Tag: Wood Street

  • Cast-Iron Fronts on Wood Street

    Victorian building with cast-iron front

    We have seen these beautiful storefronts before, but only obliquely. Here they are again, because we can never see them too often. This is one of the best Victorian cast-iron fronts in the city. Note that whoever designed the building has tried very hard to make you perceive it as symmetrical, though in fact the section on the right is significantly wider than the other two.

  • Young Men’s Christian Association Building

    Young Men’s Christian Association

    Benno Janssen, Pittsburgh’s favorite architect for clubs of all sorts, designed this small skyscraper, which was built in 1923. The view above is an attempt at a perspective rendering something like what Janssen would have shown the clients. It is actually impossible in our narrow streets, so old Pa Pitt had to divide the picture into multiple planes and ruthlessly distort them. If you enlarge the picture, you can see some of the comical effects of that distortion; but the building itself looks about right now.

    Entrance to the YMCA
    Inscription and decoration

    This building received a glowing review from one of Janssen’s fellow architects in the April, 1926, issue of the Charette, the magazine of the Pittsburgh Architectural Club:


    Much has been said from time to time in favorable comment of some of our older important buildings, but thus far nothing has been noted to the writer’s attention with respect to some of the more recent structures. To make particular mention—the Downtown Y. M. C. A. building. A building of the high building category, worthy in its class of as favorable comment architecturally as other buildings of our city renowned in their type. Among the higher buildings erected in recent years throughout the county, it is difficult to select one which surpasses the Y. M. C. A. in point of satisfying design. It is of modern interpretation. A building unified, in which the base shaft and top are related parts, knit together in harmonious composition, enhanced by well studied use of materials and nicety of restraint in carefully selected details. It is a building of design vastly in contrast to many of the present era, whose corresponding parts placed one on top of the other without apparent relation other than the different portions may bear a strain or similarity of type.

    A building to be judged architecturally must be viewed with a knowledge or at least an understanding of the limiting conditions under which, and more often in spite of which, a design is created. Thus a cathedral, a masterpiece, may not exceed in architectural attainment that of a small parish church. An extensive mansion may not be better architecturally than a small cottage, though the problems and limitations of both are not comparable. One might not say in comparing the fine church with the fine mansion that one is fine architecturally and the other is not, simply because they belong not to the same class of buildings. The stringent restrictions of Y. M. C. A. planning and design require little emphasis. Every one who has stepped into one of these buildings is familiar with the compactness of the intricate plan problem, the extremely small bed room sizes and the admission of no wasted spaces or areas. To gain adequate light and air to all these complicated appointments and rooms, and still in the exterior to obtain a related design having wall surface which bears some semblance of structural possibilities to maintain itself, is no mean problem. The Downtown Y. M. C. A. building has met these obstacles and surmounted them in an admirable manner. It is a worthy piece of architecture, and Pittsburgh may well take pride in the fact that it is hers in more ways than one.

    K. R. C.

  • Colonial Trust Company

    Colonial Trust Company Building

    Fourth Avenue, the second-biggest American financial center after Wall Street, was famous for its bank towers. But one bank decided to go long instead of high. The Colonial Trust Company built a magnificent banking hall that ran right through from Forbes Avenue to Fourth Avenue, skylit all the way. Pittsburghers passing between Fourth and Forbes, especially in cold weather, would take the route through the bank so regularly that the hall became known as Colonial Avenue.

    Frederick Osterling was the architect, and he designed this magnificent Corinthian face for the Forbes Avenue side.

    Lion’s head

    What would a bank be without its lions?


    Home-repair tip: if your pediment is broken, you can fill the gap with a baroque cartouche.

    Two years ago, old Pa Pitt got pictures of the other entrances as well, so the rest of the pictures are reruns.

    The Fourth Avenue side is in the same style, but narrower:

    Fourth Avenue entrance

    This side also has its lions.

    In 1926, the bank decided to expand by building another equally magnificent hall perpendicular to the first, with an entrance on Wood Street. Osterling was the architect again—but fashions, and Osterling’s own taste, had changed.

    Wood Street entrance

    Instead of florid Corinthian, this side is in a simpler Ionic style. The outlines are cleaner, and the wall of rectangular panes of glass and the shallow arch at the top seem almost modernistic. It is still a bravura performance, but perhaps a more perfectly controlled one.

    Fortunately the whole building has been adapted as Point Park’s University Center, so it is not going anywhere, for the near future at any rate.

