The 255-acre Golden Triangle is roughly comparable in shape to Lower Manhattan from its tip to Greenwich Village, and Pittsburgh's skyline creates an equally strong image. Although it has fewer skyscraper towers and their scale is less dramatic, the urban matrix is a good deal tighter, since the Golden Triangle is entirely isolated from the rest of the city by the sharp rise of the Bluff and the Hill and by the intrusive Crosstown Expressway (I-579)—an unsung legacy to Pittsburgh from New York City's Robert Moses.
Nature carved out this triangle where the Allegheny and Monongahela join the Ohio River, but geopolitics early on shaped it into a miniature city. In 1784, Pennsylvania obliged the descendents of William Penn to sell off their last holdings in the commonwealth, the so-called Manor of Pittsburgh among them. The rudimentary and illegal settlement around Fort Pitt lacked a coherent street plan, and was never platted into saleable lots, so the Penns asked George Woods and his teenage assistant Thomas Vickroy to lay out this triangular town in the spring of 1784. The Woods-Vickroy double-grid plan was more expedient than elegant, but it endures today as the sacred cow of Pittsburgh urbanism. Actually, only three projects have dared modify it: Gateway Center ( AL7) from 1950 to 1968, PPG Place in 1979–1984 ( AL24), and Oliver/PNC Plaza bounded by 5th, Liberty, and 6th avenues and Wood Street in 1968. Pittsburgh's downtown is so small and so walkable that the entire district functions as a well-preserved and cohesive mercantile exchange.
The nickname “Golden Triangle” was bestowed in the years of feverish industrial expansion following the Civil War. The Triangle's wealth is diminished now, but it still serves as headquarters for a significant grouping of Fortune 500 companies, and there are few American districts that can match its architectural riches. The Burke Building ( AL25) is a learned essay in Greek Revival, Dollar Savings Bank ( AL27) in Italianate, H. H. Richardson's Allegheny Courthouse and Jail ( AL1) the unparalleled exemplar in Romanesque Revival, a clutch of churches sings the rhapsody of Gothic Revival, and whole blocks of Grant Street and 4th Avenue shout the excesses of Beaux-Arts. There are varieties of modernism, too: superb Art Deco interiors in the Koppers Building ( AL18) and the William Penn Hotel ( AL20); the post–World War II classics of Gateway Center ( AL7); and worthy contemporary designs in the new ALCOA ( AL66), the David L. Lawrence Convention Center ( AL15), and the CAPA school ( AL14). The two strongest impulses in the current Golden Triangle are a reemphasis on the rivers, which gave the city birth, and a push to convert unneeded commercial and industrial space to housing. Downtown Pittsburgh is finally getting what it has most lacked in the past half century: permanent residents.
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