When classical architecture meets Art Deco in a government building, they form a style old Pa Pitt likes to call American Fascist. He calls it that because it’s similar to the streamlined classicism favored by Mussolini and Hitler, and because its favorite ornament is the fasces, as we see right at the top of the façade of this firehouse, which is now a police station. For some reason the fasces declined in popularity as an ornament on American government buildings after the Second World War.
Three of our greatest Art Deco buildings are lined up in a row on Grant Street: the Koppers Tower, the Gulf Tower, and this magnificent deco-fascist composition by the Cleveland architects Walker and Weeks. This image is put together from six separate photographs, so it is huge if you click on it; there are some small stitching errors, but overall it looks very much like the architects’ original rendering.
In 1931 Andrew W. Mellon had been Secretary of the Treasury for ten years. He was one of the most powerful men in the world; they used to say that three presidents had served under him. This building was his gift to his native city, a reminder of his almost imperial power, and a perfect example of the architectural style Father Pitt likes to call American Fascist.
The word “fascist” comes from fasces, an ancient Roman symbol of authority. The fasces are a bundle of twigs with an axe in the middle. And here they are, right over the entrance, making this perhaps the only literally fascist building in Pittsburgh. [Update: This is far from true; once he started to look for them, old Pa Pitt found that fasces were quite common on government buildings before the Second World War.]
The Federal Building is a block and a half north on Grant Street from the Steel Plaza subway station.
The County Office Building is a curious combination of Romanesque and late Art Deco, with more than a hint of the style Father Pitt likes to call American Fascist. Below, an eagle ornament on the corner holds the Allegheny County arms in its talons. On the arms: a ship, a plough, and three sheaves of grain (though they look like mushrooms in concrete).
The County Office Building is a short walk away from the First Avenue subway station.