A close look at the old North Side prison

After operating as a prison for more than 100 years, the former State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh closed in June 2017.

The original buildings in what was once called the Western Penitentiary were built from 1876 to 1882 in the style of the “Auburn system” — a method that allowed inmates to work during the day in groups and be kept in solitary cells at night.

The property on the Ohio River is still owned by the state, and it’s unclear what will become of the 22.5-acre site in Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Preservation groups have said the long wall facing the Ohio River and former warden’s quarters should be preserved, though any adaption to another use would likely be very costly. In recent months, the site has mainly been used by the film industry. Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora” was partially filmed in the closed facility.

Post-Gazette reporter Kate Giammarise and photographers Nate Guidry and Steve Mellon recently toured the facility.

A view of basketball courts in the North yard at the former SCI Pittsburgh site on the North Side. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
Fourth floor cells in the “D unit,” one of the “old blocks.”
(Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
Cells in one of the restricted housing units, added in the late 1980s. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
One of two narrow cells in the basement of one of the oldest sections of the prison.
(Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
A cell in one of the restricted housing units. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
A view of one of the oldest sections of the prison. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
Restricted housing units reflect a more modern architectural style.
(Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
Magazines remain on the bed of a fourth floor cell in one of the “old blocks.”.
(Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
Peeling paint hangs above cells in the fourth floor in one of the “old blocks.”
(Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
A view of the main yard from the roof of the medical building. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
A partially deflated basketball in the main yard.
(Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)