The Triangle Building, originally called the McCance Block, is currently under renovation for luxury apartments. It fills what may be one of the smallest downtown city blocks in the country, so that every side of a relatively small building faces the street.
Fourth Avenue, the second-biggest American financial center after Wall Street, was famous for its bank towers. But one bank decided to go long instead of high. The Colonial Trust Company built a magnificent banking hall that ran right through from Forbes Avenue to Fourth Avenue, skylit all the way. Pittsburghers passing between Fourth and Forbes, especially in cold weather, would take the route through the bank so regularly that the hall became known as Colonial Avenue.
Frederick Osterling was the architect, and he designed this magnificent Corinthian face for the Forbes Avenue side.
What would a bank be without its lions?
Home-repair tip: if your pediment is broken, you can fill the gap with a baroque cartouche.
Two years ago, old Pa Pitt got pictures of the other entrances as well, so the rest of the pictures are reruns.
The Fourth Avenue side is in the same style, but narrower:
This side also has its lions.
In 1926, the bank decided to expand by building another equally magnificent hall perpendicular to the first, with an entrance on Wood Street. Osterling was the architect again—but fashions, and Osterling’s own taste, had changed.
Instead of florid Corinthian, this side is in a simpler Ionic style. The outlines are cleaner, and the wall of rectangular panes of glass and the shallow arch at the top seem almost modernistic. It is still a bravura performance, but perhaps a more perfectly controlled one.
Fortunately the whole building has been adapted as Point Park’s University Center, so it is not going anywhere, for the near future at any rate.
The Liberty Avenue face of this building has been modernized and remodernized so many times that no one would take it for anything remarkably old. But it is actually one of the very few commercial buildings remaining downtown from the Civil War era. It was built in about 1865 for Arbuckle & Company, a dealer in coffee and sugar in the days when Liberty Avenue was the wholesale food district, with a railroad running right down the middle to bring the food in at its freshest. And if you will come around the back with us, you will see one of Pittsburgh’s odd little hidden treasures.
The short alley behind the building is still called Coffey Way, and the back of the Arbuckle building shows the very old bricks we might expect. And among those bricks, in an alley that hardly anyone even knows about, we find “some of the oldest surviving architectural sculpture in the city,” according to Discovering Pittsburgh’s Sculpture by Marilyn Evert.
These medallions are obviously meant to represent specific figures, but no one is quite sure which specific figures. This one has been identified as George Washington or Colonel Bouquet (the one who built the blockhouse).
This keen-eyed lady has been identified as Jane Grey Swisshelm or Mary Croghan Schenley.
This is probably an allegorical head of Liberty, although it has also been identified as an “Indian head” of the sort common on nineteenth-century coins.
This one is very likely to be Abraham Lincoln, but “very likely” is the most certainty we can summon up. It could also be John Arbuckle himself, the head of the firm, who appears in a later photograph with a beard and distinctively hollow cheeks. We note that this is the only one of the faces turned left instead of right; if you like to find symbolism in things like that, go ahead.
John Arbuckle, incidentally, was the inventor of processes for preserving coffee and automating its packaging, so we may regard him as the founder of coffee as a mass-produced consumer product. This little alley, therefore, ought to be on every coffee-lover’s pilgrimage list.
This was built in 1914 as the Kaufmann & Baer Department Store, the Kaufmanns in the name being brothers of the Morris Kaufmann who owned the Big Store two blocks away. It was bought out by the Gimbel Brothers eleven years later, and for generations of Pittsburghers this was the Gimbels Building. Its name is now officially Heinz 57 Center, but most people still call it the Gimbels Building. The architects, Starrett & van Vleck, were specialists in department stores from New York.
Acres of terra cotta went into decorating the Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue faces of this building.
And of course there was the clock. It was not as famous or elaborate as the Kaufmann’s clock, but it was another good place to meet someone downtown. This is obviously a good bit more recent than the building itself: it has a streamlined Art Deco look.
Not the one with the Christmas tree, but the one before that. Horne’s was Pittsburgh’s first department store, and in 1880 the already-well-established Joseph Horne Company built this grand mercantile palace. It was Horne’s for only about seventeen years: in 1897, the department store moved to its much larger location at Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street, where it would stay for almost a century. After that, the Pittsburgh Post moved into this building, and later the Sun as well, when they were under the same ownership.
The Wikipedia article on the Joseph Horne Company is a mess, and old Pa Pitt ought to work on rewriting it, except that it would require extensive research. Among other things, it tells us (without citing a source) that this building was built in 1881 (which may be when it opened) and was designed by Charles Tattersall Ingham, who would have been four years old when he designed it. Decent work for a four-year-old. However…
The lower floors got a complete makeover in 1920, when the building was a newspaper headquarters, and that part of the building is in the trademark Ingham & Boyd style: rigorously symmetrical, with meticulously correct classical detailing. Charles Tattersall Ingham would have been 44 years old then, right in the middle of a prosperous career. Old Pa Pitt will therefore tentatively attribute that 1920 remodeling to Ingham & Boyd.
Do you have plans for a luxury-apartment project downtown? Here is your opportunity. Everyone else is doing it.
As seen from the entrance to the Gateway subway station.
With the aid of a very wide-angle lens, we can see the whole face of the tallest building in Pittsburgh from Grant Street. This was a very tall building when it was put up: it was the eighth-tallest in the world, and the tallest outside New York and Chicago. Now it doesn’t crack the top two hundred, but it is still record-breakingly massive in one way: no other building has a roof that big that high. Other tall buildings taper; this one goes straight up.
Looking toward Sixth Avenue.
Roof, tower, and spire of Trinity Cathedral and part of the Kaufmann & Baer department store (later Gimbels, and now the Heinz 57 Center).
The Oliver Building, designed by Daniel Burnham, was the tallest building in Pittsburgh when it was put up in 1910, passing Alden & Harlow’s Farmer’s Bank Building (destroyed in 1997, or arguably thirty years earlier when it was given a fake-modern skin). Only two years later, though, it was passed by Daniel Burnham’s own First National Bank Building (destroyed in 1968 to make way for a modernist skyscraper barely any taller).
The front of the Oliver Building still produces an impression of absolute massiveness, spanning an entire block with a 348-foot-tall wall. The rear, on the other hand, is where the light wells are, which divide the building into three narrower towers, changing the impression to one of loftiness rather than massiveness.
Your eyes are not being fooled by a trick of perspective: the section on the right really does extend a little further toward us than the other two.