Two great cultural institutions that vacated their landmark buildings for different reasons. The Twentieth Century Club, Pittsburgh’s premier women’s club, fell on hard times like most clubs in our antisocial twenty-first century. The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, on the other hand, prospered and moved its collection to the Heinz History Center in the Strip. Old Pa Pitt is delighted to see that the old Historical Society building will soon be a Latin American Cultural Center, so that once again it will be a cultural landmark in Oakland.
The Twentieth Century Club was designed by the prolific Benno Janssen.
The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania was by the firm of Ingham and Boyd.
This Second Empire mansion had a narrow escape: the third floor burned out in 1987, and the owner died the next year, leaving the house a derelict hulk. It was rescued from demolition at the last minute by serial restorationist Joedda Sampson, who painted it in her trademark polychrome style; it has since passed to other owners, whose pristine white also works well with the design. The house was built in 1871; Frederick Osterling worked on early-twentieth-century renovations and additions.
The story told by architectural historian Franklin Toker is that the architect Henry Hornbostel wanted this building to face Fifth Avenue, with a long vista back from the street, but the clients insisted that it had to face Bigelow Boulevard. Reluctantly Hornbostel acquiesced—and then built it his way anyway. What are you going to do? Tear it down and do it over?
This is one of a number of buildings in Pittsburgh inspired by the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and this is the one that most obviously follows its model.
This building has had some adventures. Originally a typical Pittsburgh Romanesque commercial building, it had a radical renovation of the ground floor at some point in the Art Deco era (early enough that the entrances are still recessed from the sidewalk). Possibly at the same time, but probably later, the second and third floors were very inexpertly done over in an aggressively modernist style: the ornaments removed, the original tall windows replaced with much smaller windows, and the remaining space bricked up. Only the top remains more or less unaltered, though its ironwork date could use a bit of restoration, and the ironwork initials have left only their shadows.