Moderator: Ray Anne Lockard
Speakers: Mike Eversmeyer, Barbara Jones
Recorder: Sarah McCleskey
Ray Anne Lockard welcomed everyone to Pittsburgh, and introduced Mike Eversmeyer, AIA, the first speaker. Mr. Eversmeyer currently works for Perkins Eastman Architects, Inc. in architectural and historic design practice; previously he spent 12 years working with the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning. Mr. Eversmeyer holds degrees from the University of Chicago and Tulane University and has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards.
Mr. Eversmeyer began his talk, richly illustrated with slides throughout, by highlighting the Golden Triangle, the heart of Pittsburgh. The city bursts out at the visitor from the Fort Pitt Tunnel. The view from Mt. Washington is unusual and thrilling. He discussed the forces that shape cities. Transportation (rivers, roads, railroads) is one such force. Pittsburgh’s geographic position made it a strategic location. Topography is another shaping force. Pittsburgh is located in a series of valleys surrounded by steep hillsides. This influenced building activity there; there was heavy competition to occupy the valleys, and they became crowded. Resources are another shaping force; the rivers in Pittsburgh eroded hills and exposed coal seams. Because of the abundance of coal, builders often find that land has been “undermined” and will require treatment before building. Styles and technology are other forces that shaped Pittsburgh. In the 19th century, the wharves and warehouses were the heart of commerce. Around the turn of the century, skyscrapers sprang up in the central business district; in the mid- and late-20th century skyscrapers expanded to cover much of the downtown area.
The city of Pittsburgh started at the Point and grew with the streets designed to match the layout of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers. The earliest structures were vernacular, mostly stone and log houses. The grid pattern with row houses was common; an example is the North Side neighborhood. The “Georgian pattern” or 3-bay townhouse remained a popular style throughout the 19th century.
Most of the structures in the Golden Triangle area burned in the great fire of 1845. An exception was the Burke’s Bank building, a Greek revival style structure. The Greek revival style was common in Pittsburgh before the great fire, in houses as well as commercial buildings. In houses, it gave way to an Italianate version of the 3-bay townhouse. A French second empire style, with mansard roof, was also popular for the “center-hall” townhouse. The Gothic revival style house did not fit well into the orderly, rational grid pattern of the city. It was used mainly on the hillsides, not in the flat river valleys. Thus it became the first “suburban” architecture in Pittsburgh.
Henry Hobson Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse (1882-1888) is a major landmark in Pittsburgh. The Richardsonian Romanesque style is characterized by heavy masonry and many arched openings. A “bridge of sighs” links the courthouse to the jail behind. The whole building, despite its substantial appearance, is built of brick with a stone veneer. The Richardsonian style was influential in Pittsburgh; the city morgue was designed in this style, and many houses were refaced to appear Richardsonian.
Around the turn of the century, many architectural styles are represented; Queen Anne and Georgian were heavily used in domestic structures. Mr. Eversmeyer showed a slide of the Dollar Bank, an “amazing amalgamation of architectural effects,” which drew much laughter from the audience. With the development of industry, the downtown area became less residential and more of a central business district. The Classical Revival style, inspired by the 1893 Chicago exposition, appeared in department stores, post offices, banks, railroad stations, hotels, and office buildings. Wealth from steel, glass, and oil led to the construction of opulent buildings, for example, the Union Trust building in the Flemish Renaissance style.
The rising wealth in Pittsburgh produced many beautiful mansions, homes of the Industrialists. Many were in the Oakland neighborhood, a kind of second downtown based on the “city beautiful” idea. In addition to residences, Oakland also was home to the Soldiers and Sailors memorial, Forbes Park (where the Pirates played), the Masonic temple, and the “Cathedral of Learning” at the University of Pittsburgh, designed by architect Charles Z. Klauder. A contemporary architect, Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr., designed apartment buildings, houses, and row houses in a variety of styles, showing the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and others as well.
After the second World War, an eclectic mixture of architecture sprung up: the “Gateway Center,” the U.S. Steel building (now the USX Tower), the civic arena, and the unusual Alcoa building with its television screen-style windows. In the 1980s, Philip Johnson’s PPG building became the centerpiece of the skyline with its cathedral-like glass spires. Pittsburgh is working toward becoming a revitalized city with a downtown core, a city residents can be proud of.
After much applause for Mr. Eversmeyer’s interesting presentation , Ray Anne Lockard introduced the second speaker, Barbara L. Jones, Curator of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Dr. Jones was previously employed at the Adirondack Museum and has held several guest curatorships. With a background in teaching and graphic design, she has over 30 publications to her credit. She spoke on a current exhibit at the Westmoreland Museum, “The Valley of Work: Scenes of Industry.” The Westmoreland Museum specializes in landscapes of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Highlighting paintings and works on paper, Dr. Jones discussed artworks in the museum’s collection that illustrate the impact of industry (primarily coal and steel) on Pittsburgh and the surrounding area during the 19th and early decades of the 20th century. With a lecture richly illustrated with slides, Dr. Jones demonstrated how the mines and mills were a source of inspiration for artists for decades. Works shown demonstrated the influence of industry, encroaching on the previously pastoral landscape of southwestern Pennsylvania. Subjects shown included smokestacks, steel mills, blast furnaces, workers’ housing, the smoky Pittsburgh skyline, workers forging steel, the power of machinery, industrial interiors, and the romanticizing of life in the mills. We might expect to find paintings depicting industry to be very dark and dismal; instead, Dr. Jones was able to show how artists could find astonishing color and beauty in the industrial settings of Pittsburgh during the heyday of coal and steel. Artists including Everett Warner, Joseph Pennell, Aaron Harry Gorson, Ernest Lawson, Joanna Hailman, Michael Gallagher, William Hyatt were discussed, among others.
During a lively question and answer period, specific buildings, architects,
and landmark regulations were discussed. It was noted that several
artists in the “Valley of Work” exhibit seemed to champion the image of
the worker. Another very interesting question concerned the interior
of the Allegheny Courthouse and jail. The session ended to enthusiastic
applause and adjourned to a wonderful welcome party.