A March 2005 trip
to Pittsburgh by kjlouden
Quote: Idler is coming! Idler is coming! What to show her of Pittsburgh? She must see the view from Mount Washington; walk along the rivers; tour Nationality Classrooms, Heinz Chapel, and "the Frick"; hear the Symphony; see a play; walk downtown; make me laugh; and... like "my" city!
I want a do-over for this close encounter, but Kay is ready to move forward. We chat awhile in our room, partake of her marvelous sushi, and take off for the box office at
Theater Square. Getting there, only a few blocks, takes almost 2 hours since both of us, snap researchers though we are, have failed to uncover a snafu in the city’s parking arrangement. At 4pm, the witching hour for Pittsburgh weekends (explained below), we find ourselves with our vehicles safely--and cheaply--tucked away, and we are pedestrians finally in a downtown made for walking.
Now, I hope she will ease my anxiety--you know, says she likes something.
Otherwise, my guilt may overwhelm me, for I am afraid I may have overdone my promoting of Pittsburgh and coaxed her into a 4.5-hour journey for naught. Yes! She likes the walk along the rivers. I can relax now. (Being a guide is an awesome
responsibility!) I think she likes the overlook, too, judging from the number of photos she takes.
Showing another member your favorite city has its perks. For one, you get feedback on the reliability of your written assessments. Email is nice, but hearing Kay say, "They (the
symphony) couldn’t have played that any better!"--that means my promotional work has run its full cycle.
Three days of activities keep us busy. No time to change for the symphony! We neglect museums because Kay wants to see them on another trip. This one is for orientation for both of us. She gets to learn her way around the city, and I get to extend my "guide" title to include actually functioning in material reality. (Not that writing isn’t fun!)
Like Miranda’s "brave new world," Pittsburgh’s Southside has "wondrous people in it," all wearing green! Not to be outdone by Boston, pub crawlers are already celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 5--12 days early. Finding no seats at Claddagh’s or Piper’s Pub, we forget Celtic music and have a drink at Paparazzi’s. Ethnic celebrations always excite Pittsburgh’s multicultural population.
Two stage productions complete our weekend. We spend a glorious Friday evening with the Pittsburgh Symphony playing Kay’s favorite Brahms piece at Heinz Hall. At the Sunday matinee, famed Shakespearean actor Brian Murray plays Prospero in The Tempest at Pittsburgh Public Theater (the O’Reilly).
The Cultural District is compact; we stop at the box office at Theater Square and buy
all our tickets--one-stop shopping with cheap, convenient parking.
We need the car only for Oakland and Swissvale via the Parkway (I-376) and for cruising a few dozen blocks of Carson Street (Southside) for pub activity on Saturday night.
Parking downtown is a dream after 4pm on Fridays, but a nightmare before that hour.
All city garages charge the same on weekends: per 24-hour period, but only
after 4pm. Before the witching time, you pay a hefty hourly fee--and that
means for the entire weekend if you pull in before 4pm . So, if you arrive before
then, pull out and then back in after 4pm and save a bundle.
Every visitor takes one of two funiculars to Mount Washington. We take the subway to
Station Square and look west to see the station house for Monongahela Incline. At the
lookout we are in photo-op heaven, with views of the skyline, bridges, and "The Point,"
where the French did not fight the English and where the Monongahela and
Allegheny form the Ohio River.
Attraction | "Monongahela Incline to Mount Washington"
Monongahela Incline is one of the oldest in the region, built in 1870, and it is one of the nation’s steepest. We took the subway to Station Square and found the station house just west of the train stop on Carson Street. (If you take the subway, ask for a transfer at the pay booth when you get off and you’ll save more than $1 off the price of the
Incline.) The comfortable enclosed car slowly lifted us 367 feet up the mount while Kay took pictures--I looked down at the floor! (Six hundred and thirty-five feet of wooden rails seems like a long ride at 6 miles/hour.)
