Grant Street named one of the 10 best in America


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Grant Street, arguably the most prestigious thoroughfare in southwestern Pennsylvania, has been named one of America's 10 Great Streets for 2012.

The seat of financial, governmental and legal power for the region and home to some of its most striking architecture, Grant Street will be honored by the American Planning Association in an announcement scheduled for today.

It has some lofty company in the association's top 10, including Fifth Avenue in New York City, Duval Street in Key West, Fla., and Broad Street in Charleston, S.C.

The association said its choices "exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs."

Grant Street was chosen "for the melange of historic 19th century buildings and soaring 20th century skyscrapers that straddle its tree-lined median, history that underlies these magnificent structures, and diversity of uses. The 11 blocks that run between Fort Pitt Boulevard and Liberty Avenue are among Pittsburgh's most frequently trafficked and a popular destination for residents, commuters and visitors."

PG graphic: America's 10 Great Streets for 2012
(Click image for larger version)

The street has undergone numerous changes since the erection of its oldest surviving buildings, the Allegheny County Courthouse (built 1884-88) and First Lutheran Church (1887-88).

The period from 1900 to 1930 brought the Frick Building, what is now the Omni William Penn Hotel, Union Trust Building, City-County Building, Grant Building and Koppers Building. The Gulf Tower and U.S. Courthouse and Post Office followed two years later, according to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

More recent additions were the U.S. Steel Tower, Pittsburgh's tallest building at 62 stories, in 1971; One Oxford Centre and One Mellon Bank Center in 1983, and two new parks, Mellon Green and PNC Firstside, added during the first decade of this century. PNC Firstside replaced what was generally considered the ugliest structure in the corridor, the old Public Safety Building.

A $14 million project that started in 1984 removed the old Belgian block street surface and streetcar tracks and replaced them with five shades of brown brick and granite curbing and median planters.

The skyline over Grant features two longstanding symbols -- a beacon atop the Grant Building that spells "Pittsburgh" in Morse code and a rejuvenated weather beacon atop the Gulf Tower.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Tuesday in a statement, "Our city's beautiful historic streets, buildings and landscapes are one of the reasons we were recognized by National Geographic as a top 20 'best of the world' place to visit."

The American Planning Association said its Great Places in America program is intended to spotlight streets, neighborhoods and other public places "featuring unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners."

Since the program began in 2007, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets and 50 public spaces have been designated in 50 states and the District of Columbia, it said.

"Reborn through planning, Grant Street defines Pittsburgh -- from the shape of the skyline to the chronology of the city's history as a center of commerce and industry," said Paul Farmer, CEO of the planning association and a former deputy director of Pittsburgh's planning department.

The association said "Grant Street's coherence and beauty have evolved over the past 176 years, ever since a city ordinance authorized the grading of Grant's Hill, an impediment to travel and growth along the street. The street would be graded twice more in the early 1900s, ultimately transforming this former swampy and disjointed dirt path into the anchor of Downtown Pittsburgh's employment center and home of many prominent landmarks."

The other 2012 Great Streets are Ward Parkway in Kansas City, Mo.; Main Street in Bozeman, Mont.; Broadway in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Wall Street in Kingston, N.Y.; Shaker Boulevard in Cleveland, Shaker Heights and Beachwood, Ohio; and Gay Street in Knoxville, Tenn.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. First Published October 3, 2012 4:00 AM


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