Downtown Walking Tour -- Be there or be square

Market Square to Station Square

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Walk to your right toward the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building (Point 1), at the Boulevard of the Allies and Commonwealth Place.

From the toot-your-own-horn file, our paper -- Western Pennsylvania's leading news source in print and online -- is historic. It dates to 1786, when the Pittsburgh Gazette was the first newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains, as you'll note on the plaque (Point 2) to the left of the entrance. If you look through the large windows facing you, you can see the room with our printing presses, which are not nearly that old.

As you continue along the Boulevard of the Allies away from the Point, you'll notice another plaque (Point 3) on the building about 8 feet up, commemorating the high-water mark of the 1936 flood.

Walk up the Boulevard to the corner of Stanwix Street. On your right, you'll see the metal, honeycombed United Steelworkers Building (Point 4). Nathaniel Curtis and Arthur Davis designed the lattice-patterned building, which was a landmark in skyscraper architecture when it was completed in 1964 because its exterior walls were load-bearing.

Diagonally across the boulevard, you'll see the red brick of St. Mary of Mercy Church (Point 5), designed by William Hutchins in 1936.

Continue along Stanwix to the entrance of the Gateway Center Subway Station (Point 6), nicknamed the "T" station at Stanwix Street and Liberty Avenue. It has classical music, a colorful mural and even a change machine.

The "T" is a light-rail transit system, mass transit Pittsburgh style. It's clean. It's quiet. It connects our Downtown (pronounced Dahn-TAHN) to the South Hills.

If you're feeling tired after all that walking, it can whisk you to Station Square, where we'll be having dinner. The fare between Downtown and Station Square is $1, except during rush hour. From 5 to 6:30 p.m., it's $1.25. You'll need exact change.

Of course, if you hop on the "T," you'll miss the next part of the walking tour and another historic part of Downtown.

We'll be following a more scenic, peripatetic and aerobically challenging route to Station Square. That route crosses Stanwix Street, past McDonald's (with its rooftop patio) and follows the red-brick sidewalk up Forbes Avenue toward Market Square.

Before you reach Market Square, home to a selection of restaurants and specialty shops, you'll pass the first entrance to the black-and-silver Two PPG Place (Point 7) -- home to a variety of fast-food spots and a few specialty shops.

If you are in need of tea, sympathy cards, heart-smart snacks or flowers, Two PPG Place's specialty stores have something for you. Its subterranean food court also provides a variety of affordable fare, including soups, deli sandwiches, Italian, Chinese, Greek and just plain greasy American food. Two PPG Place hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, with select shops open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Back out on the red-brick sidewalk of Market Square, take a gander at the antique-styled electric light fixtures and the clock near the outdoor stage.

In the 1790s, Market Square (Point 8) was home to market stalls and the first Allegheny County Courthouse. Two three-story buildings, occupying all four squares, were joined at the top floor by a connecting bridge in the early 1900s. Called the Diamond Market, the building was demolished in 1961, but it once had a roller skating rink on the top floor.

Today, Market Square is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

Whether it's a party, performance or protest, there's bound to be something interesting happening in the square at lunch time and on Friday evenings, spring through fall, when the traffic is blocked from the roads and the high-backed wooden rockers around the square are in full totter.

You'll sometimes find pigeons in full Hitchcockian swarm or calm repose on the stage steps or building rooftops, with occasional pigeon kill on the red-brick and cobblestone streets.

Amid the smattering of chain restaurants around the square, there are a few long-time, uniquely Pittsburgh tenants.

The Original Oyster House (Point 9), a historic landmark dating back to 1870, is famous for fish and oyster sandwiches. It also features photographs of notable sports figures and bathing beauties on its walls. The 1902 Landmark Tavern (Point 10), with its dark wood, polished brass and glass, is a pub that offers seafood, steak and pasta dishes. Not far from the glare of lime-green awnings, the Nicholas Coffee Co.'s (Point 11) bean-roasting aromas fill the square in the mornings. It has been doing business in the Market Square area since 1919. It also offers a home-grown alternative to its "half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon" designer java rival across the square.

Follow the red-brick walkway out of Market Square toward the huge tower, the centerpiece of PPG Place (Point 12). The complex's six glass buildings include a 40-story, 635-foot-high tower, which pay architectural homage to London's Houses of Parliament.

Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed the post-modern, plate-glass buildings, which surround a plaza inspired by the grand public squares of Europe. PPG Industries -- the world-renowned glass manufacturer that made all 19,750 pieces of clear, reflective silver Solarban 550 glass used in the complex -- has its headquarters here.

PPG Place was dedicated in 1984, as indicated by the 44-foot rose granite obelisk in the square's center. Soon thereafter, Post-Gazette columnist Peter Leo affectionately dubbed it "The Tomb of the Unknown Bowler" (Point 13) because of the bowling ball-like spheres that are part of the obelisk.

A fountain -- featuring water jets centered around the sculpture and concealed beneath the plaza's surface -- makes a refreshing appearance in warm weather. From mid-November to early March, the ice rink at PPG Place surrounds the obelisk, which is concealed inside a 60-foot Christmas tree during the holiday season.

The Wintergarden hall (Point 14), adjacent to the glass tower, is a quiet hideaway where you can enjoy trees, flowers and sometimes even sunshine while sitting at patio-style tables sipping coffee.

Our tour leaves PPG Place and continues up Fourth Avenue into what was Pittsburgh's financial center in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as Pittsburgh's Wall Street, it was home to the Pittsburgh Petroleum, Stock and Metal Exchange, more than 40 private banks, public banks and trust companies and 10 percent of all the law offices in the city.

