Mellon Square has anchored Pittsburgh’s business district since 1955 and hid behind its aesthetic shield one of the largest parking lots in the center of the city. Props to Pittsburgh banker Richard Mellon King for conceiving an oasis in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Downtown.
But more than 50 years of exploitation, corrosion, and lack of maintenance made it clear: the oasis itself needed resuscitation to bring back its previous magnificence. In 2009, such a plan was developed, and in 2011, a $10 million restoration began.
Today Mellon Square re-opens restored and remodeled to once again offer a safe place for Downtown workers and residents to take a break in the middle of traffic crawling on Smithfield Street, Oliver and Sixth Avenues.
Walk over to Mellon Square, take a stroll on the exquisite pavement, look up and you’ll feel dwarfed by giant symbols of Pittsburgh’s capitalist power and glory of the past: the Regional Enterprise Tower, Oliver Building, Omni William Penn Hotel, and 525 William Penn Place. Well, maybe not “glory of the past” — no one would argue that these buildings still look quite as magnificent.
The vision behind Mellon Square was driven by pragmatism: in the 1940s, Downtown Pittsburgh needed a garage to accommodate the needs of the growing business district and to lure Alcoa away from an idea to move its headquarters to New York. Thus, it couldn’t be just a parking garage; Richard King Mellon wanted that space to capture the spirit of Pittsburgh’s Renaissance. Architects from Mitchell & Ritchey designed the parking space capped by the public square, Simonds & Simonds landscaped it.
When Mellon Square opened, it was deemed “the creation of an oasis of beauty and serenity above the din of the city streets.” When the square was completed, Mellon gave the square to the city.
A dedication marker on ground level says: “Mellon Square is dedicated to the memory of two brothers, Andrew W. Mellon and Richard B. Mellon, their leadership, civic spirit and philanthropy advanced immeasurably the welfare of this community.”
Mellon Square is looking up to become Pittsburgh’s Rockefeller Center, though smaller in scale and more manageable in vision — not quite as Ayn Randian, much more hospitable and less intimidating. Just like Pittsburgh itself.