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)
March 13, 1907: “Record flood inundates the city”
When the flood of March 1907 deluged the city at the confluence of three rivers, Pittsburg was spelled without its h.
This disaster smashed previous flood records set in 1832 and 1884 because the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers rose to a height above 36.6 feet. After rain began falling on March 12, the rivers bulged with debris, ice floes and even small out buildings from farms. In Downtown, water covered Sixth Street, surrounded the Wabash railway terminal and the Pittsburg & Lake Erie Railroad station.
During the height of the flood, John S. Bell, superintendent of the Humane Society, stopped all teamsters from using horses to haul people from Allegheny City to Pittsburg. Mr. Bell said the water reached the horses’ abdomens, causing the animals to cramp and suffer greatly.
Residents of Allegheny City, now called the North Side, were angry that police had not notified them of the potential for such serious flooding. Many of them fled their neighborhood by paddling along Lacock, West Robinson or Federal streets in boats and skiffs. Others fled to Pittsburg by train. In just three hours, the Ft. Wayne rail depot sold 7,000 tickets.
On this date, March 13, 106 years ago, flooding damaged the Turtle Creek Valley as well as Carnegie and Oakdale. On the previous night and the morning of March 13, Deer Creek rose to a height of 16 feet, engulfing a railroad engine and seven railroad cars near Harmarville. Three employees of the West Penn Railroad drowned in the Allegheny River and the flood washed away a railroad bridge. Besides those those fatalities,at least 12 more people perished in the disaster. More than 300,000 employees who worked in iron or steel plants were idled.
In its March 15 evening edition, the Pittsburg Press described the scene this way: “There is probably not a man, woman or child in Pittsburg who did not feel the effect of the flood, directly or indirectly. While the water itself only damaged the lowlands, it paralyzed the traffic of both the steam and electric railways; brought business to a standstill, closing mills, mines, factories and busy marts of trade; crippled the lighting plants, plunging the city into Stygian darkness; interrupted telephone and telegraph communication, and in countless other ways, stopped the wheels of progress.”
Today is the anniversary of that destructive flood. It happened 106 years ago.
You can take a closer look at the flooded city at our Zoom page.