Henry Hornbostel was a gifted architect and one of Pittsburgh’s most flamboyant figures.
He also had a flair for attracting publicity. A good example is this photo of Hornbostel with Chief Strong Fox of the Cayuga tribe of Native Americans from a reservation in Salamanca, N.Y. The picture was taken during the 1930s while Chief Strong Fox visited the fifth annual free county fair in South Park.
Hornbostel had a white Van Dyke beard, dressed in suits with red ribbon ties and carried a cane. He often drove a Packard convertible with his beloved collie as a passenger.
After he won the commission to design the original buildings for the Carnegie Institute of Technology, construction began in 1905. Today, the school is Carnegie Mellon University.
Hornbostel designed the School of Applied Design, now the College of Fine Arts, and served as the architecture school’s first dean. He also started a popular annual costume party called the Beaux Arts Ball.
His drafting abilities were legendary and he had a knack for finding the perfect spot to locate buildings on hilly land. Of the 70 buildings he designed in Pittsburgh, some of the notable landmarks are Smithfield United Church, Rodef Shalom synagogue, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, the City-County Building and the Grant building. Some architects and historians consider the College of Fine Arts at CMU to be some of his best work. The building’s vaulted ceilings feature murals painted by James Hewlett.
After the Depression began in 1929, work for architects dried up. During the 1930s, Hornbostel became Allegheny County’s parks director, a job that allowed him to expand the Allegheny County Airport and design the South Park Golf Club.
In 1939, he retired and moved to Harwinton, Conn., where he restored a historic home called The Elms and grew acres of vegetables. Every year, he threw a large party on Aug. 15 to celebrate his birthday and some Pittsburgh residents joined in the celebration.
Hornbostel was 94 when he died in 1961. To see the stunningly beautiful buildings this architect created in our city, tune in on Friday at 10 p.m. when WQED airs a locally produced documentary about his life and legacy.
The film will be repeated on Sunday at noon.