Feb. 1, 1971: Susan O'Leary and Charlie the swan went dancing at the Pittsburgh Zoo when it was four below zero. Why? Your guess is as good as ours. (Edwin Morgan/The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 12, 1976: Alexander Filipov and Kaleria Fedicheva preparing for Maria Sabinaon on a Downtown street. (Kent Badger/The Pittsburgh Press) Aug. 23, 1977: Jo Ann McCarthy and Dennis Poole as Romeo and Juliet on a balcony in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Aug. 23, 1990: PBT members were invited to Three Rivers Stadium for batting practice. While there, they worked on an unorthodox pitching leg kick delivery. (Melissa Farlow/The Pittsburgh Press) July 31, 1985: PBT performing Raymonda Variations in PPG Place. (Dave Breen/The Pittsburgh Press)

1970s: Pittsburgh Ballet Theater takes to the streets

Not much to say about these photos, except that we’re glad they exist.

The first — Andy Starne’s 1975 Pittsburgh Press capture of a Grandview Park performance against the skyline — is simply magnificent.

In digitizing the Post-Gazette’s photo library, we came across the massive (nearly a foot thick) file of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater images. A majority are all too bland and similar: indoor theater performances or rehearsals in studios lined with railings.

Not all that exciting when you realize there are upwards of 500 of these.

But these six stood out because of the settings.

Unfortunately, the outdoor ventures seemed to tail off after the 1970s.

(Editor’s note: The goose in the second image was enhanced during a time when photojournalists did not have as strong a code of ethics as today. Charlie’s feathers were painted on a little too thick.)

1974: Many moons later, Harris’ autograph remains in tact

At age 7, Mike Thuransky had the pleasure of meeting and getting the signature of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. 

“I still have the autograph,” he said.

The picture was taken 40 years ago. Plenty has changed since Harris propped his brief case up on his knee and took a pen to paper for a young fan back in December 1974.

The 1970s Steelers, the NFL’s powerhouse team of that decade, were on their way back to the Steel City after claiming their second AFC Central Division title in three years. They downed the New England Patriots, 21-17, and Harris scored the game’s first touchdown en route to running for 136 yards.

“I knew the Steelers were going to be there [in the airport],” he said. “I was also there because my mother was getting off a flight, so our grandmother had us there.”

Thuransky is a life-long Steelers’ fan. His birthday, Jan. 21, arrived each year just as the dominant ’70s Steelers seemed to be contending for a Super Bowl. In fact, the franchise claimed its third Super Bowl on Jan. 21, 1979, Thuransky’s 12th birthday.

With an image of a helmeted Harris catching the Immaculate Reception in most fans’ minds, seeing him in street clothes seemed so bizarre to a young Thuransky.

“You know I always saw him as a football player,” he said. “I saw him with a brief case and I was awe struck, I was like, ‘What’s he doing in those clothes?”

Thuransky said Harris was more than willing to sign an autograph for him and his brother. Mike, however, was the one captured by Pittsburgh Press photographer Anthony Kaminski.
He still has that autograph, but he’s been trying for several years to get another from Harris.
“I have multiple pictures of the picture from the article,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get Franco to sign the picture of him signing the autograph for me.”
— Ryan Petrovich

1974: Many moons later, Harris’ autograph remains in tact

At age 7, Mike Thuransky had the pleasure of meeting and getting the signature of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. 

“I still have the autograph,” he said.

The picture was taken 40 years ago. Plenty has changed since Harris propped his brief case up on his knee and took a pen to paper for a young fan back in December 1974.

The 1970s Steelers, the NFL’s powerhouse team of that decade, were on their way back to the Steel City after claiming their second AFC Central Division title in three years. They downed the New England Patriots, 21-17, and Harris scored the game’s first touchdown en route to running for 136 yards.

“I knew the Steelers were going to be there [in the airport],” he said. “I was also there because my mother was getting off a flight, so our grandmother had us there.”

Thuransky is a life-long Steelers’ fan. His birthday, Jan. 21, arrived each year just as the dominant ’70s Steelers seemed to be contending for a Super Bowl. In fact, the franchise claimed its third Super Bowl on Jan. 21, 1979, Thuransky’s 12th birthday.

With an image of a helmeted Harris catching the Immaculate Reception in most fans’ minds, seeing him in street clothes seemed so bizarre to a young Thuransky.

“You know I always saw him as a football player,” he said. “I saw him with a brief case and I was awe struck, I was like, ‘What’s he doing in those clothes?”

Thuransky said Harris was more than willing to sign an autograph for him and his brother. Mike, however, was the one captured by Pittsburgh Press photographer Anthony Kaminski.

He still has that autograph, but he’s been trying for several years to get another from Harris.

“I have multiple pictures of the picture from the article,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get Franco to sign the picture of him signing the autograph for me.

