre and 151-seat Henry Heymann Theatre. The left wing of the building houses the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum and the Center for American Music which contains the University of Pittsburgh’s Foster Hall Collection that includes manuscripts, copies of over 200 of his musical compositions, examples of recordings, songsters, broadside, programs, books, various memorabilia, and several musical instruments, including one of Foster’s pianos.  

University of Pittsburgh Log Cabin
Forbes Avenue opposite Schenley Plaza  

Tradition holds that the University of Pittsburgh, then the Pittsburgh Academy in the 1780s, began life in a log cabin. Not this one though. That long-ago classroom was replaced by a brick building in the 1790s downtown near the Point. That building, and most of Pittsburgh, was destroyed by fires in the 1840s, taking most of the school records with it. This particular cabin, from Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, was purchased at an auction for $1,000 by Charles Fagan III, who donated it to the university. It was placed here to commemorate the university’s bicentennial in 1987,

Cathedral of Learning
Forbes Avenue

The Cathedral of Learning is the second-tallest education building in the world―42 stories and 535 feet tall. It is also the geographic and traditional heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus. Begun by Chancellor John Bowman in 1926 and dedicated in 1937, the building was realized with the help of contributions from men, women, and children throughout the region and the world. During the peak of the Depression, when funding for the project became especially challenging, school children were encouraged to contribute a dime to “buy a brick.” In addition to the magnificent three-story “Commons Room” at ground level, behind its 2,529 windows the Cathedral of Learning also contains classrooms (including the internationally renowned Nationality Classrooms), the University’s administrative offices, libraries, a computer center, and a restaurant. 

Carnegie Museums and Library
4400 Forbes Avenue  

The establishment of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was forecast in a letter, November 25, 1881, from Andrew Carnegie to the Mayor of Pittsburgh in which Mr. Carnegie offered to donate $250,000 for a free library, provided the City would agree to provide the land and appropriate $15,000 annually for its maintenance. This offer could not be accepted, because at that time Pittsburgh was not authorized to expend funds to maintain a public library. Ten years later the City was legally allowed to accept the offer but Pittsburgh had grown so much since the original offer that Carnegie upped his commitment to a million dollars for A larger building combining reference and circulating libraries, art galleries, and meeting rooms for learned societies. The original building was designed by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow in 1895 and, with millions more of Carnegie’s dollars, a major addition came in 1907. Today the immense Institute building is actually a multi-purpose complex of library, lecture hall, music hall, natural science museum and art museum hosting more than one million visitors a year.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
419 South Dithridge Street at Forbes Avenue

 St. Nicholas can trace its membership back to the turn of the century, when many of the first Greek immigrants made their way to Pittsburgh. Among them were men who were enlisted by the city’s early industrialists to paint the buildings and smokestacks of the iron and steel mills. The present church with Greek portico was purchased in 1923. It was built in 1904 as the 1st Congregational Church. 


Heinz Chapel
115 Federal Street  

The non-denominational Neo-Gothic Chapel’s origins lie with Henry John Heinz, the founder of the H.J. Heinz Company. His will made arrangements to honor his mother, Anna Margaretta Heinz, with a building at the University.  The building, designed by Charles Z. Klauder, was dedicated in 1938, featuring carved limestone walls, oak woodwork, and ironwork from craftsmen from throughout the northeastern United States. Its 23 exquisitely detailed stained glass windows depict 391 sacred and secular figures who are famous in religion, history, medicine, science, and the arts. The 73-foot transept windows buy C. Connick Studios are among the tallest in the world and depict an equal number of women and men. 

Bellefield Hall
315 South Bellefield Avenue

Bellefield Hall, constructed in 1924, was designed by architect Benno Janssen by combining the facades of the Italianate Palazzo Piccolomini delle Papesse in Siena with the the 18th-century Lee House at Stratford in Virginia for the Flemish-bond brick finish and the high basement. Bellefield Hall, a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmark, was originally home to the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association and is today home to a variety of University of Pittsburgh offices and services, most notably the old athletic association pool. The iron work for the lamps at the classical entranceway was done by Samuel Yellin.

Bellefield Towers
northeast corner of Bellefield Avenue and Fifth Avenue

The First United Presbyterian Church was displaced from downtown Pittsburgh in 1896 and built a new Gothic home on this corner. In the 1960s the church merged with the nearby Bellefield church which became an official Presbyterian church in 1866 on the former Bellefield Farm that once occupied most of what became eastern Oakland. The congregation traces its origins to a small prayer group in the 1830s. The new, united congregation moved away but left the building with the more historic Bellefield moniker. When the property was developed in the 1980s as a residential complex the church’s distinctive bell tower was retained and the whole complex took the adopted Bellefield name.


