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Erie Insurance Group (Erie Insurance Exchange, H. O. Hirt Building)

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Erie Insurance Exchange, H. O. Hirt Building
1953–1956, Nelson, Goldberg and Heidt; 1971–1977 addition, Edward Jonasen. 144 E. 6th St.

H. O. Hirt, cofounder of the Erie Insurance Exchange, taught high school history from 1912 to 1915 and was inspired by a visit to Philadelphia to incorporate elements of Independence Hall into the design of his company's headquarters. His architects borrowed details from both the north and south elevations of the original, multiplying them to suit their purposes. The twenty-four-pane double-sash windows are separated by marble inserts between the first and second stories, as they are on the north elevation of the Philadelphia model, although it has nine bays and the Hirt building has twelve. Also, the Palladian window on the south elevation in Philadelphia can be found on the E. 6th Street facade of the Erie headquarters, even though a Corinthian-columned portico has been added to shelter the Erie entrance. Despite the unorthodox arrangement of elements, the Erie building is a respectful reinterpretation of an American shrine and a fitting symbol of stability for an insurance company.

The company's larger contribution to urban planning came in 1979, when it hired Hugh Stubbins and Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to build a new office building west of the headquarters. The longrange master plan addressed a six-block area bounded by French, Holland, E. 5th, and E. 6th streets. Instead of moving to the suburbs, the Erie Insurance Group chose to remain in the city and upgrade the surrounding buildings. Since 1983 the group has restored and reused several buildings in these blocks, as well as commissioning two office buildings, parking structures, and several additions from Stubbins. The first project was the F. W. Hirt–Perry Square Building (1979–1983, 1986; 100 Erie Insurance Place) with a four-story atrium entrance at the northeast corner of French and E. 6th streets marked by four cast-iron columns from the facade of the Crazy Horse Saloon, an 1870s building torn down to accommodate the new office. The Erie Branch Office Building (1990–1993, The Stubbins Associates; Holland and E. 6th streets) has deep eaves sheltering recessed glass windows highlighted by short stylized columns. A ruddy-colored brick unifies all the elements of the company's buildings and lends cohesion to the streetscapes in the neighborhood. The employee parking lots are cleverly designed in parklike settings.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.
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Citation

Lu Donnelly et al., "Erie Insurance Group (Erie Insurance Exchange, H. O. Hirt Building)", [Erie, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/PA-01-ER15.

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, 488-489.

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