Ryan Petrovich

July 14, 1940: A Public Works Administration project in the Lincoln Ave. District. (The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 12, 1953: A new water tank in West Mifflin, filled with 7.5 million gallons. (The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 26, 1962: This Florence, Ky., tower was fabricated and erected by Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co. and was the first of its kind — a 100-foot-high Hydro Pillar. (The Pittsburgh Press) Aug. 31, 1969: A 20-story water tower used to serve a Westinghouse nuclear reactor in Westmoreland County became expendable after just 11 years. (The Pittsburgh Press) And so... ...it came... ...down. (The Pittsburgh Press) Jan. 27, 1966: Industrial designers Peter Muller-Munk Associates drew this concept of the elevated steel water tank of the future. (Credit: Handout)

1940: Water towers of all shapes and sizes

After our unexpected and tedious aquatic encounter last week at “The Digs,” you might think we would never want to write about water again.

You would be wrong.

We stumbled across a folder in the archive labeled “Water tanks & towers,” which contains about a century of Pittsburgh water storage history.

Not interesting on its face, perhaps, but the variations do tell a few stories.

There was, for example, the Public Works Administration storage tank in the Lincoln Avenue District — near Bellevue — that The Pittsburgh Press featured in 1940. The newspaper decided to check in that year on PWA projects in Pennsylvania, which totaled $309 million — $61.6 of which were in Allegheny County.

That shiny tank, which looks something like a kitchen flour container, cost $3 million to build in the 1930s.

A similar-looking tank was built in West Mifflin on Session Street. The view captured by an uncredited newspaper photographer is not dissimilar to one seen today in Google Street View. It would give residents there, The Pittsburgh Press wrote, “stronger pressure and a steadier flow from their taps.” Such infrastructure improvements were key to that era’s postwar growth.

And in addition to the tumbling sequence of a Westinghouse tower tank that was just 11 years old at the time of its demise, another picture that ran in The Press was perhaps most striking.

In the 1960s, a Pittsburgh-based industrial design firm created the water tower of the future. It looks straight out of “The Jetsons.”

Take an elevator up above the water and enjoy the view, those tiny people would seem to be saying.

For some reason, the idea never caught on.

Ethan Magoc

October 15, 1969: Student David Wald in march on Pitt campus (Edward A. Frank/Pittsburgh Press) March 27, 1966: Peace pickets chant, sing folk songs at Pittsburgh's Federal Building (Pittsburgh Press Photo) October 19, 1969: War protesters stream down the Boulevard of the Allies. ((Donald J. Stetzer/Pittsburgh Press) November 23, 1969: Ted Johnson, left, of Bellevue, and Bill Archer of Mt. Lebanon stand at the corner of Fifth and Smithfield to speak out for the boys in Vietnam. (Ross A. Catanza/Pittsburgh Press) November 15,1969: Laurie Rotman of Squirrel Hill and Steve McCarthy of Mt. Lebanon, supporters of the Vietnam Moratorium demonstration downtown. (Edward A. Frank/Pittsburgh Press) July 10, 1969: Members of the Peace and Freedom Center launch floats on the Allegheny River. (Ross A. Catanza) December 29, 1966: A noon standoff near Liberty Ave between members of The Disabled American Veterans Chapter 76 and those in opposition to the war. (Pittsburgh Press photo) November 14, 1969: Peace marchers gear up for a trip to Washington. (Michael Chikiris/Pittsburgh Press)

1969: Vietnam protests in Pittsburgh

A quiet September day in 1969 at South Hills High School turned chaotic when roughly 100 out-of-state “hippie type” girls, as described by the Pittsburgh Press, rolled up in cars to stage a Vietnam War protest.

“Jail break! Shut down the school!” they urged in an attempt to get students to leave class and join the anti-war movement.   

The girls, waving Viet Cong flags, went as far as to punch teachers and run around half naked before fleeing the school grounds.

Twenty teens were arrested, though officials remained unsure why South Hills was targeted for the demonstration.

Pittsburgh’s anti-war demonstrations did not garner the same numbers as those in Washington, New York, or San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean Steel City residents were silent about their thoughts on the war in Vietnam.

Thousands of Pittsburghers spoke out in various ways throughout the 1960s and early ‘70s, organizing marches and protests in downtown Pittsburgh and local college campuses. 

As reflected in letters to the editor printed in The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh natives serving in Vietnam had mixed reactions to the demonstrations taking place both here and throughout America.

“What has irritated me and many others are Americans protesting against our being here and publicly demonstrating,” PFC Chester Austin Jr. wrote from Vietnam.  He, like other soldiers, commended Pittsburgh for not speaking out against the war as actively as other American cities, but he was still disturbed by American anti-war sentiment.

Not all demonstrators took an anti-war stand. Protesters often found themselves in standoffs with those determined to express their admiration and support for troops abroad.

The largest rallies took place in 1969, where thousands took to the streets Downtown during the evening rush hour with hopes of attracting much attention.

Professors, housewives, students without beards, and veterans made appearances at all of these rallies, showing that young “hippie types” — like those at South Hills High School — were not the only ones spearheading anti-war protests in and around Pittsburgh.