From the Patrick T. Fagan Overlook, the view of the three rivers is spectacular. Looking west, you can see "The Point," where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers form the
Ohio River, Lewis and Clark’s Gateway to the West.
The orange blob past the bridge is the new Heinz Stadium, where the Steelers play, and close to it is Carnegie Science Center, where you can tour a submarine there on the Ohio
or see the Omnimax film of Pittsburgh (8 minutes and better than the feature).
Straight ahead, the skyline of downtown faces the Monongahela, which is decorated with sightseeing boats in warmer weather.
We had thought of walking along Grandview Avenue, the residential street that runs along the top of the Mount, to find a restaurant with a view. There are several with glass walls and patios hanging over the cliff, but we opted for the closer view of the skyline and river at Sheraton’s Pittsburgh Rare. The Grand Concourse Restaurant in the old train station (now the Landmarks Building) has an enclosed patio with a good, close view of river traffic--and a good seafood menu.
Looking east, we captured many bridges along the Monongahela, where Andrew
Carnegie’s steel barges from his upstream Homestead Mill used to ply the
Further up the river are locks that an $11 cruise on the Gateway Clipper will show you while narrating the river’s history. (Note the car approaching the station.)
Inside, we read the history of the Incline before we descended.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 25, 2005
2235 Beaver Ave
Attraction | "Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh"
Across the green from Heinz Memorial Chapel and across Forbes Avenue from the
Carnegie museum complex and Phipps Conservatory, the stately structure is on every visitor’s walk through Oakland and a must-see to complete the tour of the museum/university neighborhood. (Use it as a landmark, and park nearby.)
Stretching above Oakland’s leafy sky, the tower is the tallest structure around and has been the pride of the university since 1937. Nations, as well as school children, around the world helped to finance its building during the Great Depression because they were inspired by the concept: Cathedral of Learning.
Inside, the three-story Commons Room impresses everyone with its Old World, vaulted brick ceiling and quiet serenity.
Conceived by Chancellor John Bowman in 1926, the "Cathedral" melds reverence, knowledge, and tradition into an architecture that was meant to welcome immigrants to study here in Pittsburgh. Bowman was determined that the building would instill respect for learning and for one of the oldest universities in the country. The symbolism continued with the creation of 27 authentic Nationality Classrooms representative of the ethnic groups that populated the city. Touring them is what brings most visitors to the
Cathedral of Learning, just as painters, folk artists, and architects from each respective culture came before them to create them. (See separate entry.)
In addition to Nationality Rooms, Commons Room, and a nice little gift shop, visitors want to see the lookout bays on 36th floor. In one direction, the view reveals the extent of Schenley Park, the third largest in the east after New York’s Central Park and Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. In the foreground are the Carnegie museums and Phipp’s
On the other side of the bay is a view of more rolling hills surrounding the
When I was here on a high-school trip many decades ago, students could see Forbes Field just behind the cathedral, where the Pittsburgh Pirates played in the days of Roberto Clemente.
A restaurant in the basement is handy for folks touring the Nationality Rooms, which can take a few hours depending on how thoroughly they listen to the audio. Kay and I enjoyed this monument to Pittsburgh’s "unity in diversity" and then hurried to Henry Clay Frick’s estate, a remnant of its Golden Era.
Cathedral of Learning
4200 Fifth Avenue
Attraction | "Henry Clay Frick Art and Historical Center"
I called a few days in advance. Reservations are necessary to tour the perfectly restored mansion or for high tea at 2:30pm in the café. We couldn’t get reservations for tea (booked solid), but we toured the mansion.
(I had enjoyed French fruit tarts in the café a few years before--scrumptious!) The Frick
Art and Historical Center offers much more than the mansion tour ($10), and everything else is free. I visit often to see changing exhibits in the Frick Art Museum, and the
Victorian greenhouse and Frick Carriage and Car Museum are always delightful. Free concerts on the grounds and lectures, concerts, and readings in the art museum’s auditorium bring more than 1 million visitors each year. Find more, including events schedules, here.
