Posts tagged downtown.


Nov. 22, 1956: ”Christmas Parade Downtown Pittsburgh” 

Despite 27-degree weather, thousands of people packed Downtown streets to watch the annual Christmas parade during the noon hour on Thursday, Nov. 22, 1956. 

Leading the way was a Marine Corps color guard and mounted county police officers. Behind them were marching bands. Waving from open-topped cars were the “Santa Belles,” women drawn from the membership of the Pittsburgh Models Club. The women covered their goose bumps by modeling fur coats. 

The Indian Bonnettes, an Oil City unit of baton twirlers who ranged in age from six to 12, weren’t so lucky. The girls’ legs turned a rosy red as they marched and spun in the frosty air. They marched, counter marched and swung batons as though they had lived at the North Pole all their lives, wrote David Martin of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

There was a float with a nativity scene. Also in the procession were 40 mammoth balloons, pulled by boys in clown suits. One balloon was shaped like an ice cream cone. The others were characters such as Humpty Dumpty, Felix the Cat and Jocko the Monkey. Santa Claus and his eight reindeer sat on an 85-foot-long float and brought up the end of the procession. 

Back then, the parade route was different. Participants started in Gateway Center and marched up Liberty Avenue to Fifth Avenue, up Fifth to Grant Street, then down Sixth Avenue to Liberty and back to Gateway Center. 

(Post-Gazette photo)

 Marylynne Pitz

Pittsburgh’s Market Square, 1928 [Downtown Pittsburgh

The Golden Triangle at the junction of the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers in the heart of the city, 1936.

Mellon Square dedication, Pittsburgh, 1955 (via

On This Day in Pittsburgh History: October 18, 1955

Mellon Square Park was dedicated and became the second public square in the City of Pittsburgh. [PDCDC

Downtown Pittsburgh viewed from Mt. Washington, 1945. 

Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center, with the Fort Pitt Bridge under construction in the foreground, 1956. [Shorpy

U.S. Steel-Mellon Building during construction, 1949-1950 (via

On This Day in Pittsburgh History: September 29, 1950 

At a height of 550 feet, the U.S. Steel-Mellon Building is topped out in a flag-raising ceremony. Thirty-five feet shorter than the Gulf Building, it was the city’s second-tallest skyscraper. The building later became known as Three Mellon Center and is now officially called 525 William Penn Place. [Historic Pittsburgh]


Sept. 18, 1933: "The Alpine heights atop the Grant Building"

A few years after the Grant Building was completed, one Pittsburgh newspaper sent a reporter to the structure’s observation deck to assess the value of visiting such a lofty perch.

The 37th floor deck was a “mecca,” the reporter wrote, visited by thousands who came from “every corner of the world and for every reason under the sun.”

One young man visited for medicinal reasons. His hearing was deteriorating, but spending time atop the Grant Building offered some sort of a cure. That’s what he believed, anyway. A “prominent businessman” visited the deck when needing inspiration to write compelling sales letters.

And “business girls” who’ve spent their noon hour on the observation deck “go back to their key-punching jobs with new vigor,” the reporter wrote.

It’s easy to chuckle at some of these notions today, but when the Grant Building was completed in 1930, it was Pittsburgh’s tallest building  and therefore offered residents a never-before experienced view of their city and the surrounding countryside. Folks had reason to be giddy about it.

Construction on the building began in late September 1927 when two steam shovels poked into a plot of ground between Third and Fourth avenues on Grant Street. Builders promised offices with enclosed lavatories with hot and cold running water, clothes presses, and Western Union and Postal Telegraph call box connections. A tunnel under Fourth Avenue offered entrance to the City-County Building “without subjecting one to weather and traffic conditions.”

One of the structure’s innovations was a lighted beacon that sat atop the building and blinked out the word “Pittsburgh” in Morse code. The light, visible up to 125 miles away, was designed to keep night-flying pilots from crashing into the skyscraper.

