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Downtown Pittsburgh, often referred to as the Golden Triangle, is not the “hell with the lid taken off” anymore. Since Pittsburgh’s Renaissance, where all the heavy and polluting industry was moved out of town, Pittsburgh has undergone a complete metamorphosis to a modern and clean high tech city. Especially the younger generations have rediscovered the downtown area as a place to live.
The Golden Triangle is the home of the CBD (Central Business District), the Cultural District, bars, educational institutions, as well as restaurants, entertainment, and many historic locations.
All this has resulted in Pittsburgh constantly having among the lowest vacancy rates for Class A business space among US cities’ downtown areas.
Below are notable institutions and places in Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle and nearby areas on the North Shore and the South Side:
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Heinz Hall is a theater and concert hall and home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The main lobby in all its grandeur is particularly impressive.
The building is located on the site of the former Exchange Hotel from the 1840s where Charles Dickens and his wife stayed for 3 days in 1842. The hotel was then replaced with the Loew's Penn Theatre in 1927. Loew's Penn Theatre was one of the most elaborate movie palaces in the US, but attendance started to waver in the 1960s as with many movie palaces of that era.
The abandoned building eventually sold to the Howard Heinz Endowment in 1967. After an extensive renovation where much of the grandeur of the movie theater was restored, the building reopened in 1971 as Heinz Hall.
Built in 1916, the Omni William Penn Hotel was hailed “the Grandest Hotel in the nation”. The 23 story hotel underwent a major extension in 1929 when the eastern part of the block was filled and the room total was brought to 1,600 making it the second largest hotel in the world.
Over the years, the room count was drastically reduced to less than 700 and the hotel changed owners and names a number of times. As of 2001, it is owned by Omni Hotels & Resorts and known as the Omni William Penn hotel.
Even if you are not staying in this beautiful hotel, come on in and take a look at the grand entrance hall and wander around a bit to take it all in.
A hands-on interactive children's museum that I have not visited.
Point State Park is a 36 acre (150,000m2) park located at the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers and at the tip of Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle”. Historically, this area was called the “Forks of the Ohio”. It commemorates and preserves the strategic and historic heritage of the area during the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
The French first built Fort Duquesne near the tip. Its outline is today shown by brick pavers. Later, the British razed Fort Duquesne and built Fort Pitt nearby. The Fort Pitt Blockhouse is the oldest remaining building in Pittsburgh from that time. Please see my history section for more information (xxx link).
By the 1930s the tip of Pittsburgh was covered with warehouses and railroad yards and by 1945 property values were in free fall. To make matters worse, the Manchester Bridge (over the Allegheny River) and the Point Bridge (over the Monongahela) both met at the point and there was simply no room for the necessary interchange that was needed to handle the high traffic volumes.
There were competing concepts for the redevelopment of this area and ultimately the Point State Park concept won. By 1949, the state had acquired all land and properties and by 1974 Point State Park officially opened when construction of its iconic fountain was completed.
The location of the fountain was chosen as the previous connector of the Manchester Bridge and the Point Bridge was located here. Both bridges were removed in 1970.
The fountain is also the western terminus of the Great Allegheny Passage, a 350 mile trail beginning in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC.
From here you have a wonderful view of Heinz Field (home of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and Duquesne Bridge to the right, the West End Bridge down the Ohio River, Mount Washington to your left and, even further left, the Fort Pitt Bridge.
I have reviewed the Fort Pitt Museum here: (xxx link)
The Gateway Center concept was developed during World War 2 and conceived as a gateway of offices next to Point State Park at the Forks of the Ohio. The skyscrapers are located in the heart of Pittsburgh's central business district. One, Two and Three Gateway Center were completed in 1952 and Four Gateway Center in 1960.
As of 2013, all four buildings are included in the "Pittsburgh Renaissance Historic District", a historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Interesting bits of information:
One PPG Place is probably the most iconic building in downtown Pittsburgh and it was called "the crown jewel in Pittsburgh's skyline". PPG Place itself consists of six buildings within three city blocks covering 5.5 acres. It was designed for its anchor tenant, PPG Industries, who used it as its headquarters. The grand opening was in 1984 and one of the highlights of Pittsburgh's "Renaissance II period". For its construction, 19,750 pieces of glass, many of them reflective insulating glass, were used which make the building very energy efficient.
If you come between November 22 and March 1, look for the ice skating rink in the plaza, which is supposedly larger than New York City’s rink in Rockefeller Center and about 2/3 of the size of a standard National Hockey League rink. There is also the 60ft Christmas tree which is definitely wort your attention.
