Vandergrift stands in striking contrast to most of Westmoreland County's company towns. Apollo Iron and Steel Company founder George G. McMurtry hired the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot in 1895 to create a landscape plan for his ideal company town. By that year, Frederick Law Olmsted's health had failed, and so his partners drew the plans. The client and planners stipulated that residents would build or commission their own houses and alcohol manufacture or sale would be banned in the borough. The town would have paved curvilinear streets lined with trees and dotted with parks, buildings with consistent setbacks, running water, sewers, low-priced lots to entice workers, incentives for businesses to open stores in town, and donations of land and money for local churches. The expense of the initial planning and infrastructure construction ultimately caused the company to cut the lot sizes and decrease the green spaces provided, but nonetheless the lots sold well.
Several of the corner buildings in the business district were given curved facades following the streets' configurations. James E. Allison designed the Classical Revival Casino Theater (1900; 145 Lincoln Avenue), which has flanking wings housing the borough offices and the library. At the entrance to the former Apollo Iron and Steel Plant (since 1988 owned by Allegheny Ludlum Steel Company), a small train station (c. 1896; 75 Washington Avenue) was initially meant to anchor the south end of the village green. By 1903, seven churches took advantage of the company's offer of a free lot and $7,500; the stone Gothic Revival First Evangelical Lutheran Church designed by Alden and Harlow (1896–1897; 101 Washington Avenue) was among the first. Its square crenellated tower and the gable end ornamented with a rose window reflect Frank Alden's debt to H. H. Richardson. Housing for the borough's 6,000 residents follow late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century revival styles, including Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, and Colonial and Classical Revivals in frame and brick. A group of larger homes lines Washington Avenue, and the business district on Grant Avenue has substantial two-story brick buildings.
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