Photo Tour – Open Doors 2016

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.


Glass detail of divider panels showing structural members


More glass details. These ones make fun patters on the wall.


Previously mentioned fun patterns.


The main attraction: the vault. This image (or one like it) was used to promote the event, ant it’s easy to see why. This is one of three vaults that we saw, and one of several others that could have been seen.


Detail shot of some gears. B&W make it so artsy. Also one of a couple of photos where you can see me in a reflection, which annoys me.


Another detail shot. Notice no “H” on “PITTSBURG”, possibly because this vault was made during the dark days when Pittsburgh didn’t have its “H”. Another notable instance of this was on the tour over at the Pennsylvanian, which we didn’t get to on this day.


I think this was a bridge that doesn’t exist anymore. It would have landed right on the point, basically where the fountain is today. I always pictured those bridges as more utilitarian, but I actually like the design of it.

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.


One of the original lions that were carved on-site outside the building, where new lions now sit. The only visible difference is that this one does not have a leaf motif at the base, which was entirely eroded away in the years it spent exposed to the elements. A steel structure carries this lion’s weight (6 tons? I may not be remembering correctly) all the way down to the basement floor below.


Another, significantly smaller, not stone, not 6-ton lion.


One of the nicer light fixtures that I saw on this day. I wanted to sing that Sia song about a chandelier, but Angela would have thrown an antique adding machine at me, she hates that song. So I hummed it to myself and smiled instead. Marriage is a compromise.

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.


A less cool fixture. I was done singing by this point.


Fancy clock above the directory.


Gorgeous marble staircase.


Gorgeous plaster detailing at the ceiling.


The original elevator doors were removed and incorporated into the new design of the elevator cabs.


Because it wouldn’t be an Open Doors event without a picture of a door.

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.


Osterling did a lot with a small lobby footprint, bringing the staircase up diagonally to draw the eye up. The mosaic tile inlays (pictured below) to set off the verticality.


Marble: check. Bronze: check. Spooky lion head: bonus!


Detail of the Cosmati mosaic borders and carved marble edges.

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.


Vault #3 on the day. Not as pretty or gargantuan as the other ones, but charming in its own way.


Terrible detail shot. Need some anti-glare glass on these things.


Water feature at the Sky Lobby for Embassy Suites on the 25th Floor. The real great views are outward, though …


When you walk around downtown Pittsburgh, look up, because there are so many beautiful cornices and other details that you can’t see at street level. Or, if you can, find a place where you can get up close and personal. The bar at the Sky Lobby puts you practically within arms reach.


View looking east-ish, another winner.

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.


The view you’ve seen 1,000 times. 1,001 now. More white, more gold.


Wall art in the lobby. One of the more tasteful aspects of the lobby, if you’re asking me.

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.


Architectural rendering of First Lutheran, and my stupid face and shirt.


The only good picture I got at First Lutheran.


Always best to fingerprint the lens before taking the picture.


First Lutheran is under construction, so you can’t get up close to the stained glass right now. But you can get back to the organ room (not pictured because it’s not photogenic).

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.

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