Downtown Architectural Jewels, Pittsburgh

Downtown Architectural Jewels (Self Guided), Pittsburgh

The city of Pittsburgh offers an amazing array of architecture composed of the stylish contemporary and historical buildings dating back to the 18th century. Fort Pitt Blockhouse is the oldest of Pittsburgh’s buildings and an outstanding landmark. Its modern counterparts include the Alcoa Building, the former headquarter of the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) which is the world's first all-aluminum building, and the US Steel Tower which is among the first to use the non-corrosive steel, a new invention in the mid-1970s.

On this self-guided tour, you get to see the architectural jewels of both the old world charm and new inventions by the mid-1900s, with a peculiar Skinny Building in the mix. You sure won't be disappointed!
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Downtown Architectural Jewels Map

Guide Name: Downtown Architectural Jewels
Guide Location: USA » Pittsburgh (See other walking tours in Pittsburgh)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Fort Pitt Blockhouse
  • Heinz Hall
  • Hendel Building (Skinny Building)
  • First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh
  • Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
  • Regional Enterprise Tower (World's First All Aluminum Building)
  • Omni William Penn Hotel
  • Frick Building
  • Old Allegheny County Jail
  • Grant Building
  • U.S. Steel Tower
Fort Pitt Blockhouse

1) Fort Pitt Blockhouse (must see)

The blockhouse is the only structure left of Fort Pitt, making it the oldest structure in this part of the state. The fort was built in 1764 by the British as a defense against Native American attacks. Later, it was used as a trading post, and then as housing.

After Henry Bouquet stopped the siege at Fort Pitt he ordered the construction of a number of supporting structures around the periphery. The blockhouse is all that remains of his defensive structure. This is thanks to the fact the blockhouse was the only building that remained in use as a house when the fort was demolished in 1792.

Visitors can go to Point State Park to view the Fort Pitt Blockhouse at any time while during the park's open hours. They can view the interior and exterior of the blockhouse to see the full structure of the building.

Outside of the blockhouse is the Edith Ammon Memorial Garden. The landscaping was created to honor the memory of Edith Ammon, who was instrumental in preserving the blockhouse. Indeed, Ammon helped the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughter's of the Revolution gain ownership of the Fort Pitt Blockhouse. They then restored it and opened it to the public in 1894.

Point State Park is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers. Tourists to the park can walk along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which will lead them to the Fort Pitt blockhouse as well as the accompanying museum. They can also take the time to visit Fort Duquesne and the Point State Park Fountain.

Why You Should Visit
To see an important piece of American Revolutionary history
To view the building techniques of simple structures from the late 18th century

There is no cost to visit the Fort Pitt blockhouse. It is open during daylight hours on weekends throughout the year. From April through October, the fort is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well.
Heinz Hall

2) Heinz Hall

Heinz Hall was originally known as Loew's Penn Theater when it was constructed in 1927. Originally, the theater showed films. Today, Heinz Hall is known as home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Youth Symphony Orchestra.

The original architectural firm was Rapp & Rapp. The Rapp brothers were well known for designing grand movie palaces like the Chicago Theatre. The firm also designed the Paramount Theatre in Times Square. They brought their trademark grandeur to Loew's Penn Theater as well.

The theater originally held one-ton chandeliers and a 50-foot high vaulted, Venetian ceiling. A refurbishment took place in 1971 and again in 1995. The chandeliers were rebuilt, the building was expanded an entrance with a 40-foot high arched window was added. The bulk of the architecture has remained intact over the years. Most of the refurbishments have been done to enhance the experiences of theater goers and to add more space for orchestral events.
Hendel Building (Skinny Building)

3) Hendel Building (Skinny Building)

The Hendel Building, more commonly known as the Skinny Building, is an unusual building in Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At only 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m) wide, it is one of the narrowest commercial buildings in the world, rivaling the Sam Kee Building in Vancouver which is considered the narrowest by Guinness World Records. The Kee building is 4 feet 11 inches (1.50 m) wide at the ground floor, but has overhanging bay windows on the second floor that extend to 6 feet (1.8 m).

