This weekend was the inaugural Open Doors Pittsburgh, where the doors for some Pittsburgh buildings were cast open for the unwashed masses to see what they’re missing out on. The wife, the kid and I all went downtown to see what the fuss was about. And there was quite a fuss; lots of people turned out for this event. There wasn’t an empty building that we were in, and we were actually turned away from the last building we wanted to get to because it was late and they were full up. If you missed it, check out my photos below, and stay tuned to the Open Doors website for details on the next event.
337 Fourth Avenue – Pittsburgh Engineer’s Building
Our first of three stops in the Fourth Avenue historic district is the current home of the Engineer’s Society of Western Pennsylvania. The outside of the building is a design by Chicago firm D.H. Burnham & Company inspired by Grecian Doric temples, but you can see that from street view. What you can’t see is behind the (usually closed) front doors.
340 Fourth Avenue – Dollar Bank
Fourth Avenue used to be Pittsburgh’s wall street, and this building housed one of the 108 chartered banks and trusts. We couldn’t get a picture of the Dollar Bank vault for security reasons, which was a shame, since vault doors were something of a theme on the day for us. But we did get a look at the original lions; the ones outside the bank are replicas.
223 Fourth Avenue – Benedum-Trees
The Benedum-Trees building is under renovations right now, turning some of the upper floors into condos. Coincidentally, live video from the architect showed up in my Facebook feed on the same day we were there. The lobby was open, though, and we got a look at some of the great detailing inside.
401 Wood Street – Arrott Building
The Arrott Building is one of two buildings by Frederick J. Osterling that we visited during Open Doors. Note the marble and bronze, a “white and gold” material combination that was popular for the time. We saw some of that above, and we’ll see some later on as well.
535 Smithfield Street – Oliver Building
Three floors of the Oliver Building were open: the lobby, the 9th floor (home of Design Alliance), and the 25th floor Sky Lobby. This is the second building by a Daniel Burnham firm that we went to.
501 Grant Street – Union Trust Building
This is that other Osterling building, this one commissioned by Henry Clay Frick. Ironic, since he did not trust unions at all. When the building first opened, there were 240 shops on the first four floors, billed as the world’s largest shopping mall. One of the volunteer’s here gave us an awesome fact: during a recent repair to the mansard roof, they needed to repair the terra cotta shingles, and they found the original molds for the shingles in the basement of the building.
615 Grant Street – First Lutheran Church
At one time, the 170ft spire of First Lutheran Church was dwarfed only by the 250ft tower of the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, completed just two months earlier. Now, it’s easy to miss as it’s surrounded on all sides by taller buildings.
Unfortunately, we missed the last tours of 500 Grant (BNY Mellon) and 414 Grant (City-County Building). If you have pictures or experiences from those buildings, or if there are other amazing buildings that I missed on the tour, let me know in the comments here or on Facebook.
Many of the facts that I got for the buildings came from PHLF’s Whirlwind Walk book, which provides an awesome walking tour of downtown. I’d recommend picking one up and taking a tour yourself, even if you can’t get behind the doors.