Mellon name woven into the fabric of Pittsburgh

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Click image to a glimpse of highlights in the Mellon Bank history.

There's no denying that the Mellon name is synonymous with Pittsburgh -- Mellon money fueled the city's emergence as this country's industrial center, and Mellon leadership laid the groundwork for the city's original renaissance. Current events can't change that undeniable history.

But in recent years, what was once known to everyone as Mellon Bank lost a bit of its luster with the region, a result of Mellon Financial Corp.'s decision in 2001 to sell its retail banking operations to Rhode Island-based Citizens Financial Group.

The move stripped the Mellon name from local banks and eliminated the close relationship generations of local customers had maintained with the storied Pittsburgh institution. Perhaps that explains why, when queried by a Post-Gazette reporter for their reaction to yesterday's news that Mellon was being acquired by a New York bank, everyday folks reacted with a collective shrug.

But even as its plans to become part of the Bank of New York, the Mellon moniker remains firmly planted on Downtown office buildings, parks, schools and -- at least until 2009 -- the city's largest indoor sports and entertainment arena -- tangible reminders of the company's contributions to the region. But in many ways, its legacy isn't so much what we can see, but what Pittsburgh is because of the Mellons and their bank.

"They financed some very, very key enterprises around here," Joel Tarr, professor of history and policy at Carnegie Mellon University's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, said of the Mellons and their bank. Among the businesses Mellon bankrolled that eventually grew into Fortune 500 firms: Gulf Oil, Alcoa, Koppers. Mellon also supplied capital for local entrepreneurs George Westinghouse and Henry Clay Frick.

The Mellon influence in this region began in 1869, when retired Judge Thomas Mellon -- who emigrated at age five to Westmoreland County from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland -- opened T. Mellon & Sons' bank in 1869 in a rented space on Smithfield Street where the Oliver Building now stands.

His son, Andrew W. Mellon, became president in 1882 when Judge Mellon retired. Andrew Mellon and his brother, Richard Beatty Mellon, not only financed the industrial giants of the day, but also held controlling interests in a diverse range of local businesses, including Monongahela Street Railway Co., which in 1898 opened Kennywood Park to generate more use of its rail and trolley lines.


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The brothers in 1913 also established the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, a precursor of what is now Carnegie Mellon University following its 1967 merger with the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

Andrew Mellon went on to become a significant national figure, serving as secretary of the Treasury for 13 years, beginning in 1921. During his tenure, he reduced the public debt, government spending and taxes. But he resigned in 1932, his reputation harmed by the Great Depression, to become the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. After one year as ambassador, he retired and focused on philanthropic efforts.

Though Andrew and Richard Beatty's children were not as actively involved in day-to-day operations of the bank, they left their marks in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Paul Mellon, Andrew's son, worked briefly at the bank in the 1930s, then left to pursue his own interests. He and his sister, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, created their own foundations and later donated nearly $100 million to expand the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which their father had launched with his own paintings collection in 1937.

Richard King Mellon, Richard Beatty's son, was a major force in creating the Allegheny Conference on Community Development in the 1940s. Renaissance One, which included rehabbing portions of Downtown into Point State Park and Gateway Center, "came about basically because Richard King Mellon and [former Pittsburgh mayor and Pennsylvania governor] David L. Lawrence were very powerful and came together with a plan to redevelop the region," said Dr. Tarr.

Since shifting its business away from retail banking to money management, Mellon's "visible presence has been less to the population, but it was still important to people involved in the financial area," Dr. Tarr said. "And the family, of course, is so critical."

Bank of New York can claim its own storied history. The bank was launched in 1784 with an advertisement in the New York Packet announcing its creation. Among the founders was Alexander Hamilton, who, like Andrew Mellon, later became U.S. secretary of the Treasury. Bank of New York has been headquartered on Wall Street in New York's financial district since 1787.


Joyce Gannon can be reached at jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.


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