Emily Kaplan

One of the many photo bricks that a broken pipe created in the Post-Gazette photo library. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette) Newspapers were used in an ill-fated attempt at damming the water inside the room where the pipe burst. (Molly Born/Post-Gazette) The future of the computer equipment used to digitize the photo archive was in doubt Wednesday. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette) A photo washing station was set up in the platemaking department. From left, assistant managing editor Mila Sanina, head librarian Angelika Kane, photo editor Kurt Weber. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette) Two rows of tables became the heart of the assembly line for drying photos. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette) Two clothes lines were hung to keep photos from sticking together. (Mila Sanina/Post-Gazette) From Wednesday night to Thursday morning, only two images among the hundreds that had not been dried developed mold. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette) One of our more sarcastic colleagues pointed out the need — for now — to relocate our scanning operation. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette)

July 16, 2014:  After a near disaster, saving pieces of history

We faced a crisis Wednesday morning.

A water pipe burst above a small office that is effectively headquarters for “The Digs.” Water poured down on our computers, scanners and hard drives.

Most alarming, however, was the condition of several files of pictures set aside to be digitized. They were soaking in a pool of yellow, brackish liquid.

Immediate panic required action. We sloshed through the flooded room, lifted the files and carried them to safety, leaving a stream of water in our wake.

Then we examined the pictures. About 2,000 were damaged — a small fraction of the estimated 1.5 million images in the Post-Gazette archive that represent more than a century of Pittsburgh newspaper photojournalism.

But, oh, those damaged files. It was heartbreaking to see physical evidence of our city’s history so nearly ruined.

We tried opening a folder labeled “Bradshaw, Terry.” Images documenting the very public life of the former Steelers quarterback had fused into what can only be described as a photo brick. Bradshaw, it seemed, would be forever stuck to all three of his wives.

Dozens of images showing the construction of the Civic Arena were discolored and covered with grit. Among the carnage were pictures of Braddock, Pirates great Max Carey, the Pittsburgh Steel Co., and jazz legends Billy Strayhorn, Lena Horne and George Benson. About 75 file folders had taken a direct hit.

Each picture in the damaged files told a story — a unique Pittsburgh story. Saving them, we realized, would be a difficult and time-consuming task, and it had to begin immediately.

With the help of managing editor Susan Smith, picture editor Kurt Weber and the company’s director of operations Lisa Hurm, we quickly set up a washing station in the newspaper’s platemaking department. We soaked damaged prints, then set them onto tables to dry.

It was a tedious process. Many of the prints were fragile and required great care. But our hearts were lifted by help and support from throughout the newspaper. Editors and managers stopped in periodically to ensure adequate supplies (even a squeegee had materialized by mid-afternoon), as well as to offer advice, memories and documentation of our history-saving assembly line. Several reporters and photographers stopped by between their daily duties to help.

Twenty-eight hours after the office monsoon, we dried and refiled our final cleaned and restored picture: a group shot of a softball team from the 1983 Dapper Dan Slickest Infield Contest. We passed the image around in celebration and examined it closely.

Alas, we thought, too bad nothing can be done to salvage those ’80s hairstyles.

The Digs staff

Top photo: Picture files were soaked and covered with grime on Wednesday morning. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

The 333-foot crane, called largest in the world, at work on the Point. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Kelly makes his way up. (Eddie Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) Kelly pauses for a smoke. (Eddie Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) Kelly was happy to be back on solid ground. (Eddie Frank/The Pittsburgh Press)

April 6, 1958: Climbing the ‘world’s largest crane’

Dave Kelly had been working as a reporter at the Pittsburgh Press for only a few months when he got the assignment.

At the time, Pittsburgh was in the midst of a renaissance. Change was everywhere. Acres of the Lower Hill District had been razed to make way for the Civic Arena. Pieces of the Fort Pitt Bridge were being put into place. Three new stainless steel  buildings dominated the Point. And just a few blocks from the newspaper building, workers were busy digging the foundation for a Hilton Hotel. A massive, 333-foot crane had been brought in to assist with the construction.

Newspapers called the crane the world’s largest. It had been delivered in March of 1958, its sections arriving in eight Pennsylvania Railroad cars. Once assembled, the crane’s enormous weight was supported by special tracks laid down around the hotel site.

One sunny day in early April, Kelly was approached by his boss.

“You know that crane at the Hilton Hotel site?” the boss asked. “Well, you go over there and climb it.”

Kelly didn’t warm to the idea. In fact, he wrote that he’d “rather play Russian roulette with a submachine gun” than climb a crane. He expressed his reservations to his boss, but got no sympathy.

“Git,” said the boss. “And take a photographer with you.”

The photographer in this case was Eddie Frank, who faced the awkward and harrowing task of climbing a narrow structure with cameras strung around his neck.

The two walked to the Hilton and signed papers saying that if they fell to their deaths it was nobody’s fault but their own. Then, up they went.

The crane’s steel ladder shot straight into the sky. Once Kelly and Frank reached the first platform, Kelly asked, “Is this thing swaying?”