Kay had seen The Frick Collection in New York, and I had visited the birthplace near
Pittsburgh at West Overton, a Mennonite utopian industrial village created by Frick’s grandfather, Abraham Overholt. So, both of us were already on the trail of Henry Clay Frick and the Gilded Age. The Pittsburgh Frick Center is a good place to learn about life in the era outside of Newport. I learned as much about high society at the turn of the century in the Car and Carriage Museum as I did on the mansion tour, so don’t pass up a visit even if you can’t get reservations for Clayton.
The greenhouse is kept as it was in Victorian days. Three rooms display palms and Amaryllis, complete with cats sleeping in the pots. Gardeners were growing flowers and getting ready to make plantings on the lawn.
We visited the art museum built by Frick’s daughter, Helen Clay Frick, to house her personal art collection.
The featured collection was from the Corcoran, an exhibit of majolica. The permanent collection includes Rubens’ portrait of Charlotte-Maguerite de Montmorency and many others, plus fine furnishings and Brussels tapestries.
We weren’t allowed to take photos in the mansion. As a matter of fact, I was told to put away my pen and not take notes unless I had a pencil. Everything in the mansion is exactly as it was when Frick lived here. His receipts enabled restorers to order duplicated Turkish carpets and wall coverings from the same companies where Frick had shopped. For this reason, the home is a special jewel.
Frick Art and Historical Center: G. Whitney Snyder Gallery
7227 Reynolds St
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15208
Attraction | "G. Whitney Snyder Gallery of Antique Cars"
Snyder, an avid collector all his life, specialized in Brass Era autos, those made before
1914. He bought them before other folks began to collect them and before they were valuable--while they were still in mint conditon! At the entrance is Howard Heinz’s shiny red 1898 Panhard, probably the first car in Pittsburgh.
Heinz was a friend and neighbor of Frick in their Point Breeze neighborhood, and a photo on the wall shows the two of them out for a drive together. To the left in the hallway where Heinz’s car is displayed, two films play constantly, and one is the award-winning
Pittsburgh and the Automobile. The other is a short film Stanley Steamer.
Moving forward into the large gallery, antique car lovers find their heaven.
History buffs should enjoy the display too, and should especially appreciate the history of Pittsburgh and the auto inscribed on the walls. Finely crafted cars were made in
Pittsburgh until Henry Ford made them affordable for the middle class. In 1911, the Penn Motor Company produced the Penn 30 Touring Car.
The Standard Steel Car Company, a builder of railroad cars, got into the act, and so did the American Austin Car Company in nearby Butler. After that, autos had to be mass-manufactured to keep up with increasing demand, and the question of the day was which city would get Ford’s plant: Pittsburgh, Detroit, or a few others? The reason Pittsburgh didn’t become Car City may surprise you, but you should be able to guess. Yes, all the city’s workers were fully employed in other industries—such as steel!
Henry Clay Frick’s car, one of them, was this 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Touring
Car, part of the collection of the Frick Art and Historical Center.
Frick saved everything, and all his carriages are here in the other room. His daughter’s car, a 1931 Lincoln model K, is one of the youngest autos in the gallery. (It originally cost $4,600.) A 1909 Keystone Sixty-Six Roadster made in
Pennsylvania is a shiny number with loads of brass ($2,250).
In both the car and the carriage galleries, I enjoyed literature that recalls the outgoing life created by new wealth in an age when optimism was at its peak in America. One display recounts "The Car in Pittsburgh 1876-1929." Whether by car or by carriage, craftsmanship and style were important to folks when they decided to go "stepping out."
Attraction | "Nationality Rooms at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning"
Nineteen rooms were completed between 1938 and 1957, but building continues. The latest one to open was the Austrian Classroom in 1996, and there are plans for more.