If you come in summer between 6am and 10pm, then you can enjoy the unique water feature in the center of the plaza. Water pulses from 140 columns which are lid by underground LEDs and shoot up to about 15ft. The water then disappears into the surface where it is collected and reused. The display is nice during daytime, but the colors really pop at night.
If you come in late November or December, check out Two PPG Place to see how Santa Claus is depicted in different cultures around the world.
Market Square was part of the original layout, or block plan, for Pittsburgh in 1764. At that time, it was called "Diamond Square" and "Diamond Market". It was home to the first courthouse, first jail and the first newspaper west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Throughout its history, Market Square has been an important social gathering place in the city. A significant renovation in 2009 and 2010 emphasized this function and transformed the square into a pedestrian zone with European charm. Market Square is lined with restaurants and is a serene oasis within the hustle and bustle of Pittsburgh’s busy business district.
The mostly slow-going Market Square becomes busy several times a year:
The Allegheny County Courthouse is an active courthouse and visitors must go through a metal detector and purses, backpacks and luggage are subject to search.
It was designed by H. H. Richardson who was one of "the recognized trinity of American architecture". It is built in the “Romanesque Revival style”, an architectural style founded by and named after H. H. Richardson, who referred to the building as his "great achievement". The Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
Richardson’s design was considered innovative because the building was built around an interior courtyard which allowed natural light and fresh air into most of the building.
The courtyard is surrounded by four stories on three sides and the 4th side has a five story tower. The steep roofs have dormers at the corners. The use of large granite blocks for the walls and wide arches over entrance ways and windows give the building a dignified appearance.
Across the street, a prison is connected to the courthouse via the "Bridge of Sighs", whose design is based on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.
In 1912, when Grant’s Hill was leveled, the street level in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse was lowered too. Richardson had accounted for that and buried finished masonry underground which was now revealed. To allow people to access the now elevated grand entrance, a stairway was built. In the 1930s, however, it was removed during street widening. The solution that was found left the grand entrance in the 2nd floor and extended the lower doorways in the basement to the street level. That means that you now enter the building through what used to be the basement.
In 1937, five murals were painted on the first floor. They are: "Fort Duquesne", "Industry", "Justice", "Peace", and "The Battle of Grant's Hill".
The courthouse that you see today is Pittsburgh’s third courthouse and the second in this location. Pittsburgh's original courthouse stood at Market Square from 1818 to 1841 and was replaced by a second courthouse at the location where the current courthouse stands in 1841. When the second courthouse burned down in 1882, it was demolished and the current structure was built and completed in 1888.
Pittsburgh used to have a small Chinatown, but it exists no more. All that is left is the Chinatown Inn. Should you be craving for authentic Chinese food or Chinese grocery stores, there is help. But before we go there, let’s take a step back in time.
After the 1848 Gold Rush in California and the transcontinental railroad was built, waves of Chinese migrated east towards Pittsburgh as there was a high demand for laborers. By 1900, the Chinese population was estimated to be 180. Laundries and restaurants were the main businesses they operated.
Many settled in the area of Second Ave and Third Ave between Ross St and Grant St. There were two competing gangs, the “On Leong” and the Hip Sing”. There were skirmishes in the 1920s and 1930s known as the "Tong Wars" which were making Chinatown a dangerous place.
In the 1920s, the Chinese population was at its peak of about 500 and Chinatown even had its unofficial mayor who spoke English and negotiated on behalf of the Chinese community, which often only spoke Cantonese, with city officials.
Chinatown’s downfall was the construction of the Blvd of the Allies and parking lots starting in 1921 which slowly but surely squeezed out most of the Chinese residents of this area.
In 1959, only 30 Chinese residents were left.
The only traces left today are the Chinatown Inn restaurant and the Hong Kong Express 2.
Chinatown Inn is located in the former “On Leong” Labor and Merchants Association building (map, reviews, website).
Hong Kong Express 2, is in the former site of old “Hip Sing” Association (map, reviews, website).
I have not been in either restaurant for more than 10 years and I am sure a lot has changed. Please read the reviews above to decide which restaurant you like to visit.
Opened in 2009 on the banks of the Ohio river, the Rivers Casino is the first casino in the Pittsburgh region, with “The Meadows Racetrack and Casino” (map, reviews, website) south of Pittsburgh being the second with an opening date about 11 months later.
The casino offers slot machines, table games, a poker room, sports betting, five restaurants, four bars, a night club and an Event Center.
