Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's in the Details

There're no doubt a lot of things that make Pittsburgh unique and special, but the eclectic mix of architecture is one element that says home to me.  I've done plenty of traveling and there are lots of beautiful cities, but I still haven't found one that's any more beautiful than my own home town.

We're all familiar with that classic view of the city that almost magically appears when you drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnels.  Ask any local where the best views of the city are and you'll get plenty of answers - Mt Washington, the West End Overlook, Fineview, etc. - and they're all great views.  What you don't see from those vantage points though, are the many fabulous details. Walk or ride your bike through the city and there are treasures on every corner.  A lot of buildings that look relatively non-descript at street level have the most interesting architectural details if you just look up.

I started this post two months ago.  Around the end of January we hit a period when the trails were mostly impassible from snow and ice, so we began meandering around on the streets a bit more than usual.  Not that we don't ride on the streets a fair amount of the time, but most of those rides are with a destination in mind.  When I'm on the roads I'm usually more inclined to focus on the traffic and potholes and things at eye level.  Less inclined to be looking up or at things that have been there for decades.  I know about the great gargoyles, cornices and telamones that top many of the downtown buildings.  I just hadn't taken the time to see and appreciate them in a very long time.

As we rode up 4th Ave the one day, I noticed the great lions outside of Dollar Bank.  I know that I've seen these lions before, but this time they really stood out.  They looked so clean and new and I just didn't remember them like that.

We stopped to admire them and noticed some signs about the lions being back.  Ah, they must have had some restoration work.  When I looked it up on line I discovered that they weren't the original lions.  As it turns out the originals were removed several years ago after guarding this building for 138 years.  They had been carved in place from a block of brownstone by Max Kohler and the years had been hard on them.  While Dollar Bank did have the original lions restored, they placed them inside the building after the restoration work.  Apparently the stone was too fragile to subject them to more of our winters.  In the meantime, they hired Nicholas Fairplay to duplicate the original sculptures.  His exact replicas have now assumed the guardian role next to the 4th Ave entrance.  Beautiful.

I hate to see wonderful buildings and sculptures disappear.  It's so great to know that others love and respect these things enough to preserve them as important pieces of this city.  I was so pleased to stumble on another company that recognized the specialness of an old building.  We were riding through Homestead and noticed some new construction.  The sign said they were building senior housing and they seemed to have most of the framework up.  When I looked at what appears to be the entrance to the new facility I saw that they had saved the facade of an old building and were incorporating it into the new structure.  Magnificent!  Especially for a senior housing project.  Keeping a piece of the past while creating something new and vital to the community just seems like the perfect combination.

Shortly after those rides, the combination of crummy weather (in the extreme) and some hand issues have kept me off the bike for several weeks.  While I couldn't ride I decided to walk around the city and look for all those cool architectural details that I've always loved.  I took a real camera (rather than the pocket camera I carry when I ride) with a decent lens so I could capture some of the high up details.  Below are a few of my favorites, but there are a lot more.

If you'd like to see more of these little Pieces of Pittsburgh, the rest of what I've taken so far are uploaded here.

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