Louise Sturgess (in the pink scarf), Mt. Lebanon resident and executive director of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, greets ADSW guests and begins the municipal building tour.
The glamour, elegance and allure of Art Deco style has had a lasting legacy evident in our everyday lives, especially in Pittsburgh. Downtown, we have the Gulf Building, the Koppers Bulding and Joseph Urban’s historic mural in the Omni William Penn hotel—to name a few—and here in Mt. Lebanon, our municipal building stands as a monument to the era.
Art Deco was a term coined to define the look and feel of the urban, modern style that emerged in the ’20s and ’30s—think The Great Gatsby. In architecture, especially in the Art Deco buildings here in Pittsburgh, you expect to see a lot of metallic-colored detailing, bold color contrasts, geometric designs, marble floors, concrete walls and even urban-style gargoyles.
The appeal of so much Art Deco in one place brought The Art Deco Society of Washington (ADSW) to Pittsburgh this past weekend, and the Mt. Lebanon municipal public information office hosted their visit here. Our municipal building was packed with admiring enthusiasts bursting with questions such as, “Are these light fixtures original?” and “Is this terrazzo flooring?”
One of these enthusiasts was Mitchell Shapiro, who has been a member of the ADSW for more than 25 years. “I think it is great that they re-purposed this building for practical use, instead of letting it sit and collect dust,” says Shapiro, “The art deco-ness of the building is so unique, and it is wonderful to see people promoting, preserving and enjoying it.”
Our municipal building was originally designed by William Henry King Jr., a 1912 graduate of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and it was constructed in the ’20s. Then, after decades of renovations that had greatly altered much of its initial construction, local architect Dan Rothschild was employed to restore the building to its original design in 2003-04.
The story of our municipal building appealed to the ADSW because preservation and awareness of Art Deco is what the club is all about. But their mission goes beyond the architecture of the era to include the dance, film, music and cultural arts of the time period.
Laurie Crandle, a prominent member of the ADSW, was drawn to the club because of the its promotion of Art Deco fashion. “A friend of mine introduced me to the club years ago, and I actually wasn’t too involved at first,” says Crandle. “Then, I learned about its involvement with the trends of the time period, and I have always been interested in vintage fashion and hair styling.”
In fact, Crandle recently worked with Project Runway’s Tim Gunn and Boardwalk Empire’s fashion director John Dunn when the ADSW assisted in the presentation of a 1920s Prohibition-Era Fashion Show at the National Archives in September.
Even though Art Deco fashion is her primary area of interest, she and her husband, Tim Foley, could not resist the appeal of the era’s architectural presence in Pittsburgh, and they were glad that they signed up for the trip.
“Pittsburgh is much nicer than I always imagined,” says Foley, who particularly enjoyed his visit to the Grand Ballroom in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and was impressed by the interior of the Koppers Building. “We don’t have a lot of Art Deco construction in D.C., so I haven’t seen too much architecture like this before. I think it is very unique, and it is certainly something Pittsburgh should be proud of.”