I don’t know about you, but I enjoy going to a casino once a year or so to watch people play craps or roulette. I may even bet and, of course, win a few dollars in craps, and afterwards have a nice meal in one of their restaurants. The Rivers Casino and The Meadows are definitely good for that, but don’t expect the magical Las Vegas atmosphere. You will only find that in Vegas.
The National Aviary is the largest aviary in the US and the only one which Congress granted the "National" status.
There are over 500 birds from more than 150 bird species in the aviary. You can witness the scheduled feedings of most of them and you can pay for private encounters.
Besides the many birds, there are sloths and armadillos and they are available for the paid animal encounters.
For me one of the best experiences, and probably one of the reasons why this is a “National” aviary, was the fact that we were able to see a bald eagle couple up close. They are truly majestic birds.
At the time of writing in 2020, Station Square is under renovation and open, but deserted. The restaurants and hotel around Station Square are still open. If you plan to visit, please check in advance if the main is back in business. This is important as there is only paid parking here.
Station Square is a 52 acre shopping and entertainment complex located across Monongahela river (locals call it the “Mon river”) from the Golden Triangle.
Since 1976, Station Square is located in the historic Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Station which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the "Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Complex”.
It is a major tourist attraction in Pittsburgh and the main building and surrounding area contains many souvenir and memorabilia stores, as well as restaurants and entertainment venues.
Station Square has a multi-story parking garage with paid parking only and it is connected to the local bus and the “T”, Pittsburgh light rail system.
Besides the stores, those notable places are:
The Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines are the last two funiculars from originally 17 that went up and down Mount Washington
Monongahela Incline was built in 1870 and is the oldest continuously operating funicular in the US; the Duquesne Incline was built 7 years later.
Even though both inclines are quite close to each other, both have very different histories. The Duquesne incline, like most other inclines was used to transport coal and other cargo up and down Mt. Washington, or Coal Hill, as it was sometimes called at that time. Later, it converted to carrying passengers up and won the hill.
The Monongahela Incline was built right from the start for passenger transportation. At as at that time, the labor demand in downtown Pittsburgh was so high and there was not much space left for housing, so people built their homes on Mt Washington. The lack of roads and public transportation made it very difficult for these people to reach work in downtown. The mostly German immigrants on Mt Washington proposed the construction of a funicular, which was then built in 1870.
Here is some data about the inclines:
Behind the Hard Rock Café you will find Bessemer Court with the Bessemer Fountain and the Bessemer Converter. The 10 ton converter built in 1930 was originally installed at the A. M. Byers Company in Ambridge. The Bessemer process was the first inexpensive way to produce steel. It was practiced in Pittsburgh since 1875 at the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock and it helped put Pittsburgh on the map as the Steel City.
The Bessermer Converter was used to first melt the pig iron and then air was blown through it which causes impurities to oxidize and escape either as a gas or in form a solid slag. Before the converter was developed, it took at least one full day of heating and stirring of the molten pig iron to produce steel. With the converter, it only took 10 to 20 min.
The Bessemer Fountain has more than ten choreographed fountain & light & music shows every 20 min from 9am to Midnight from April through early November.
The shows are nice during daylight, but I find they are much better after dark. And, by the way, I love the music!
The Gateway Clipper Fleet is a Pittsburgh staple since 1958. Named after Pittsburgh, which was known as the "Gateway to the West", the fleet of riverboats currently has six ships which probably makes it the largest inland riverboat fleet in the US.
Moored at Station Square, the Gateway Clipper Fleet offers many different types of cruises on Pittsburgh’s three rivers throughout the day. From sightseeing cruises to dinner cruises and themed music cruises to day trips and chartered cruises, they all offer fantastic views of the Golden Triangle and Point State Park with the majestic fountain.
I have done many different cruises and I particularly like sunset dinner cruises with live music. For the casual visitor with kids or for travelers who are short on time, 1h sightseeing cruises during daylight are some of their best-selling cruises.
After the iconic Three Rivers Stadium, the former home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Pirates, was demolished in 2001, both sports teams moved to their two new wonderful new stadiums:
“Heinz Field” for the Pittsburgh Steelers and now also the Pittsburgh Panthers, the University of Pittsburgh college football team,
“PNC Park” for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Groundbreaking was in 1999 and the first game was hosted in 2001. Since Pittsburgh is the Steel City and home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, designers made sure to use about 12,000 tons of steel in the construction. Unlike many other NFL stadiums, Heinz Field has a natural grass and not artificial turf. Even though the grass has caused lots of problems over the years, Steelers management continues to support this after players and coaches and even opposing teams lobbied for it. In what is probably the worst example of a "veritable mud pit" as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called it, in a game against the Miami Dolphins, a punt from the Miami Dolphins ended up sticking into the turf without bouncing.