“No,” said Frank, “but your knees are, and it’s spoiling my focus.”

Pictures of Kelly climbing show him at first wearing a jacket, white shirt and tie. As he neared the top, however, he apparently ditched his jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves.

At 145 feet, Kelly and Frank reached the crane’s control shack, which Kelly described as a “panel with four little steering wheels and a pedal of the floor.”

Kelly stepped on a pedal and grabbed one of the wheels. “The thing moved a little and wheezed. Then it stopped.”

“I hope I didn’t break it,” he said to Frank.

At this point, Kelly later wrote, a Capital Airlines Viscount flew by. A lady sitting near a window in the cabin smiled and waved at him. You never know when to take Kelly seriously.

Poor Frank. He needed pictures. So, cameras dangling, he leaned out from the ladder, wrapped one knee around a girder and prepared to take a shot. “Stop squinting,” he told Kelly.

“It’s the sun,” Kelly responded. “It’s in my eyes.”

After a while Kelly had enough — he reported that the “shakes overtook me.” The two headed down.

Halfway to the ground, a gust of wind lifted Kelly’s hard hat from his head. It fell, hit a cement truck and nearly clobbered a construction foreman.

The last picture made that day shows Kelly kissing the ground.

Kelly toiled at the Press for only a few years, then became a news broadcaster. He worked for both KDKA and WPXI.

“He was a pioneer of newspaper men who went into broadcasting,” says Bill Moushey, himself a former reporter at WPXI and the Post-Gazette. Moushey worked with Kelly at WPXI from 1979 to 1984.

Moushey remembers Kelly as a master of the Irish brogue and a supreme jokester and storyteller. He came, Moushey recalls, from a family of funeral directors.

Steve Mellon

Jack Dutch relied on old customers for the loans he made at a pawn shop on Federal Street on the North Side. (The Pittsburgh Press) Jack Miller was ready to buy, sell or trade anything at his Pittsburgh pawn shop. (Lynn Johnson/The Pittsburgh Press) This 1983 image shows Jack Dutch in front of a North Side pawn shop. (The Pittsburgh Press) Joseph G. Lazear was 70 in this 1970 photograph made in his pawn shop. (Robert J. Pavuchak/The Pittsburgh Press) A bird's eye view of Harry Pepper in a Pittsburgh pawn shop. (Lynn Johnson/The Pittsburgh Press)

Late 1960s: Pittsburgh’s pawn shops 

The television show called “Pawn Stars” is filmed in Las Vegas.

Think of it as an Antiques Road Show for the Desperate, Down and Tapped Out.

Long before Pittsburgh residents sold their gold jewelry at Treasure Hunt or sought loans in advance of pay day, people who needed cash wandered into their neighborhood pawn shop.

During the first half of the 20th century, many Pittsburgh neighborhoods included this type of business. In the Hill District, there was Joe’s Pawn Shop on Wylie Avenue. On the North Side, there was Security Loan Co. at 15. Federal Street.

Guy Mitchell, a successful, popular vocalist during the 1950s and 1960s, even recorded a tune with this opening line:  “There’s a Pawnshop On a Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”

The song (heard above) is about a guy who meets a beautiful woman he wants to impress. After entertaining her with dining and dancing, he runs out of things to hock. 

During the heyday of pawn shops, people could sell cameras, fur coats, jewelry, guns, watches, typewriters, television sets, radios and musical instruments.

To get a feel for that era, check out "The Pawnbroker," a memorable movie made in the 1960s that starred Rod Steiger as a Holocaust survivor who ran a pawn shop in Harlem.

— Marylynne Pitz

Oct. 3, 1969: A view of the Brady Street Bridge looking toward the South Side. (E. Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) Jan. 27, 1974: Construction of the Birmingham Bridge had begun next to the Brady Street Bridge. The South Side and its steel mills can be seen in the background. (Harry Coughanour/Post-Gazette) Sept. 5, 1976: The Brady Street Bridge featured a maze of steel first built in the early 1900s. (The Pittsburgh Press) May 29, 1978: South Side residents brought out lawn chairs to watch the Brady Street Bridge drop into the Mon. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) May 29, 1978: A demolition crew imploded the Brady Street Bridge, which stood no more than 20 feet from its $30 million replacement. (Bill Levis/Post-Gazette) May 29, 1978: Demolition of the bridge with the Pittsburgh skyline in the background. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) May 31, 1978: River traffic stopped on the Mon after demolition of the bridge. (Harry Coughanour/Post-Gazette) June 5, 1978: Photographers capture the clearing away of the bridge structure. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) June 5, 1978: The easy part was blowing up the bridge, but fully clearing away the structure took many weeks. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette)

1978: Brady Street Bridge blowup

As the Brady Street Bridge approached its 82nd birthday — two years after traffic ceased traversing it — its demolition took a turn for the worse.

Worker Ralph Winner became trapped on May 23, 1978, while cutting steel, forcing a doctor to amputate his leg to free him.

The bridge between the South Side and Uptown was first declared unsafe for heavy loads more than 15 years earlier.