The Skinny Building's narrow lot was created in 1903 by a street widening project, and the building itself was constructed in 1926 by Louis Hendel, partly out of spite for neighboring business owners who complained about him obstructing the sidewalk with his fruit-selling business. Due to the building's impractical dimensions, the second and third floors have not seen much use, but the ground floor has housed a number of different businesses including a popular lunch counter. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing property in the Fourth Avenue Historic District.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

4) First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

The First Presbyterian Church is nestled among the high rises of downtown Pittsburgh. The Neo-Gothic designed church was built in 1905 by Theophilus P. Chandler Jr. It has 253 stained glass windows, 13 of which were painted by hand by Tiffany Studios. The church has a wooden ceiling and a pipe organ with 4,400 individual pipes in a Baroque-style casing.

Visitors are welcome to the church service on Sundays where they can worship while also admiring the interior architecture. Those who prefer to view the church's exterior still have plenty to admire.

Along with the building's facade, tourists can step next door to view the historic cemetery, which is located between the First Presbyterian Church and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The Trinity Burying Ground is the oldest cemetery in Pittsburgh. Some of the graves date to the 1800s, including that of congressperson James S. Stevenson.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

5) Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Trinity Cathedral is the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. The present Gothic church, the third structure to hold the congregation, was completed in 1872 on the site of a hilltop cemetery. The site, centered on a terrace above the historic "point" (where the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River join to form the Ohio River) was sacred to Native Americans as a burial ground. Early settlers also used this site as a cemetery. The congregation built its second church here in 1824.

The Trinity Churchyard has the oldest marked graves west of the Atlantic Seaboard, of both Native American leaders, French, English, and American colonists. The first Trinity Church was built two blocks to the west of this burial ground at the base of the hill or terrace initially. It was constructed from the 1780s to 1805.

In 1824 Trinity moved to its current site in the middle of the terrace churchyard with what is regarded as the first gothic structure in Western Pennsylvania. John Henry Hopkins led the design and construction of the cathedral, which was complete with butresses, a tower, pointed arches and a vaulted ceiling. In 1872 the new Trinity Cathedral was completed. It was the tallest building in the city until the construction of the Allegheny County Courthouse in 1888.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Regional Enterprise Tower (World's First All Aluminum Building)

6) Regional Enterprise Tower (World's First All Aluminum Building)

Regional Enterprise Tower was the world's first aluminum building. Fittingly, the building was crafted for the Aluminum Company of America, or Alcoa. Locals still refer to the skyscraper as the Alcoa Building though that company hasn't held its offices in this building since 2001.

Construction began on the Regional Enterprise Tower in 1950 and completed in 1953. Architectural firm Harrison & Abramovitz designed the 410 foot tall on the grounds of the Nixon Theater. The duo also designed such notable structures as New York's Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the US Steel Tower, also located in Pittsburgh.

The Regional Enterprise Tower now contains office and retail space along with more than 200 residential apartments. The interior of the building utilizes the same aluminum material to accent support beams, fireplaces, ceilings and wall features. Those interested in seeing how aluminum was used to create a light and sturdy building should include the Regional Enterprise Tower on their tour of the city.
Omni William Penn Hotel

7) Omni William Penn Hotel

The Omni William Penn hotel is located in downtown Pittsburgh next to Mellon Square. It was known as the "Grandest Hotel in the World" at the time it was built. Since then, it has seen its share of notable guests. Faces that have graced the hotel include John F. Kennedy, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Harry S Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The building was erected in 1916 as the William Penn Hotel, owned by the Pittsburgh Hotel Company. It was crafted in the Neoclassical style by architectural firm Janssen & Abbott. In 1929 the hotel was expanded to become the second largest in the world.

The interior of the hotel is outfitted in Art Deco style that benefited in 1984 from a $20 million remodeling that expanded the size of the rooms and reduce the number of guests rooms from the previous 1,600 to 650. Visitors to the hotel will see domed arches, tufted sofas, wooden accents a speakeasy that evokes the feel of the 1920s.
Frick Building

8) Frick Building

The Frick Building was built by and is named for Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist coke producer who created a portfolio of commercial buildings in Pittsburgh. The tower was built directly adjacent to a building owned by his business partner and rival Andrew Carnegie, on the site of Saint Peter Episcopal Church. Frick, who feuded with Carnegie after they split as business associates, had the building designed to be taller than Carnegie's in order to encompass it in constant shadow.

