As manager of the 400-room Pittsburgher Hotel at Forbes Avenue and Cherry Way, Joseph Duddy greeted many important guests and he had a knack for remembering names and faces.
During his career in the hotel industry, Mr. Duddy met aviator Charles Lindbergh, crooner Bing Crosby, prizefighter Jack Dempsey and King Albert of Belgium. He also catered to a series of U.S. Presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft. (Lindbergh gave $5 to the bell boy who carted his luggage up and down to his room while President Taft gave out 10-cent tips, Mr. Duddy told a newspaper columnist.)
The South Side native, born in 1894, may have acquired his people skills as a 6-year-old boy when he began selling newspapers in the morning and afternoon on the South Side. At that tender age, he wore a special badge and cap so he could ride the trolleys through the Mt. Washington tunnel. He ran a profitable stand at Carson and Smithfield streets and his customers called him “Little Joe.” In between his day job, he made it to class at Monongahela School, too.
At age 13, he became a bell boy at the Duquesne Hotel. In 1916, he joined the staff of the William Penn Hotel and rose to the rank of service manager. He held similar positions at the Monongahela House and the Roosevelt Hotel.
In 1935, when the state Legislature made it legal for Pennsylvanians to drink while standing at a bar, Mr. Duddy supervised removal of seats from the Pittsburgher Hotel’s bar. In 1936, when football fans packed local hotels to attend the Notre Dame-Pitt football game, Mr. Duddy gave his own suite to Alfred E. Smith, who had campaigned on the Democratic ticket for the U.S. presidency.
Mr. Duddy never forget his start as a newsie. Every year, he asked all of his friends to contribute to The Press Old Newsboys Fund, a charity that raised money to pay for medical care that poor patients received at Children’s Hospital.
In 1945, the 24-story Hotel Pittsburgher, which had been built by a Mellon family interest and opened in 1928, was sold for $1.1 million to the Knott Corp.
But Mr. Duddy stayed on as manager. His new employer sent him to Ireland on a scouting mission to see if it was a good idea to build a hotel in Dublin. In 1955, he was the guest of honor at a party here before flying to England to open the Westbury Hotel in the upscale London neighborhood of Mayfair.
As 1960 drew to a close, the neon sign that said “Hotel Pittsburgher” came down after 33 years to make way for a canopy. In 1961, Mr. Duddy packed up the many photographs of famous people that decorated his office. He spent two years managing a hotel near the airport, then retired in 1963. He died a year later at age 70.
Today, the former Pittsburgher Hotel is known as the Lawyers’ Building.