In 1963, PennDOT announced plans for a replacement. And by 1968, it was briefly closed because of growing deficiencies.

So what happened during the next 10 years? Bureaucracy.

The new six-lane bridge (eventually known as the Birmingham) was first targeted to open in 1973.

River piers were driven into the Monongahela that year and land piers built in 1972. Two years passed without work because PennDOT initially marked too many homes and businesses for demolition.

The cost went from $10 million to $30 million between 1967 and 1977.

"All of which illustrates the kind of slap-dash planning that robs Pittsburgh motorists of necessary facilities and wastes the money available for such projects," The Pittsburgh Press editorial board wrote in the early 1970s. The paper made an apt comparison of the project to the Fort Duquesne “bridge to nowhere” of the previous decade.

Winner’s 1978 amputation spooked demolition crews to the point they did not want to announce when the full implosion would take place. They hoped to discourage curiosity seekers.

"The accident was tragic enough," PennDOT engineer David Spagnolli told The Pittsburgh Press. "This is a dangerous job, and we don’t want gawkers in the area."

They also had to make sure it didn’t topple the wrong way — into the $30 million Birmingham Bridge.

After Winner’s accident, a crew used a cherry picker to lower down a man who would cut the steel with an acetylene torch and plant explosives.

It was a delicate process, bringing down an 1895 bridge.

“If she goes, we’re risking the life of only (one) man,” an ironworker told the Press on May 27, 1978.

The bridge came down the next day, ultimately without any damage to the Birmingham, and sunk partially into the Mon. It took about a week, but the river was reopened for barge traffic by June 5.

Ethan Magoc

Dec. 7, 1952: A caption with this photo said LIKE SARDINES and noted the men's ward inmates had to enter bed in shifts to fit everyone in. (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph) Shuffleboard in the recreation hall at Woodville State Hospital in an undated photo. (Credit: Unknown) The County Poorhouse, built in the early 1900s, was demolished in 1971. They became unoccupied in 1958 when the county's indigent were moved to Kane Hospital. (Donald J. Stetzer/The Pittsburgh Press) Aug. 15, 1973: The painting, under examination by a Woodville nurse and patients, was donated to Woodville State Hospital. (Albert M. Herrmann/The Pittsburgh Press) Feb. 10, 1983: Entrance to Woodville State Hospital. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette) Feb. 10, 1983: Woodville State Hospital sign and driveway, with a plea for its continued existence. The facility would not close for another eight years after this image. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette) Feb. 22, 1991: After Gov. Casey announced his intention to close Woodville, hospital clerk/typist Vevette McCaskey and many others rallied against the idea. (Tony Tye/Post-Gazette) 2014: A sign for The Villages at Neville Park exists at the former entrance to Woodville. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette)

1952: Woodville State Hospital’s rise and fall

In the middle of the 20th century, Woodville State Hospital faced a problem.

It was really, really crowded.

The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph ran a photo in 1952 showing the men’s ward dormitory so full that men had to go to bed in shifts so that staff could squeeze beds together once their occupants settled in for the night.

By the early 1990s, it was an issue the hospital’s management wouldn’t have minded to encounter again. In 1991, Gov. Robert P. Casey announced his plan to close the facility. A year later, it was empty.

There was frequent jockeying in the 1930s and ‘40s over how much state funding the hospital and others like it received. In those days, it — like the County Poorhouse and nearby Mayview — was county owned. Newspaper accounts often referred to its successful management on a “shoestring budget.”

Many of the Woodville staff in that era had long careers. In the late 1940s, when Woodville and Mayview were sold by Allegheny County to the state for $2.5 million, more than 30 employees had been there for 20-plus years, The Pittsburgh Press wrote.

Who was treated there? The aged and mentally ill, as well as stroke victims and those in need of physical rehabilitation from accidents, including paralyzed patients. People entered Woodville in the 1950s with the expectation that they would recover to the point of being able to manage for themselves or with the assistance of family or an aide. In other words, because of the crowding issues, there was an expiration date on their stay at Woodville State.

For many years — until funding priorities shifted in the 1990s and everyone had to move out — it remained a sound strategy.

Today, it’s a redeveloped area. PennDOT built a large office there. The Villages at Neville Park subdivision dominates the former property along I-79 — with placid street names like Juniper Lane and Marigold Court.

And none of it feels at all crowded.

Ethan Magoc

Worker doing renovations on the roof of the Keenan Building, 1970, Post-Gazette photo. Post-Gazette photo, date unknown. Colonels Plaza, 1974. (Harry Coughanour/Post-Gazette)

1907: "The T.J. Keenan Building" 

For utilitarian dwellers, business people and visitors to Pittsburgh’s modern Downtown the 18-story Keenan Building on Liberty Avenue may be associated with the 7-Eleven store that is located on its ground floor.  You know the intersection of Liberty and Seventh Str., right? And you would, for sure, recognize the landmark… Yeees? Let’s just hope you looked up at least once. If not, you should, because you are missing out on the artistry behind the building and a cool story. 