Mellon Institute
southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and South Bellefield Avenue  

Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, founded in 1913 by Andrew W. Mellon and Richard B. Mellon, merged with the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1967 to form Carnegie Mellon University. While it ceased to exist as a distinct institution, the landmark building bearing its name remains. Designed by architect Benno Janssen, the building which would seem low in height but three floors were built into rock below the street level, natural light being provided by interior courts. The entrance to the edifice, from the gradually-ascending steps shown, is at the fourth story. The monumental colonnade of 62 Ionic limestone columns is the largest in the world, completed and dedicated posthumously to the Mellon brothers in May 1937.

St. Paul’s Cathedral
northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Craig Street  

The first Roman Catholic Cathedral was sited in downtown Pittsburgh on Grant Street, exactly where Henry Frick wanted to build his Union Trust building. Money trumped history and the church took Frick’s dollars and commissioned Egan & Prindeville Architects in 1906, for this commanding house of worship with English and German Gothic features.   

Fairfax Apartment Building
4614 Fifth Avenue

The Fairfax Apartment Building was designed by P.M. Julian in 1926. The Fairfax has features coats of arms, Scottish strap work and the use of terra cotta molded decorations. 

Central Catholic High School
4720 Fifth Street  

The castle-like building Central Catholic High School, a designated historic landmark, is one of the most architecturally significant in Western Pennsylvania. Built in Flemish Gothic style by E.J. Weber in 1927 with soaring towers and stabilizing buttresses in patterns of light and dark-colored bricks.


First Church of Christ, Scientist
635 Clyde Street at Fifth Avenue

This church was designed by S. S. Beman in 1904. Beman had made a reputation for Chicago skyscrapers but across the country he achieved acclaim for his Christian Science churches, including the Mother Church in Boston. Notice the porch on this building.


Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church
4815 Fifth Avenue

During the first decade of the twentieth century, immigrants from Carpatho-Ruthenia, a small portion of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, began to settle in the Oakland section of the City of Pittsburgh, lured by the promise of a better life in the City’s steel mills. The congregation organized in 1907 and the present church, notable for its mosaic wall depicting the Old testament prophets, was dedicated in 1962.

4802 Fifth Avenue

These are the studios of WQED, the first educational television station in the country.

Rodef Shalom
4905 Fifth Avenue

Rodef Shalom, the oldest Jewish Congregation in Western Pennsylvania and the largest Reform congregation in the area, was chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1856, though its origins go back to the late 1840s. Architect Henry Hornbostel used local cream-colored brick, handmade Guastavino tiles and terra cotta to create this traditional synagogue in 1907. On the grounds is the largest biblical botanical garden in North America (1/3 acre) and the only one with an ongoing program of research and publication. Visitors are able to experience the land of the Bible in a setting that includes a waterfall, a desert, a stream and the Jordan River, which meanders through the garden from Lake Galilee to the Dead Sea. All of the plants in the garden are labeled with biblical verses accompanying them. The garden features more than 100 temperate and tropical plants in addition to special new program plantings each year. See wheat, barley, millet and many herbs grown by the ancient Israelites along with olives, dates, pomegranates, figs, and cedars. The gardens are open during the summer.


Mudge House
5000 Forbes Avenue at southwest corner of Morewod Avenue  

In 1958, industrialist Edmund W. Mudge, a pig iron and coke magnate, donated their bow-fronted Fifth Avenue mansion to Carnegie Mellon University. It has been used ever since as student housing. 


U.S. Bureau of Mines/Hamburg Hall  
4800 Forbes Avenue  

The northwestern part of the Carnegie-Mellon campus was acquired from the U.S. Bureau of Mines in the 1980s. This Beaux Art building, designed by Henry Hornbostel, was dedicated in 1917 as the Pittsburgh Experiment Station. Here, at the largest of the Bureau’s test stations, investigations were conducted on first-aid and rescue methods, fuel problems, petroleum uses and chemical research. Today it is a school administration building. 


Hammerschlag Hall
5000 Forbes Avenue

Andrew Carnegie and William H. Frew, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Carnegie Institute and Carnegie’s lawyer in Pittsburgh, hired New York electrical wizard Arthur Hamerschlag in 1903 as the first director of the fledgling Carnegie Technical Schools. Its aim was not to compete with the nearby University of Pittsburgh, but to provide practical vocational training in the industrial trades and to offer 3-year diplomas, not bachelor’s degrees. Hamerschlag built the campus in partnership with Carnegie himself and the architect Henry Hornbostel. But progress was slow. Industrial unions had their own apprenticeship programs, and it was challenging to attract and retain faculty, most of whom preferred to work for degree-granting institutions. So in 1912, the Carnegie Technical Schools were renamed Carnegie Institute of Technology. Hamerschlag then led the development of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, and the college took off. Hammerschlag Hall, now the home of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was positioned to ride the crest of Junction Hollow and to be a towering, commanding focal point for the college campus.