Between 1836 and 1984, more than a dozen notable architects designed many of the buildings along the n/images4/arrow, 25-foot wide street, which the U.S. Department of the Interior has designated a National Register District.

Here are a few of the highlights.

Burke's Building (Point 15), the oldest business building Downtown, was designed by John Chislett and erected in 1836. The granite Greek Revival building, which survived the Great Fire of 1845, now is home to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

A few steps farther, you'll come to the Benedum-Trees Building (Point 16), a skyscraper built in 1905 and designed by Thomas Scott for Haynes Allen Machesney. Michael Benedum and Joseph Trees, oil-drilling business partners, bought the building in 1913. Benedum gained international acclaim as one of the world's greatest wildcatters. Take a quick walk through the lobby to get a glimpse of the building's marble and bronze splendor.

Continue up Fourth Avenue toward Wood Street to the Union National Bank Building (Point 17), which has its entrance on the corner. Colbert A. MacClure and Albert H. Spahr designed the building, with its green marble columns, erected in 1906.

Pittsburghers still bank between the lions at the Dollar Bank Building (Point 18). Even if you need only change for a dollar, that's excuse enough to take a good look inside and out at the architecture of this imposing brownstone, built in 1870, with its massive columns and lazy lions. Isaac Hobbs, whose Victorian architecture was much maligned in his day, designed the building and stonecutter Max Kohler sculpted the lions. Kohler later operated a saloon before returning to stone cutting in 1889.

At Smithfield Street, turn right. The handsome building across Smithfield Street is One Oxford Centre, a 46-story, multi-use structure combining facilites for business, exercise, shopping and dining. The five levels of its glass atrium house a selection of the city's upscale specialty shops.

As you continue along Smithfield, you'll reach the Boulevard of the Allies.

Turn right at Smithfield Street. The wide street you'll again reach is the Boulevard of the Allies. It was so named in October 1922 to be "an enduring reminder of the debt of gratitude Pittsburghers owe to those who served in the war for the preservation of civilization." Before that it was Second Avenue and before that Monongahela Avenue. On the opposite corner, there's the Smithfield News (Point 19). It's open 24 hours and one of the few places Downtown to get a newspaper, ice cream sandwich or cigarettes in the middle of the night. Across Smithfield, you'll see an architecturally notable building, 112 Smithfield (Point 20) -- the former home of Fire Engine Company No. 2.

The L-shaped Engine Company No. 2, designed by William Y. Brady and built in 1900, fronts Smithfield and the Boulevard of the Allies. It once housed a truck used to pump water to the tops of tall buildings and now is an architect's office. The three-story building, done in Beaux-Arts style, has a bleached white granite base.

Continue along Smithfield Street toward the yellow portal of the Smithfield Street Bridge.

Even though it's more than 120 years old, this is actually the third incarnation of the span.

The original was a covered wooden bridge. It was the first river bridge in the city and was completed in 1818 by Lewis Wernwag. John Augustus Roebling, of Brooklyn Bridge fame, built the second Smithfield Street Bridge. Opened in 1846, it was the first wire rope suspension bridge to carry a highway over the Monongahela River.

Gustav Lindenthal designed the present bridge, constructed 1881-83, with its double-lenticular or Pauli steel trusses. It was widened in 1891 and 1911 and renovated again in 1994. The bridge has been designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Before crossing the bridge, look back toward Downtown to see the commercial architecture along the 200 block of Fort Pitt Boulevard dating to between 1850 and 1890 -- before the elevator was invented and steel was used as a structural building frame to enable skyscrapers to be much taller.

The Monongahela -- or the Mon, as it's often called -- is one of the few rivers in the United States that flows north. Farther upstream were the many mills that gave Pittsburgh its sooty reputation as the Steel City, but almost all are gone, replaced by high-tech incubators and mixed commercial and residential districts.

Make your way across the bridge, with its asphalt sidewalk and gray metal railing. Feel the vibrations of the quivering blue-painted steel bridge as vehicles pass by. On the opposite bank, you will see the buildings of Station Square. The huge P&LE letters atop identify the Landmarks Building, which was the original terminus of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad. The entire site was renovated and developed in the 1970s by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

But before you reach the other side of the bridge and head into Station Square, again look toward Downtown, where, if you are lucky you'll see the majesty of the PPG Place tower shimmering above the Pittsburgh skyline reflected in the Mon.

Station Square was major urban renovation project in the 1970s by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation that took the railroad terminal and developed a mixed use facility incorporating restaurants, stores, night clubs and office space.

The Landmarks Building houses the elegant Grand Concourse Restaurant and the Gandy Dancer Saloon. The Freight House Shops is an ever-evolving array of shops, restaurants and clubs. Bessemer Court is action central, with an impressive menu of dining and entertainment options, including Pittsburgh's Hard Rock Cafe and the Funny Bone Comedy Club.

If you have energy left, consider a trip to one of Pittsburgh's high points. Leave Station Square and cross Carson Street to the lower station of the Monongahela Incline. Opening for business since May 28, 1870, it is America's oldest operating incline, a historic conveyance that will whisk you 635 feet to the top of Mount Washington.

We have saved the best for last. It may be nothing more than a glorified hill, but Mount Washington offers a view of downtown Pittsburgh which USA Today ranked as America's second most magnificent urban vistas. Besides providing a breathtaking view of a great city, it will offer an overview of all the ground you've covered on this tour.

If you've completed the entire walk in a single day, you'll certainly sleep well tonight.


PNC PARK / HEINZ FIELD

 

RIVER CRUISE



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