The Igloo. The Hill. The Flood. Every city or town has them. Places, moments, and events that link people across neighborhoods and generations. Images of these things become visual shorthand, saying “this is us.” Sometimes, it’s an event that fascinates long after its decade has passed. Or a location where everyone meets. Maybe it’s that field trip destination where generations of school children stared in wonder. The mosaic isn’t constant. Some landmarks hold great meaning for decades, then lose their significance when the city changes. And we don’t all agree on the meanings. When you see an image of the Civic Arena, what comes to mind? The Pens? The Hill? Group unity or the loss of a neighborhood? Do you even remember the Civic Arena? This set of landmark
places and moments drawn from the History Center’s collection tells the story of Pittsburgh over the past 150 years.
The Smithfield Street Bridge with its original decorative portal (c. 1900-1910)Original Source: Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
This was the appearance of the bridge after 1894, when the second portal was added. The original cast iron facade was removed and replaced with the current entryway in 1911.
View down Grant Street from 11th Street (1934)Original Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
The steamboat Island Queen is consumed by fire (1947) by George L. Bower, Pittsburgh Post-GazetteOriginal Source: Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
The Island Queen was one of the largest excursion steamboats still operating when it exploded while docked in Pittsburgh on September 9, 1947. The blast was felt throughout downtown. Nineteen crew members perished in the disaster, which was estimated at a $1,000,000 loss.
Steamboats Homestead and Wm. Larimer Jones race down the river (1949)Original Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
Pittsburgh’s Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 75th anniversary with industrial tours, air shows, exhibits, and a special steamboat race. The Homestead and Wm. Larimer Jones raced from Neville Island to the Smithfield Street Bridge with the Homestead winning by a nose.
Streetcar and traffic on Liberty Avenue, downtown Pittsburgh (1950s) by Dale GleasonOriginal Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
This image taken by Pittsburgh Press photographer Dale Gleason shows busy Liberty Avenue as it appeared in the mid-1950s.
The Diamond Market in Market Square (c. 1960)Original Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
A mainstay in Market Square for 47 years, Diamond Market closed on December 31, 1960. The building’s condition became an issue after a piece of decorative cornice fell off and injured a woman. The market was demolished the following summer.
Well-dressed women cross Washington Place and stream into the new Civic Arena (1960s) by Urban Redevelopment Authority of PittsburghOriginal Source: Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
Well-dressed women cross Washington Place and stream into the new Civic Arena
Meet Me Under the
For more than 100 years, Pittsburghers have gathered under a clock at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. To many, it will always be the “Kaufmann’s Clock,” regardless of the name on the building.
Legend claims that a public outcry put the clock there in the first place. The story goes back to the 1880s, when a freestanding, four-faced clock stood at the intersection of Fifth and Smithfield in connection with Kaufmann’s “Grand Depot.” The clock became a popular meeting spot. Some accounts even suggest that it included a sign that read “Meet Me Under the Clock.” Alas, when Kaufmann’s new addition was completed in 1913, that clock was removed. Customers protested and a new clock was added on the side of the building at the same corner. Whatever the real story, the slogan continued to appear in advertisements for the next century, and the clock became part of the culture of Pittsburgh.
Kaufmann’s Department Store “Toyland” Christmas window (c. 1926-1928)Original Source: Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
The downtown department stores competed ferociously each year to attract holiday shoppers with elaborate Christmas window displays.
Horne’s Department Store decorated for Christmas (1948)Original Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
Creating the Liberty
Oh those tunnels. Every Pittsburgher knows that the best way to complicate a morning commute is to add a tunnel to the drive. But they are also part of what makes the city unique.
Of all the tunnels in Pittsburgh, none was more anticipated than the Liberty Tunnels. The “Tubes” opened to cars in 1924 after four years of construction and many more of debate. Viewed as a crucial link between downtown and the South Hills, the route of the tunnels was a hot topic for years before their groundbreaking in December 1919. Pittsburghers watched as excavation crews blasted, drilled, and carved more than 400,000 tons of dirt and broken rock out of Mount Washington. Critics disparaged the project as “the cave in the hillside.” But when the Liberty Tunnels opened—5,889 feet from portal to portal—they were the longest concrete traffic tunnels in the world designed for automobiles. The “cave” put Pittsburgh on the map and signaled the Steel City’s modern progress.
Celebrating the opening of the Liberty Bridge (March 1928)Original Source: Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
All of Pittsburgh celebrated when the Liberty Bridge opened in March 1928, but South Hills residents were especially excited. Many businesses gave their employees a “half-holiday” so they could join a parade that started in Mt. Lebanon and wound its way to the new bridge.
View of downtown from the Liberty Tunnels (1950s)Original Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
This first famous tunnel view of Pittsburgh was made possible when the Liberty Tunnels opened in 1924. At the time, they were the longest concrete auto tunnels ever built.
No image symbolizes Pittsburgh’s cycle of change and rebirth better than the Point. This confluence where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio has witnessed intrigue, industry, demolition, and redevelopment since the 1700s.
Early images capture the Point when barges and steamboats still lined the city wharfs, and the old wooden Union Bridge (1875-1907) crossed over the Allegheny River to the North Side. Structures such as Pittsburgh’s first Exposition Hall can also be seen. What these images don’t show are the warren of small residential streets that lined the interior of the Point into the 1920s.
Later photos capture the area’s dramatic rebirth after successive layers of demolition, clearance, and development. Changing land use and demographics made Point neighborhoods slums by the 1930s. Beginning in 1945, it took more than three decades of work, including the removal of railroad tracks, the reconfiguration of streets, and the demolition of hundreds of structures, before the new Point State Park was officially dedicated in 1974.
A seaplane flies over the Allegheny River toward the Point (c. 1945)Original Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
This seaplane probably took off from Buck’s Seaplane Base near the base of the Sixth Street Bridge on the North Side. During the 1940s and '50s, multiple seaplane bases operated in downtown Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s First “Light Up Night” (1929) by Trinity Court StudiosOriginal Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
In October 1929, Pittsburgh joined with the rest of the country to celebrate Light’s Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb, by illuminating bridges and downtown buildings.
Three River Stadium with Dravo boat docked at the Point (1970s)Original Source: Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center
The #Pixburgh: A Photographic Experience exhibition at the Heinz History Center ran from December 2016 to September 2017.