Every room is decorated with motifs representative of its respective culture prior to 1787, the year of Pitt’s founding and of our Constitution. Each room has a cross-cultural story to tell of its funding and building. For instance, the French raised money for their room with Mardi Gras balls, and many other projects were interrupted by invasions in
Europe and Asia. John Tavlos, architect for the Greek Classroom, finished his columns and loaded them onto a boat only days before his country was invaded in 1940.
To tour the rooms ($3), we stopped at the shop off the main hallway on first floor. The attendant gave us a master key, map, and audio tape. We proceeded to the Hungarian
Room and found stained glass windows representing composer Liszt and other artists, plus folk motifs in Hungarian paprika color.
The Czechoslovakian Room was designed by prominent Prague architect Bohumil Slama with a ceiling painted with botanically-correct flowers and paintings of the country’s national heroes, such as King Wenceslas and Jan Hus.
This room also contains a letter from President Masaryk to Pitt students, who helped him gather support for the formation of Czechoslovakia.
Most Central and Eastern European rooms are decorated in folk motifs and natural woods. The Ukrainian Room features this ceramic stove.
In contrast to the folk rooms, some are quite refined, such as the Syrian-Lebanese room, so elegant with its myriad of gold overlay and ivory that nobody is allowed in it.
One can only peek through the glass.
Another elaborate room is the Chinese. The building of this room was delayed a decade because of political unrest and finished in 1939.
My favorite is the Austrian Room, representing the period of the Hapsburg rulers. Czech crystal chandeliers and a copy of a ceiling by Italian Carpoforo Tencalla by Pittsburgh artist Celeste Parrendo are beautiful.
Three baroque murals are scaled-down copies of those in Esterhazy Castle, Eisenstadt,
Austria, specifically the hall where Joseph Haydn composed and performed.
The rooms are testimony to the unity of Pittsburgh’s diverse ethnic groups and to the city’s ties to various cultures. They continue to fire ethnic study and heritage presentations in the city’s neighborhoods and remind us that in the 1920s, the University of Pittsburgh resembled "a European branch."
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 26, 2005
Across the street is the Omni William Penn Hotel, a historic landmark. Go inside and see the elegant lobby. If you already need refreshment, have a drink in the bar while you people-watch through the window. Or you can sit on the lobby balcony and have a great dessert from the restaurant. When you exit the building, turn right on Grant Street, but not before you look up at the top of the next building. I’m not sure what it is, but it is incredibly ornate with an elaborate filigree overlay—a Gilded Age building, no doubt.
Proceed several blocks on Grant, and take time to walk all around the Allegheny
Courthouse and Jail built by H. H. Richardson and exemplifying his Richardsonian
Romanesque style. Be sure to get a photo of his replica of the Venetian Bridge of Sighs.
Then turn right on Fourth Avenue and walk to Smithfield Street to see Kaufmann’s
Department Store and the Kaufmann clock, a cherished local landmark and a scene of yesteryear that you’ll find reproduced with watercolors in city galleries.
After another block on Fourth, turn right onto Wood and then left onto Forbes to find
Market Square, and if you need a bite here, try one of Primanti Brothers' Italian-meats sandwiches ($5), the ones with the fries and the coleslaw on the bread. Other choices abound, such as The Oyster House (since 1870) and Landmark (or "1902")
You may find a stage set up in the center of the square and perhaps a large crowd, like the one I found wearin’ the green near St. Patrick’s Day. If you don’t like being squashed, come back later. The square is frequently quiet and always quaint with its brick-and-gaslight look.
From Market Square, walk toward the glass tower for a glimpse of PPG Place. Find PPG
Wintergarden to see if there is a display inside, and then sit a while at a table (in warm weather) and watch kids playing in the fountain or skating on the ice rink. This is a good place to start reading blue landmark signs shaped like this one.
You’ll find landmarks for "the first this" and "the oldest that" if you stop for those blue-and-gold signs. Some of them pertain to early steelworkers' unionizing efforts.
