Category: Downtown

  • Three PNC Plaza

    Designed by Lou Astorino, this is our twentieth-tallest skyscraper (tied with Three Gateway Center), which is not a remarkable record. It was, however, the tallest building that went up in Pittsburgh during the long pause between the 1980s boom and the current boom that began with the construction of the Tower at PNC Plaza. The somewhat taller building to the right is One PNC Plaza, built in 1972 to a design by Welton Becket Associates.

  • U. S. Steel Tower

    U. S. Steel Tower

    Three views of the U. S. Steel Tower from Duquesne University. Below, with Chatham Center in the foreground.

    With Chatham Center
    Again with Chatham Center
  • Tower of the Courthouse

  • Back of the City-County Building

    Ross Street entrance

    The back entrance to the City-County Building would seem spectacular if we didn’t know what the front looked like. Below, the building seen from Ross Street.

    City-County Building from Ross Street
  • First Avenue Station

    From First Avenue

    Above, the First Avenue subway station (which is an elevated station, but it’s on the part of the line we call the “subway”) from First Avenue. Below, a CAF 4300-series Blue Line car comes in from the Panhandle Bridge.

    Panhandle Bridge
    Blue Line car stops
  • W. W. McBride Paper Company Ghost Signs

    McBride Paper ghost sign

    The seven-storey building at the corner of Ross Street and Third Avenue was the home of the W. W. McBride Paper Company. Multiple layers of painted signs make it hard to read any one of them, but the name “W. W. McBride” is clear enough.

    The Century Cyclopedia of History and Biography of Pennsylvania (1904) has an extensive biography of William Wilson McBride, and we quote the part that has to do with the firm and the building:

    In 1890 Mr. McBride bought a half interest in the well-established paper business of Morrison, Cass & Company, of Pittsburg, which owned large paper mills at Tyrone, Pennsylvania. The other half interest was retained by John Cooper, of Pittsburgh, who had been a member of the original firm, and the business was carried on under the name of Cooper & McBride. After four years Mr. McBride bought out his partner and became the sole proprietor, operating under the title of W. W. McBride & Company. In June, 1902, the business was incorporated as the W. W. McBride Paper Company. During 1901 he built a fine seven-story brick building at the corner of Ross Street and Third Avenue, containing the offices, sales department, and storage rooms.

    By 1923, according to the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site, the McBride Building had become the Bowman Building, so these signs must all date from before that time.

  • Allegheny County Morgue


    By a splendid exercise of bureaucratic irony, the old morgue now houses offices of the county health department. It was designed by Frederick Osterling and built—on Forbes Avenue—in 1901. In 1929, it was moved to its current location on Fourth Avenue.

    Lion-headed serpent

    Frederick Osterling’s Romanesque buildings nearly always give us a monster or two to admire.

  • Italian Sons and Daughters of America Building

    Italian Sons and Daughters of America Building

    A streamlined Art Deco classicism makes this building stand out on its corner of Wood Street and Forbes Avenue. Its decorative flourishes, though minimal, were nevertheless too embarrassing for the modernist age, and for many years the building was wrapped in an orange metal shell. The metal panels came off in 2012, “to the spontaneous applause of passers-by,” according to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PDF).

    Eagle ornament

    The building was put up in 1929; the architects were Hunting, Davis & Dunnells, whose successors, LLI Engineering, are still in business.

    419 Wood Street
  • Koppers and Gulf Buildings, with the Federal Reserve Bank

    Koppers and Gulf Bldgs., with the Federal Reserve Bank at the Right

    An old postcard from Father Pitt’s accumulation of Pittsburgh miscellanea; we do not know the date, but it must be before 1952, since the back of the card specifies “PLACE ONE CENT STAMP HERE.”

  • Nicholas Building

    If you see a student of architecture suddenly stop in the middle of the Diamond and burst out laughing, this building is the subject of the mirth.

    When it was announced that a gigantic complex to be designed by Philip Johnson was going to take over one corner of the Diamond, the owners of the Nicholas Coffee building, who happened to be ready for a renovation, decided to welcome their new neighbor with a parody of what was then Johnson’s most famous work. At that time, Johnson was notorious everywhere for his AT&T Building (now called just 550 Madison Avenue), which was a deliberate poke in the eye of orthodox modernism; and you have only to see it to get the Nicholas Building’s joke.

    Photograph by David Shankbone; cropped by Beyond My Ken.