The Keenan skyscraper is one of the oldest among Golden Triangle buildings. 

Constructed in 1907 at a cost of  $2 million, it was the tallest building in Pittsburgh and the shiniest. The dome was ‘crowned’ by the eagle and a series of portraits. The ‘penthouse’ once served as lavish living quarters for Col. Thomas J. Keenan, Jr., the owner of the building AND one-time owner of The Pittsburgh Press.  In those days, as you can imagine, conceiving such a structure was a statement, building it was an accomplishment. Photographs and sketches of Pittsburgh’s “skyscraper with the golden dome” appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide. In those days, it was Pittsburgh’s counterpart of the Steel Tower in the 1970s and the Fifth Avenue Place branded by Highmark today.

In the early 1950s, the Keenan building housed state offices, commercial firms and a restaurant. 

In the 1960s, the building changed ownership several times. Each and every one of the new owners had undertaken what they called a major rehabilitation campaign “to restore the Keenan Building to its old-time splendor.”

Those promises brought cheer to advocacy groups protecting Pittsburgh’s historic buildings and landmarks at the time. In their view, the Keenan Building deserved a special consideration because of its uniqueness. “The only other important skyscraper n this country, the Spreckels-Call Building on Market Street in San Francisco, was completely ruined by injudicious ‘rehabilitation’ some years ago and that makes the Keenan Building all the more important,” Vice President Trump of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation told the Post-Gazette in 1969. 

Today, the dome is golden no more. New domed skyscrapers, shinier and taller, sprung around the country and around the world. And the Keenan Building carries a far less personalized and far less intriguing name — Midtown Towers.

—Mila Sanina

August 3, 1950: Dominico Omogrosso (Credit:Unknown) July 12, 1950: Scene of the shooting (Credit: Unknown) Schenley Hotel Crime Scene (Credit: Unknown) July 12, 1950: The murder weapon (Credit: Unknown) July 12, 1950: Detective James J Scoide, Dominico Omogrosso, Detective Al Mumpfer (Credit: Unknown) Schenley Hotel Murder Scene (Credit: Unknown) July 12, 1950: Dominico Omogrosso (Credit: Unknown) Schenley Hotel Murder Scene (Credit: Unknown)

1950: Murders at Schenley Hotel

“They always made faces at me.”

This was the explanation Dominico Omogrosso provided hours after fatally shooting two and wounding a third while on his night guard shift at the Schenley Hotel in Oakland.

Omogrosso, 58 at the time of the shootings, had immigrated from Naples, Italy, through Ellis Island in 1919. Sick for many years, Omogrosso had difficulty finding work in Pittsburgh and his fear of needles kept him away from the doctor. As a result, he was largely supported by his wife Ema until she got him a job as the Schenley Hotel’s night guard.

His rampage started in the hotel’s basement shortly after midnight on July 12, 1950, where Omogrosso had his sights set on Alfonso Marano, a former friend and baker at the Schenley.

Omogrosso then made his way upstairs to the ballroom, reloading his gun on the stairs. He found his second victim, H.H. Kunde, assistant night manager of the Schenley, relaxing in a swivel chair reading a newspaper. Spinning Mr. Kunde around, Omogrosso shot him twice - in the neck and arm - at point-blank range. Mr. Kunde narrowly survived the incident.

John S. Harper stood at a telephone receiver just feet away watching the events unfold when Omogrosso turned the gun toward him. Two shots were fired, and Mr. Harper was pronounced dead hours later.

Omogrosso scurried to the hotel lobby, smoke still rising from his revolver. His wife, who heard gunshots from the bakery, approached him in an attempt to stop the shooting spree.

“Don’t touch the gun,” he warned. “I got even with them.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Kunde dashed to the back elevator where he rode up seven floors to a resident physician who called the police and treated him for his wounds.

Omogrosso was soon arrested and questioned by police before unloading on any other workers that night. While questioned, Omogrosso shockingly had no recollection of shooting Mr. Kunde or Mr. Harper.

In court, Omogrosso was described as listless and apathetic. Only when the Coroner’s Jury announced the verdict of homicide did Omogrosso show any interest in the proceedings.

Deemed insane, he was admitted to Farview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane after a judge declared Omogrosso suffered from “delusions of persecution” for almost 40 years.

Whether Omogrosso spent the rest of his life in Farview or prison is unclear, as searches through Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Press archives, Ancestry.com, and Google News provided no information regarding the later years of his life.

Omogrosso died in 1971.

- Emily Kaplan

The Pittsburgh Press in June 1956 used a dotted line to show where the new hotel would be built. (Pittsburgh Press photo) The hotel ballroom under construction. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Japanese construction men examined the building in February 1959. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Conrad Hilton cuts a massive ribbon at the hotel's grand opening. (Sun-Telegraph photo) This May 1959 picture of the Hilton was taken from an upper story of the Gateway Four Building then under construction. (Pittsburgh Press photo) The Wyndham  Grand Pittsburgh Hotel today. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

December 1959: The hotel that transformed the Point

For some time, “The Digs” staff has been partaking in a Pittsburgh tradition: Watching construction work at the city’s most visible hotel. We’re thrilled that renovations at the Wyndham Grand are finally complete.