A short walk west on Fifth will take you to Liberty Avenue. Turn left and walk all the way to Gateway Center Visitors’ Information booth on your left. If you don’t need to stop here, then note the subway stop and continue walking all the way to Fort Pitt Bridge and follow the signs to the right of the bridge to Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park. Take a look at the excavation of old Fort Pitt, and see the Blockhouse, oldest house in Allegheny County, even if you don’t want to tour the Museum. Then follow the path to the river, and look left and right to get your bearings--so many rivers can be confusing!
You’ll see two inclines across the Monongahela to your left. (For those, take the subway
to Station Square some other time.) Turn right and walk along the quay up the Allegheny River. You’ll see Heinz Stadium and Carnegie Science Center across the water on the Northside. (Yes, that’s a submarine docked there on the Ohio River! You can tour it when you go to the Science Center.)
When you see steps up, take them and follow the walk back to the Hilton. We’ll skip
Liberty Avenue for now, since you will walk the rest of it many times in your jaunts around the Golden Triangle. For now, walk past the Hilton on Liberty, and looking straight ahead, you’ll see Fifth Avenue Place straddling the street. Go around it to the left to get on Penn Avenue, and walk up Penn all the way to Tenth Street.
This will take you through the Cultural District, starting on Sixth Street, and if you look right and left down all the side streets and on Penn, you’ll see all the theaters: Heinz Hall (symphony), the Byham (musicals), the Pittsburgh Public (O’Reilly--plays), Benedum Center (opera), and a few smaller ones. Look for the Byham and the Renaissance Hotel to your left down Sixth St; Heinz Hall will be on your right. These are all restored landmarks that deserve a visit, even a tour. That bridge at the end of Sixth Street (left) is the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and the Seventh Street Bridge is also an interesting one. These will take you to the Northside (just for future reference.)
Before you get to Seventh Street, you’ll see the O’Reilly, a new state-of-the-art theater on your left with the Box Office at Theater Square just another door further along Penn. At Seventh, look right for the Benedum (the opera theater) and left for Katz Plaza, where you may be able to enjoy an outdoor lunchtime concert. Take a look at the lobby of the Benedum, another multi-million-dollar renovation project, and note the blue-and-gold sign across from it on Seventh Street, where The Pittsburgh Agreement was signed declaring the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. After all that, rest a while at Katz Plaza. These seats have got to be comfortable as a beanbag!
Yes, they recall a theme of television Evening News: "The eyes of Pittsburgh are upon you!" The 25-foot bronze fountain makes a restful sound as water trickles down it step-by-step.
You have only three more blocks on Penn. You’ll note details of buildings that have been restored, and you may want to return at night to see the new lighting project for the Cultural District along Penn. At tenth, the Convention Center will be on your left and the Westin Hotel on your right. (If you walked toward the Convention Center, you would see the Heinz Regional History Center to the right on Smallman Street, but you can just remember that and turn right instead and walk to Liberty.) A left onto Liberty and a right onto Grant will take you back to your subway stop at Steel Plaza, but note the Fishmarket Restaurant behind the Westin and the Amtrak Station across the Street. Inside, the station itself isn’t much of an architectural gem, but the upper floors house swank residential units in a landmark setting.
Not tired yet? You can always turn right on Liberty and walk down to Wood Street to another subway stop or proceed to the Gateway Center stop you passed on your way to Point State Park. Down that way is the restored Harris Theater, where you’ll find a foreign or art film that may be hard to see if you live in a small town. A few small bare-bones theaters and exhibition galleries are also along the way.
Take along a map. To find a simple one that includes many downtown landmarks, click
You’ll find downtown Pittsburgh a joy to walk. At night, you won’t see much neon, and in spite of its modern infrastructure, much of the city appears to be frozen in time at about the turn of the last century or a little later. Trolleys have been replaced by a very clean subway, and arts organizations have stuffed every nook and cranny with interesting details.
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