The Frick Building was opened on March 15, 1902 and originally had twenty floors. The top floor includes a balcony around the perimeter of the building, a high, handcrafted ceiling, and heavy, elaborate brass door fixtures. Originally, H.C. Frick used it as his personal office and as a meeting place and social club for wealthy industrialists. He installed a personal shower facility on the 19th floor.

Fittingly for a building created for a man who vowed to be a millionaire by age thirty, the lobby features an elegant stained-glass window by John LaFarge, depicting "Fortune and Her Wheel" (1902). The two bronze sentinel lions (1904) in the lobby were created by sculptor Alexander Proctor. A bust of Frick by sculptor Malvina Hoffman (1923) is displayed in the rear lobby, which extends from Forbes to Fifth Avenue.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Old Allegheny County Jail

9) Old Allegheny County Jail

The old Allegheny County Jail, built between 1884 and 1886, was in continual use for over 100 years. Among the most notable former prisoners was Alexander Berkman, who was held at the county jail while awaiting trial. Jack and Ed Biddle were notorious prisoners who escaped with the help of the warden's wife who had developed a relationship with the brothers.

In 1972, the jail was added to the list of Pittsburgh historic designations. It was named as a National Historic Landmark in 1976. In the late 1990s, the Allegheny County Jail was converted into a family courthouse, which is a purpose it continues to serve to this day.

The jail was built by the Norcross Brothers and designed by architect H.H. Richardson in the Romanesque Revival style. Visitors can enjoy the beauty of the building's exterior, but they are welcome indoors as well. The interior is open for tours and contains the Old Allegheny County Jail Museum. A self-guided tour is available. Docents are also on-hand to answer any questions.

Visitors should be aware that the interior is only open on Mondays. Likewise, as it is a working courthouse, tourists must pass through a metal detector. No photography is allowed inside.
Grant Building

10) Grant Building

The Grant Building is located on and named for Pittsburgh's Grant Street, which has historically been the hub of the city's corporate and governmental operations. The Grant Building was completed in 1930 and it has thirty-seven floors. It rises 485 feet (148 m) above downtown Pittsburgh. The art deco building's facade is built with Belgian granite, limestone, and brick.

It was famous for a radio antenna that rose roughly 100–150 feet from the roof of the tower which had an aviation beacon that spelled out P-I-T-T-S-B-U-R-G-H in Morse Code. The beacon could be seen as far away as 150 miles (240 km) on clear nights. A smaller version of the beacon, still flashing out the name of the city remains to this day, although malfunctions with the older technology have caused it to spell Pittsburgh as "P-I-T-E-T-S-B-K-R-R-H". As of July 27, 2009, the beacon was repaired and it again spells out Pittsburgh.

The tower on the roof also served as the broadcast antenna for radio station KDKA Pittsburgh which made the first commercially licensed radio broadcast on election night of 1920.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
U.S. Steel Tower

11) U.S. Steel Tower

U.S. Steel Tower, or Steel Building, located at 600 Grant Street, is the tallest skyscraper in Pittsburgh, the fourth tallest building in Pennsylvania, and the 37th tallest in the United States. Completed in 1970, the tower has 64 floors to 841 ft (256 m). The U.S. Steel Tower is architecturally noted for its triangular shape with indented corners.

The building also made history by being the first to use liquid-filled fireproofed columns. U.S. Steel deliberately placed the massive steel columns on the exterior of the building to showcase a new product called Cor-ten steel. Cor-ten resists the corrosive effects of rain, snow, ice, fog, and other meteorological conditions by forming a coating of dark brown oxidation over the metal, which inhibits deeper penetration and doesn't need painting and costly rust-prevention maintenance over the years.

The initial weathering of the material resulted in a discoloration of the surrounding city sidewalks, as well as other nearby buildings. A cleanup effort was orchestrated by the corporation once weathering was complete to undo this damage, but the sidewalks still have a decidedly rusty tinge. The Cor-Ten steel for the building was made at the former U.S. Steel Homestead Works. The tower contains over 44,000 U.S. tons (40,000 metric tons) of structural steel, and almost an acre of office space per floor.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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