More than half a century ago, the hotel was known as the Hilton. And as it slowly rose over the Point, one steel beam at a time, thousands of Pittsburghers stood on sidewalks and craned their necks to watch the progress. One was a Pittsburgh Press reporter named Gilbert Love.

This was in the late 1950s — an exciting time in the city. Love and every other Pittsburgher had fresh memories of the Point as a place of crumbling warehouses, dilapidated brick dwellings, saloons and narrow cobblestone streets.

Then it changed — in dramatic fashion. The Point was cleared, the old buildings demolished. Silver towers named Gateway Center 1, 2 and 3 rose skyward, looking spiffy and modern. Surrounding them were trees and shrubs. Greenery, on the Point! It was barely believable.

Further up Liberty Avenue stood Four Gateway Center, 22 stories of green glass — a mirror, so the new and emerging city could preen itself.

The Hilton would be the gem of the Point. “We intend to build a beautiful structure worthy of its beautiful site,” said the hotel’s director. When was the last time anyone had used the word “beautiful” and Pittsburgh in the same sentence?

But there it was, 24-stories of anodized gold, an exclamation point on the Golden Triangle. Workers wrapped it in a quarter mile of royal blue ribbon — “the world’s largest ribbon and bow,” proclaimed The Pittsburgh Press.

Tanned and dapper Conrad Hilton showed up to cut the five-foot wide strip of cloth. Trailing behind him were a bunch of his Hollywood friends. After opening ceremonies, the sexes parted in typical ’50s style: Women filed inside to attend a fashion show while men sat down to a luncheon.

The city shivered with anticipation of the next day’s dinner and dance, a $75 per person affair open to 1,000 Pittsburghers and 200 special guests of Hilton. “The doors of the largest ballroom in the eastern part of the nation will be thrown open to reveal what promises to be one of the most spectacular scenes of elegance and conviviality ever witnessed here,” gushed the Press.

It was a smashing event. A few days later, Love looked up at Mount Washington and imagined what the new city would look like in the years to come. He could visualize “the crest of the hill lined with restaurants with glass walls overlooking the triangle, and apartment houses with balconies or decks to take advantage of the view. Below them, the hillside would be a hanging garden of blooming plants.”

He imagined pleasure boats on the river, a fountain sending a geyser of water into the sky, walkways along the river.

Visitors, he wrote, “will wonder why this place was ever called ‘The Smoky City.’”

Steve Mellon

Top photo: The Hilton Hotel, under construction in October 1958, framed by one of the tiers leading to the new Fort Pitt Bridge. (Photo credit unknown)

April 7, 1955: J. Salk with flasks in which monkey kidney cells are incubated before virus is allowed to grow in them. (Credit: Unknown) Dr. Jonas E. Salk and Arthur Donahoo of Washington, Pa. (Credit: The Pittsburgh Press) May 23, 1955: Dr. Jonas Salk. (Credit: Unknown) Feb. 13, 1966: Salk in the lab. (Credit: The Pittsburgh Press) Jonas Salk in his later years. He died in 1995. (Credit: Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazete) Jan. 30, 1956: Dr. Lev J. Lukin, Prof. Anatoli A. Smorodimtseo, Dr. Marina K. Vorshilova, Prof. Mikhail P. Chumakov and Dr. Jonas Salk. (Credit: Unknown)

1955: Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine

On the afternoon of April 16, 1955, there was noticeable buzz at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. Why?  Pittsburgh’s newest international star, Dr. Jonas Salk, was coming home. A crowd of 500 proud locals, many of them children, anxiously waited for the doctor’s plane to land.

“No public reception is planned, but County and City police will be assigned to the Airport to handle the people who may wish to cheer his victory,” said a Pittsburgh Press article that day.

Salk arrived in Pittsburgh on the heels of his most notable accomplishment: the successful application of a vaccine to cure polio. After seven years of experimentation and testing, largely conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, the scientist’s team reported the vaccine a success.

Salk-related headlines sprang up all over the country; he quickly became known as the miraculous man who cured a disease that had affected more than half a million Americans in the preceding 40 years.  

Salk, though, was not well-liked by his peers.

While some scientists were purely petty, others argued Salk had “not played fair” by using unconventional means of creating a vaccine.

A few in his field thought it was “unthinkable” that Salk should receive all the credit for the polio vaccination. Scientists who came before Salk set the foundation for the work he did, but despite their research and experimentation, they were not as widely recognized.

Through the success and criticism, Salk knew he still had work to do. Unsatisfied with a vaccine that was only 80 to 90 percent effective, the New York native set his sights on perfecting the shot by returning to his Pittsburgh lab for further research.

Meanwhile, starting in late April 1955, thousands of Pittsburgh children were vaccinated in local schools. The first mass inoculation in Allegheny County occurred the Monday after Salk’s return, and city school children did not receive shots until 10 days later.

