Now called just 606 Liberty Avenue, this was once a high-class department store. The odd-shaped building was designed by MacClure & Spahr, who gave us many distinguished buildings downtown. The odd shape was forced on this one by the oblique angle of the intersection of Liberty and Oliver Avenues. That last block of Oliver Avenue was later filled in to make PNC Plaza, but this building memorializes the intersection that used to be.
The front on both streets is covered—perhaps the appropriate word is festooned—with terra-cotta decorations. The style is a kind of fantasy Jacobean Renaissance, with wide arches coming to a very shallow not-quite point. Old James I only wished he could have buildings like this in his realm.
The lower floors of this remarkable 1903 bank tower by MacClure and Spahr have been mutilated by modern additions, but from a block away on Forbes Avenue all we can see is the unmutilated top of the building, with its distinctive arched light well.
Known as the South Side Baths when it was built, this was donated by steel baron and real-estate magnate Henry W. Oliver, who in 1903 gave the city land and money for a neighborhood bathhouse to be free to the people forever. In those days, many poor families—including the ones who worked for Oliver—lived in tenements where they had no access to bathing. (Even the Bedford School across the street from this bathhouse had outside privies until 1912.) Oliver might not raise his workmen’s salaries, but he was willing to make the men smell better.
To design the bathhouse, Oliver chose the most prestigious architect in the country: Daniel Burnham. Then, in 1904, Oliver died, and his gift spent almost a decade in limbo. The project was finally revived in 1913, by which time Burnham had died as well. The plans were taken over by MacClure & Spahr, an excellent Pittsburgh firm responsible for the Diamond Building and the Union National Building. No one seems to know how much they relied on Burnham’s drawings, but the Tudor Gothic style of the building (it was finished in 1915) is certainly in line with other MacClure & Spahr projects, like the chapel for the Homewood Cemetery. Even MacClure & Spahr’s early sketches show a quite different building, so it is probably safest to assume that little of Burnham remains here.
There was a fad for building public baths in Pittsburgh in the early twentieth century, and on Saturday nights workers and their families would line up around the block to get into the bathhouses and wash off the grime of the week. Gradually, indoor plumbing became a feature of even the most notorious slum tenements, and all but one of the bathhouses closed. The Oliver Bathhouse, given to the people in perpetuity, remains. It has been saved by its indoor swimming pool, the only city pool open during the winter.
This small skyscraper was not originally built as a skyscraper. The first part of it was put up in 1907; in 1917 five more storeys were added (very skillfully, we might add), bringing the building just about high enough to qualify as a small skyscraper in old Pa Pitt’s admittedly fluid definition of the term. The architects both times were MacClure & Spahr, who also gave us the Union National Bank Building and the Diamond Building, among others. Since 1952, this building has belonged to the city, which calls it the John P. Robin Civic Building.
Now converted to luxury apartments as “The Carlyle,” this classical Fourth Avenue bank tower was designed by the firm of MacClure and Spahr. Benno Janssen, who was working at the firm, is said to have had a large part in the design. It opened in 1906. Curiously, the building behind it, the Commonwealth Bank Building, was built at the same time and reached exactly the same height, 300 feet.
The Union National Bank Building of 1906 is one of the most splendid of the Fourth Avenue bank towers. It was designed by the prolific and tasteful MacClure and Spahr. As “The Carlyle,” it is now a luxury condo tower.