During World War II, the beacon was extinguished for security reasons. And because city leaders declared they could install no air raid sirens whose wail could penetrate the Grant Building’s brick walls, sirens were instead installed inside the building.

The Grant Building has been renovated a few times — once in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s. But the beacon remains. For a while, a glitch in the aging technology caused the light to spell out “P-i-t-e-t-s-b-k-r-r-h.”  Repairs were made in July 2009.  And so, to all those gazing into the Golden Triangle at night, we are once again “Pittsburgh.”

(Top picture: Workers relax on the 37th floor observation deck in August 1933. Photo credit: Unknown)

— Steve Mellon

Point State Park fountain, Pittsburgh, 1974 (via

On This Day in Pittsburgh History: August 30, 1974 

After three decades of planning and construction, Point State Park is finally completed. [Historic Pittsburgh

Aerial view of downtown Pittsburgh, 1932 [Brookline Connection]


Dec. 12, 1964: "The Bridge to Nowhere"

The Fort Duquesne Bridge now serves as a connection between Downtown and the North Side, spanning the Allegheny River. But that wasn’t always the case.

The bridge’s main span was finished in 1963. However, according to an article in The Pittsburgh Press, “red tape and governmental disagreement” kept it from being completed for several more years, earning it the nickname “The Bridge to Nowhere.”

"Police estimated the uncompleted bridge stands about 100 feet over the Allegheny River while the dropoff is about 90 feet from the shoreline — measured straight ahead."

To prevent people from driving across the bridge and plunging to their death, barricades were set up at the Downtown side of the bridge and at the end of the span.

But that didn’t stop a daredevil Pitt student from attempting a “flight” from the end of the bridge to the North Shore.

On December 12, 1964, Frederick Williams, 21, of Basking Ridge, N.J. — a senior majoring in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh — crashed through the barriers and raced across the span, his station wagon flying through space and landing upside down at the water’s edge.

Mr. Williams pulled himself from the wreckage, “shaken but unscathed.” He was taken to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was examined and released. According to the Pittsburgh Press article, he offered no explanation for his historic leap.

In the wake of the incident, the State Highways Department vowed to replace the broken barricades.

John S. Yard, assistant district engineer for the department, seemed dumbfounded. 

"We didn’t think it was possible to do anything like that," he said.

For more on the Fort Duquesne Bridge and to explore the history of other bridges along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, check out the Post-Gazette’s interactive, with videos and photos from our archives. 

Heather Schmelzlen 

(Photos: From the Heinz History Center, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development Collection) 

Demolition of the Wabash Terminal, Pittsburgh (via

On This Day in Pittsburgh History: July 5, 1953

It was announced that the Wabash Building, a city landmark, was to be demolished to make way for further development in the Gateway Center. [Historic Pittsburgh]


Skyline - Pittsburgh, Pa.

"As seen from across the Monongahela River showing the new giant skyscraper office buildings rising in the very heart of the Golden Triangle. To the left of the picture and near the apex of the famous Point, can be seen three of the Gateway Center Office Buildings. When the project is completed there will be nine of these huge buildings at this location, and 36 acres will provide a fitting center for Fort Pitt."

Monongahela River and the Smithfield Street Bridge, Pittsburgh, 1961 [Shorpy

Entrance to the Harris nickelodeon, Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh, 1919. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (via

On This Day in Pittsburgh History: June 19, 1905 

The “Nickelodeon,” the country’s first all-motion picture house, was opened by Harry Davis and John P. Harris at 433-35 Smithfield Street with the showing of two short films, “Poor but Honest” and “The Baffled Burglar.” It was a great success, with people flocking to the place and marveling at the moving figures. [Historic Pittsburgh

Related: “You Saw It Here First: Pittsburgh’s Nickelodeon introduced the moving picture theater to the masses in 1905,” by Timothy McNulty for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2005.