  • The Old Horne’s

    The original Horne’s

    Not the one with the Christmas tree, but the one before that. Horne’s was Pittsburgh’s first department store, and in 1880 the already-well-established Joseph Horne Company built this grand mercantile palace. It was Horne’s for only about seventeen years: in 1897, the department store moved to its much larger location at Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street, where it would stay for almost a century. After that, the Pittsburgh Post moved into this building, and later the Sun as well, when they were under the same ownership.

    1880 date stone

    The Wikipedia article on the Joseph Horne Company is a mess, and old Pa Pitt ought to work on rewriting it, except that it would require extensive research. Among other things, it tells us (without citing a source) that this building was built in 1881 (which may be when it opened) and was designed by Charles Tattersall Ingham, who would have been four years old when he designed it. Decent work for a four-year-old. However…

    1902 date stone

    The lower floors got a complete makeover in 1920, when the building was a newspaper headquarters, and that part of the building is in the trademark Ingham & Boyd style: rigorously symmetrical, with meticulously correct classical detailing. Charles Tattersall Ingham would have been 44 years old then, right in the middle of a prosperous career. Old Pa Pitt will therefore tentatively attribute that 1920 remodeling to Ingham & Boyd.

    Left entrance

    Do you have plans for a luxury-apartment project downtown? Here is your opportunity. Everyone else is doing it.

    Joseph Horne Company 1880 building
  • Italian Sons and Daughters of America Building

    Italian Sons and Daughters of America Building

    A streamlined Art Deco classicism makes this building stand out on its corner of Wood Street and Forbes Avenue. Its decorative flourishes, though minimal, were nevertheless too embarrassing for the modernist age, and for many years the building was wrapped in an orange metal shell. The metal panels came off in 2012, “to the spontaneous applause of passers-by,” according to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PDF).

    Eagle ornament

    The building was put up in 1929; the architects were Hunting, Davis & Dunnells, whose successors, LLI Engineering, are still in business.

    419 Wood Street
  • Weldin’s Building

    Until a few years ago, this building was the home of Weldin’s, the venerable stationer that had been selling pens, ink, and paper since well before the Civil War. Weldin’s itself is no more—the business moved to the Gulf Tower for a few years, and then vanished in the early months of the COVID pandemic. But the extraordinarily rich Italian Renaissance front of this building remains as a highlight of an extraordinarily rich row of small commercial buildings on Wood Street.

    Addendum: Although the building itself is considerably older, the front is the work of architect George Schwan, who designed a new front for the building in 1913. From the Construction Record, December 13, 1913: “Architect George H. Schwan, Peoples Bank Building, has plans nearly completed for altering a three-story brick mercantile building on 415 Wood street, for J. R. Weldin & Company, 431 Wood street. Cost, $10,000.” In 1913, $10,000 would have bought an entire replacement of the front and much of the interior.

  • 411 Wood Street

    411 Wood Street

    This well-preserved pile of Victorian eclecticism dates from the Centennial year, as we can see by the date stone at the top. By that time Pittsburgh had grown into a large city and was rapidly becoming an industrial behemoth, and its prosperous merchants were eager to have buildings in the most up-to-date modern style.

    Date stone
  • Wood Street Building (300 Sixth Avenue Building)

    Wood Street Building

    A Daniel Burnham design built for the McCreery & Company department store, this building opened in 1904. It originally had a classical base with a pair of arched entrances on Wood Street, but beginning in 1939 it had various alterations, so that nothing remains of the original Burnham design below the fourth floor. This was one of Burnham’s more minimalistic designs; in it we see how thin the wall can be between classicism and modernism.

    Below, an abstract composition with elements of this building reflected in Two PNC Plaza across the street.

  • Granite Building

    The German National Bank Building, which later took on the name “Granite Building,” was designed by Charles Bickel. It opened in 1890 as one of the wave of Romanesque buildings that followed H. H. Richardson’s County Courthouse. Mr. Bickel pulled out all the stops and used every texture of which stone is capable. To modern eyes it may almost look random, but after one’s eye has been trained to the Victorian Romanesque, the care with which the elements are balanced becomes apparent.

  • 608 Wood Street

    Commercial building on Wood Street

    The exceptionally ornate front of this building is marred only by the modernist excrescence on the ground floor, which until recently was a McDonald’s restaurant. Something more tasteful could be done with that storefront fairly easily. The rhythm of the upper floors is just about perfect, and the carved and incised details are worth stopping to appreciate. (The upper floors are a bit blurry in this picture, which is attributable to low light on a drab day.)