Pittsburghers warmly welcomed home their “adopted local boy” after the initial invention, and the happiness and gratefulness spread across the country. People hung up “THANK YOU SALK” posters in store windows, held celebrations, and commemorated the day the invention broke through.

Ten years after the vaccine’s initial success, the United States no longer claimed polio as a major health concern. And the public loved Salk for it.

—Emily Kaplan and Golzar Meamar

Dippy's statue unveiled in Oakland, 1999. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette) Dippy is a Steelers fan. ...and sometimes a Panthers fan... Dippy sporting a special holiday scarf, 2004.

1999: Hip dinosaur Dippy 

The Oakland statue of Dippy, the most famous dinosaur of Pittsburgh, seems to have been standing outside the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on Forbes Avenue forever. He is old, right? It only makes sense: Dippy is a dino. 

The looks and names can be deceiving though. Dippy’s fiberglass statue is only 15 years old. One of the most recognizable symbols of Pittsburgh was erected in 1999 to celebrate the centennial of discovering the bare bones of the real Dippy, Andrew Carnegie’s obsession — that treasure still stands indoors in the museum’s Dinosaur Hall. 

The indoors Dippy, whose real name is Diplodocus carnegii (in honor of… well, you know who), first appeared before Pittsburgh’s public in 1907. At that time, the 84-feet-long Diplodocus was a creature of superlatives: the tallest dinosaur ever found, the best preserved, the most desired by various collectors, the first dinosaur to ever be housed in the museum and many other THEs.  Even the tale of finding Dippy and bringing the bones to Pittsburgh was hailed "a soap opera about bones."

But enough drama about the Dippy who lives indoors. Tough life. Dippy who stands outside must be thinking his indoors counterpart has it easy. Snow, sleet, rain, thunder, bone-chilling cold and even the vandals — Dippy has seen it all in an unpredictable world of Pittsburgh’s outdoors, and for that perseverance he earned the city’s respect and recognition.

Dippy, for sure, is a representative of Pittsburgh’s pop culture. He even made it to Yinztagram, a Pittsburgh photo app, as an integral feature of the Steel City along with Primanti Bros. sandwich, Rick Sebak and a construction detour sign.

The fiberglass Dippy is hip, too. During his short life he has sported more scarves and hats than an average Pittsburgher. Obviously, he does not choose his sports loyalties. Dippy’s passions have Pittsburgh ties. He was spotted wearing the Steelers Terrible Towel, the Panthers’ scarf, the green-and-white scarf with shamrock on it before St. Patrick’s Day and even a bicycle helmet (maybe as a precursor to the advent of the cycling culture in the Steel City?).

— Mila Sanina

A streetcar promotes the arrival of the Freedom Train in Pittsburgh in 1948. At left is Thomas Fitzgerald, trustee of Pittsburgh Railways. At right is Councilman A.L. Walk. (Credit: unknown) People wait their turn to see historic American documents aboard the Freedom Train. The line stretched to Grant Street and wrapped around the Post Office and Courthouse. (Credit: unknown) Mounted police keep order as people line up outside the U.S. District Courthouse and Post Office to see historic American documents aboard the Freedom Train in September 1948. (Credit: unknown) U.S. President Harry S. Truman and David Lawrence confer aboard the Freedom Train in Pittsburgh in 1948. Allegheny County Commissioner John Kane has his back to the camera. (Credit: unknown) Train buffs placed coins on the track in 1976 before the train arrived in Greensburg. When it left, they bent down to collect the compressed coins as souvenirs. (Albert French/Post-Gazette)

1947-48: The Freedom Train’s journey through Pennsylvania”

One year after World War II concluded, U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark believed Americans had become complacent about their rights and responsibilities as citizens and the value of their many freedoms.

On May 22, 1947, with the endorsement of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Clark gathered 200 people at the White House. Conference participants represented business, finance, labor, industry and government. 

Americans, the group decided, should see a free traveling exhibition of the nation’s historic documents. The American Heritage Foundation, a New York-based organization, was established to organize an exhibition aboard the Freedom Train. 

Fifty-two railroads shared the task of taking the Freedom Train on its 33,000-mile journey. Staff members of the National Archives assembled about a quarter of the 126 documents on display. 

Americans lined up in droves to see Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Caesar Rodney’s letter, written on July 4, 1776, described the voting on the Declaration of Independence. George Washington’s letter outlined the winter hardships his troops suffered.

The Freedom Train’s journey began in Philadelphia on September 17, 1947, the 160th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Guarding the displays were 27 U.S. Marines, many of whom had seen combat during World War II. 

The Freedom Train arrived for a three-day stay in Pittsburgh, at Pennsylvania Station, in September 1948. In Downtown Pittsburgh, a line formed an hour before the exhibition opened. Men removed their caps when they boarded the train. 

The Freedom Train’s tour ended on Jan. 22, 1949. By that time, more than 3.5 million people in 48 states had seen America’s founding documents.

—Marylynne Pitz