That’s what it’s called now. Old Pa Pitt hopes that the city will not have to build any more large stadiums any time soon, but if it does come to that, Father Pitt suggests a stipulation: there will be no public money in the project and no tax breaks for the owners unless the citizens retain naming rights, which they may not alienate by selling them to a corporation or individual.
Urban renewal hit Pittsburgh hardest in three places: the Lower Hill, East Liberty, and central Allegheny. Of the three, the Lower Hill was definitely the worst hit, with an A-bomb’s worth of destruction leaving a scoured and sterile landscape that is only now recovering. Second-worst was probably Allegheny Center.
Both here and in East Liberty, the visionaries imagined an urban paradise freed from automobiles. The central business district would be pedestrianized, and vehicles would be diverted to a broad loop around the edge. Anthony Paletta came up with a useful term for this design, which was repeated wherever the urban-renewal movement really got going: “strangulation by ring road.” The center ends up isolated from residential neighborhoods around it by a broad boulevard that is forbidding for pedestrians to cross, so they don’t cross it.
On the North Side, almost the entire business district of old Allegheny was destroyed. A few landmarks were left—more than in the Lower Hill—but the streets full of shops were flattened and the very streets themselves eliminated. More than 500 buildings were obliterated. In their place was a modernist paradise of office blocks and a shopping mall (marked by those half-moon arches in the picture) called Allegheny Center. In the picture above, the only visible landmark from the old center of Allegheny is the tower of the Carnegie Library poking up just behind the building that is now called “NOVA Place.”
In hindsight it seems obvious that it was a bad idea, but we should give the planners their due. The new urban paradise seemed like a hit for a while. The shopping mall at Allegheny Center was lively and successful for twenty years after it opened in 1965. It did not really start collapsing until about 1990. Twenty years is not a long time in the history of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, but it was something.
Carnegie Science Center
The Carnegie Science Center was designed by Tasso Katselas, and in Father Pitt’s opinion the design worked very well for its intended purposes. It had to be flexible enough to house many different kinds of exhibitions. It had to look sciencey. Most important, it had to enthrall children. It does all those things. Old Pa Pitt would never pick this as the most beautiful building on the North Side, but it has been a favorite destination for a generation of Pittsburgh children, many of whom have actually walked out better educated than they were when they walked in.
Allegheny City Electric Station
In 1889 the whole idea of a power station was new. What should it look like? Obviously it should be elegantly proportioned, because we don’t want to give the neighbors any more reason than they already have to object to the death rays we’ll be generating in there. Thus this fine example of Victorian industrial architecture, which old Pa Pitt believes was Allegheny’s first power station, and which still stands with not too many alterations just off Brighton Road on what is now for some reason called Riversea Road, though it has previously been Braddock Street and then Brocket Street.
Once there was an elegantly arched entrance, which has been replaced by a wider commercial garage door. The date is still prominent in the keystone of the arch.
A few years later, a new building was added in quite a different style:
This one still belongs to Duquesne Light and is still called the Irwin Avenue Substation, in spite of the fact that Irwin Avenue has been Brighton Road for many years now. The style is impossible to pin down: the tall rounded arches and flared buttresses make us think of a Norman castle, and the pointed Tudor arch in the middle makes us think of a Norman castle that had passed into the hands of an Elizabethan landowner who placed more value on being able to drive a showy carriage through his gate than being able to defend his castle.
Fifth United Presbyterian Church, California-Kirkbride
Here is another one of those churches with the sanctuary upstairs, which have become one of old Pa Pitt’s small obsessions. This is quite typical of its time: it was built in 1870, and it has all the usual marks of the typical Pittsburgh smaller church: the shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided into sections by simple pilasters, the date stone in the gable, the crenellations. It now belongs to Northside Common Ministries.
The Steelers’ and Panthers’ stadium now bears an even more poetic name than “Heinz Field.”
The lake in West Park on the North Side, from a negative taken in 1999.
Point Fountain and Heinz Field
St. Leo’s, Marshall-Shadeland
If he had known that the church would be demolished the next year, Father Pitt would have been more careful to document it. As it is, he happened to be passing in 2001 with one of his many odd old cameras, and he decided to take this quick picture before rolling on. The architect was probably John T. Comès, who gave this German congregation an Italian Romanesque church, because why not?
The church had been vacant for several years when the Sisters of Divine Providence demolished it and built a new Family Support Center. The front of that building bears a mural with a picture of St. Leo’s in it.
Allegheny General Hospital
An Art Deco interpretation of the skyscraper style old Pa Pitt calls “Mausoleum-on-a-Stick,” in which the cap of the skyscraper is patterned after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The architects, York & Sawyer, seem to have been taken with the style; they designed another Mausoleum-on-a-Stick building in the same year (1926) for Montreal. You can see a picture of it in one of old Pa Pitt’s earlier articles on Allegheny General Hospital.
The original skyscraper hospital was a marvel of practical hospital design. Everything radiates from a central core of elevators, and nothing is more than a few steps from the elevator. Later the hospital was expanded with new buildings in wildly mismatched styles, so that the complex has become the hopeless jungle of dead-end corridors and mismatched floors usual in big-city hospitals.