Recently, while browsing photos here, I saw a blog from Jeff Cornish. I recalled seeing Mr. Cornish's photos on another social media site years ago. I suppose it is testament to his style and content that I could make the recollection years later. As a result, I was inspired to return to some of the photos I had taken of Pittsburgh in 2016 and share them here.
It would be difficult to discuss the history of Pittsburgh without mentioning two industrialists from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century: Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. Each were responsible for creating the steel industry in the city, one industrialist supplying the coke (Frick) required to be used in the steel mills owned by the other (Carnegie). While their businesses became intertwined into a partnership that grew into one of resentments and petty retributions, their financial success was unparalleled and mind boggling. The two men helped to grow a small town named Pittsburgh, founded as a trading outpost to the West, into a large city dependent on their steel industry; an industry which generated the city's economy for almost 100 years. The steel industry came to define the image of the industrious male American: full of grit, resolve, opportunity, optimism and success as he fought the common plight of an immigrant joining the middle class and providing for his family. Pittsburgh became a destination for immigrants. Some of these men and women passed through the area while working for the steel mills, Westinghouse Electric, PPG, Alcoa or other supportive businesses in the region. Many immigrants remained and provided a model for their children to follow as well. As such, Pittsburgh has always been a diverse city, with unique neighborhoods full of enterprising individuals and families that remained in the city over several generations.
The geography of the region isolated communities within the city, doing so with rivers, hills or valleys which preserved them in cultural "pockets" with unique identities. Over time, as the city’s economy changed and immigrants assimilated, the neighborhoods appear to have lost some of their indivisual identities, but the unique topographic features that formed them have remained. As testament to this landscape, Pittsburgh is second only to Venice in having the most bridges of any city in the world (according to the urban legend I learned more than 30 years ago).
The photos above were taken at the former location of the old Homestead Mill operated by Carnegie Steel Works, home of the Homestead Strike or Homestead Massacre. For anyone interested, you can perform an internet search to read about its significance as Pinkerton agents hired by management tried to break the strike and access the mill from the river, away from the armed steel workers (they were not successful). The mill stretched for over a mile's distance along the Monongahela River and has since been demolished and redeveloped into a retail complex. My School of Architecture's 5th year college studio project was to propose a master plan for the Homestead waterfront area. My project proposed a dredged out Marina split into two sections with a "loop" road and park encircling the two. A boulevard was designed to link the Carnegie Library to the marina for those willing to brave the Monongahela's waters. None of our ambitious student proposals came to be. Instead the former mill property has became a shopping center.
In the mid 1980's Homestead was in an economic crisis. The mill had closed in 1986 and unemployment in the town of Homestead rose as a consequence. The steel mills in Pittsburgh mostly employed the local population, with many workers living on the adjacent hills along the river (the executives of the mills always lived on the top of the hills to keep themselves and their families away from the soot and pollution). Pittsburgh had seen many of its mills close by then. As a city based upon a narrowly focused economy of steel manufacturing, it was devastating to the city to see this industry shutter its doors. During the late 1980s a house in Homestead could be purchased for $3-5,000. Above is a picture of the Homestead Carnegie Library. Andrew Carnegie, at one time richer than the US Treasury, had become a philanthropist with his steel fortune and donated money to build more than 1600 libraries in the United States. The first ones, such as the one above, were built in locations in which he either lived or had mills.
Andrew Carnegie invested some of his wealth and riches by purchasing approximately 140 acres in the Oakland neighborhood of the city to build a technical college named Carnegie Tech which eventually merged with the University of Pittsburgh Mellon Research Center to become Carnegie Mellon University.
The picture above is an image of a street taken from near the top of Mount Washington looking in a southerly direction away from the city. It is descriptive of the landscape on the backside of the hills opposite the city on the southern banks of the Monongahela River. My understanding is that Mount Washington was a large coal formation that was mined for the mills when they first opened. Henry Frick was a primary supplier of coke used in the steel mills of Pittsburgh and also the Chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company (even during the Homestead Massacre mentioned above). Eventually the Carnegie Steel Company merged with two other steel makers to form US Steel. JP Morgan financed the merger for more than $490 million in 1901.
Downtown Pittsburgh developed with the growth of industry in the city. The Kaufman family was famous for its department store in downtown Pittsburgh. They were also patrons of the arts and hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design his modern american masterpiece: Falling Water. Rumor has it the Kaufman's were nudists and selected the site of the house to afford privacy to the Owner and guests.
The reflection above is of the Keenan Building named after its original owner, Thomas Keenan, Jr.. Keenan sold his newspaper, The Penny Press, to build this 17 story building on Liberty Avenue: the first skyscraper to be built on the avenue at the time. The dome was rumored to be Keenan's love den, suggested after many had observed countless women entering the building to take the elevators up to the top floor. However this was easily explained as the top two floors of the building were a secretarial school from 1923-1951.
The Benedum Center for the performing arts was a repurposed movie hall from the 1920's named the Stanley Theater that seated 3800 people and cost $3 million to construct. An enormous sum at the time. Hoffman-Henon designed the theater, architects known for their theater designs in Philadelphia. It was rare for the two cities to share architectural lineage, being extremely different from each other. The movie theater also hosted performances from well know artists such as Frank Sinatra, Prince and King Crimson.
The above, highly ornate flemish gothic design of the Union Trust Building was a project constructed by Henry Clay Frick. Frick developed several buildings in Pittsburgh. Across the street from this building was the Frick Building, developed by Frick when he was feuding with Andrew Carnegie, its purpose was to place Carnegie's adjacent building in shadow.
The above smokestacks are part of the original Homestead Mill and left as reminders of Pittsburgh's industrial past.
Pittsburgh has since developed into a city of medical research/care, government research, financial businesses and higher education learning. Leaving the city is sometimes difficult as I have considered it a place of my own in which I have stored wonderful memories. The city acts as a safe deposit box of my youth. Perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be to consider it a source of memories and photos which I store in my digital wallet of nostalgia rather than acting as the wallet itself. There lies the rub of modern technology: our experiences are no longer associated with being part of or imbedded within a place. They are transient, and as a result of digital technology, more disassociated from the physical world in which they were originally made. Nostalgia can be achieved through the process and technologies of digital memories. Perhaps, as they fix these memories within a certain time and place, they are more preferred than the revisiting of the place itself. Who wants to be reminded of a place that once held meaning for us being lost to new development? Who wants their memories of a place to be subject to change? This is one of the greatest struggles humans grapple with as they age, but if conquered, leads to our true sense of freedom. The digital world has freed us from a nostalgia of physical places. Instead, it encourages us to experience our nostalgia via sharing our bytes on digital media sites such as this one.