There are now 68,400 seats in the stadium, up from the original 64,450.
As with the previous Three Rivers Stadium since 1972, every Steelers home game has been sold out
Heinz Field is open for behind-the-scenes tours. I consider this a must for football fans. More information can be found on this website.
PNC Park is probably my favorite sports stadium. Visitors enjoy a view on the beautiful skyline of the Golden Triangle is nothing short breathtaking, excellent views on the field regardless where your seat is.
PNC Park was named as “the best” or “one of the best” ballparks in the US for the above reasons.
Opened in 2001, PNC Park was built in a "retro-classic" and “timeless” style modeled after Forbes Field, the first home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The stadium uses unique features like the limestone façade and, of course, steel trusses as Pittsburgh is the “Steel City”.
Together with the construction of PNC Park came the renaming of the 6th Street Bridge to Roberto Clemente Bridge, to honor Pittsburgh’s greatest baseball player as a compromise to selling the stadium naming rights to PNC Bank.
The seat capacity is 38,747.
PNC Park Tours are available and, if you can’t visit a Pirates game, then I can only recommend joining a tour. More information can be found on this website.
Pittsburgh’s Cultural District is a 14 block area in downtown Pittsburgh. It is bordered by the Allegheny River in the north, Tenth Street in the east, Liberty Avenue in the south and Stanwix Street in the west.
The Cultural District has theaters (more than 1,500 shows per year), art galleries, as well as restaurants and stores. When you take a walk here, you will see some nice murals, statues and other art in the streets.
A former red light district, H. J. Heinz II’s vision was to transform multiple blocks of the Penn-Liberty Avenue corridor into a cultural district. This dream became true when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust was formed in 1984. The district's transformation is widely praised and serves as a role model for urban redevelopment through the arts. The New York Times wrote: "To describe Pittsburgh's unconventional, un-Disneyfied remodeling of its Cultural District... is to explore how theater can help transform urban identity".
Pittsburgh Film Office is located in the Cultural District. Founded in 1990, it is a non-profit organization that markets the greater southwestern Pennsylvania region as a location for movie, television and commercial productions. So far, PFO has brought more than 100 feature films and television productions to the Pittsburgh area and it is quite common to hear about road closures in Pittsburgh due to movie filming. For anyone interested, there are lists of all the films and TV shows shot in Pittsburgh on Wikipedia (films, TV shows).
The main staples of the Cultural District are:
Pittsburgh’s Strip District is one of the major tourist attractions in the city. It is called Strip District, because it is located on a strip of land along the Allegheny River. The borders are the Allegheny River to the north, Liberty Avenue to the south, 11th Street to the west and 33rd Street to the east.
The location along the Allegheny River allowed for ships to moor and transfer raw materials and goods to the many mills and factories in this area, but also to transfer cargo to rail and trucks.
Some of the notable early factories in the Strip were H.J. Heinz Company, Pittsburgh Reduction Company (ALCOA), U.S. Steel and Westinghouse.
The shipping the manufacturing plants attracted lots of merchants to serve the workers in this area and wholesalers, mostly for fresh meat and produce. Those then attracted auction houses. By the early 1920s, the Strip District had become Pittsburgh’s economic center.
Fortunes turned in the mid-to-late 1920s, when road transportation increased and rail and river shipments declined. Many of the local produce sellers and wholesalers left for areas with better highway access and areas with more space for expansion. The steel crises in the 20th century which forced many steel miss to close worsened the decline. It is estimated that today, there is less than 20% of the produce industry left in the Strip District. Pittsburghers took the opportunity and many of the abandoned warehouses were renovated and today’s Strip District is one of the most popular areas for tourists and locals to shop in a multitude of small stores, open-air farmers' markets, art studios, antique dealers, boutiques, and enjoy life in the many restaurants, nightclubs, and bars.
The attractiveness of today’s Strip District is also attracting residential developers who are converting old factories and warehouses into apartments and lofts.
Within the last few years, several high tech companies have moved into the area. Notable companies are Uber's Advanced Technology Group who develop their autonomous driving cars here, and offices of Apple, Facebook, Robert Bosch GmbH, Target Corporation, and many more.
For notable stores and restaurants, please click here.
A historic landmark in the Strip District is St. Stanislaus Kostka Church (map, reviews) which was built in 1891 in an ornate Polish Cathedral style. It served early generations of Polish immigrants.
I have reviewed the South Side in the “Pittsburgh’s Food Streets and Notable Restaurants and Stores” section.