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Two Mellon Bank Center

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Union Trust Building
1915–1917, Frederick J. Osterling, with Pierre A. Liesch. 501 Grant St.
  • Two Mellon Bank Center (Union Trust Building)
  • Two Mellon Bank Center (Union Trust Building)

This structure carries downtown's most adventuresome skyline, with two ornate chapellike structures crowning its elaborate Flemish Gothic roof. Urban legend holds that these are chapels, even though they are nothing more than penthouse offices and housing for mechanical services. Other legends insist that the Catholic Church obliged Henry Clay Frick to erect these pseudochapels as a remembrance of old St. Paul Cathedral, which had once stood on the site. The more prosaic probability is that the design conformed to the pattern of New York City's then new Woolworth Building, which had repopularized the Gothic Revival style and a terra-cotta skin. The design had two unexpected godfathers: art dealer Joseph Duveen (later Lord Duveen), Frick's art adviser, and the Luxembourg-born Pierre Liesch, Frederick Osterling's draftsman, who worked in Pittsburgh for about a decade. For some years Liesch and Osterling battled in court over fees and artistic paternity of the design. Osterling advanced his claim through the styling of his studio building of 1917 at 228 Isabella Street, which still stands as a miniaturized Union Trust facade.

The interior is no disappointment: four broad corridors, basically interior streets, lead to a brilliant eleven-story central lightwell. Until 1923, these corridors were open to the fourth floor as a shopping arcade. Shutting down the arcade was not merely an aesthetic loss, it reduced the attractiveness of downtown Pittsburgh as a retail center and abetted the fragmentation of the city into zones of specialized function—something Pittsburgh planners have been fighting against ever since.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.
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Data

Timeline

  • 1915

    Built

What's Nearby

Citation

Lu Donnelly et al., "Two Mellon Bank Center", [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/PA-01-AL21.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 55-55.

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