Architect Rob Pfaffman gave us just about the most whimsical subway entrance old Pa Pitt has ever seen, and he has been places and seen things. The whole station is unique, above and below the ground. There are no right angles, or at least very few. Yet from a practical point of view, nothing is confusing, and the station works very well for its intended purpose, which is to get us into a trolley quickly.
Steel Plaza Subway Station
Steel Plaza was designed in the 1980s, and its architecture is an interesting combination of Brutalist and Postmodern styles—the two most prominent materials are raw concrete and polished granite. It was built as a junction station, where the main subway line met the spur to Penn Station, which is not in regular service these days. In the picture below, the main line is on the left, and the spur is on the right.
Dormont Junction ceased to be a junction in the 1960s, but the Pittsburgh trolley system is crusty with tradition, and the name has never been changed—in spite of occasional attempts by the Port Authority to call the station “Dormont.” The current station was designed in the 1980s, and like most of the stations put up then it is utilitarian to the point of ugliness. Above, two Red Line cars pass; below, a closer view, showing the 1980s-vintage T-in-a-circle sign at the entrance.
Dormont Junction is at the north end of the Mount Lebanon subway tunnel, which is never called a “subway” by real Pittsburghers, to whom “subway” means the section of four underground stations, one ground-level station, and two elevated stations from Station Square to Allegheny.
Station Square Station
The Station Square subway station was built in the 1980s, when the streetcars were diverted from the Smithfield Street Bridge to the Panhandle Bridge and into the subway downtown.
Even though it’s clearly above the ground, this is the end of the section of combined trolley lines that Pittsburghers call the “subway.” From here the outbound streetcars go underground into the Mount Washington tunnel, but that’s not a subway. That’s just trolleys running underground. You need to be a Pittsburgh native to follow the logic.
First Avenue Station
The distinctive undulating platform roofs of the First Avenue subway station, seen from across First Avenue.
Mount Lebanon Station
A southbound Red Line car leaves the Mount Lebanon subway station, as seen from the Alfred Street crossing.
Mount Lebanon Subway Entrance
The entrance to the Mount Lebanon station on the Red Line. The station is at the end of a winding subway tunnel cut through the rock (although Pittsburghers never call it a “subway,” reserving that epithet for the downtown section of the system). To get to the station from the Washington Road business district, you have to enter here, go down a flight of stairs (or an elevator), cross an alley, and go down another flight of stairs (or another elevator). Below we see the alley crossing and the station beyond it.
This entrance was built in the fashionable postmodernist style of the 1980s, when the streetcars were moved from Washington Road into the subway. Old Pa Pitt is impressed by the architect’s forethought in providing for the entrance to be tightened with a giant screwdriver if it should ever start to come loose from the ground.
Gateway Subway Station
The Gateway station is full of fascinating geometries. These pictures were taken shortly after the station opened in 2012.
Old Gateway Center Station
You used to come down these stairs from the street to enter Gateway Center, and if you were lucky you would hear the sound of wheels squealing around the loop, indicating that you were just in time.
The old Gateway Center station closed forever on October 30, 2009, as the new line to the North Side was under construction. These pictures were taken on the old station’s last night in service. A new Gateway (not Gateway Center) station, much larger and more pleasant, is open now, but the old Gateway Center is still there as a ghost station, almost unchanged since the day it was abandoned. If you are leaving Gateway headed for Wood Street, you can see the old station on the right side of the car.
Approaching the platform…
The last time old Pa Pitt glanced out the window at the ghost station, those posters on the right were still there.
There was only one platform. Gateway Center was the end of the line, so the cars came in from the east (above), passed the station, went around a squealy loop, and came back in from the west. Watching the car pass straight through the station often gave out-of-town visitors a moment of panicked confusion.
Here we are looking toward the loop, listening to the squealing wheels as our car comes around for us.
At last our car enters the station. Note the lower-level platform, blocked off by this time, that was built to accommodate the old PCC cars, some of which ran in Pittsburgh until 2003. (Some of those same cars, completely rebuilt, are now running in San Francisco.) These lower-level platforms can still be seen at Steel Plaza and Wood Street. The PCC cars were also the reason for the loop: the more modern Siemens and CAF trolleys are double-ended, but PCC cars went in only one direction.
We board our car for the very last time, knowing that we will never hear that loop squeal again.
For some time after the new station opened, the announcements on the cars were still clearly the old recorded announcements, but truncated: the professional announcer voice said “Approaching Gateway C—” as the car rolled into the station. Those announcements have now been re-recorded, but old Pa Pitt secretly enjoyed them. Many cities have ghost stations in their subways, but Pittsburgh was the only city with a ghost sibilant.