For utilitarian dwellers, business people and visitors to Pittsburgh’s modern Downtown the 18-story Keenan Building on Liberty Avenue may be associated with the 7-Eleven store that is located on its ground floor. You know the intersection of Liberty and Seventh Street, right? And you would, for sure, recognize the landmark… Yeees? Let’s just hope you looked up at least once. If not, you should, because you are missing out on the artistry behind the building and a cool story.
The Keenan skyscraper is one of the oldest among Golden Triangle buildings.
Constructed in 1907 at a cost of $2 million, it was the tallest building in Pittsburgh and the shiniest. The dome was ‘crowned’ by the eagle and a series of portraits. The ‘penthouse’ once served as lavish living quarters for Col. Thomas J. Keenan, Jr., the owner of the building AND one-time owner of The Pittsburgh Press. In those days, as you can imagine, conceiving such a structure was a statement, building it was an accomplishment. Photographs and sketches of Pittsburgh’s “skyscraper with the golden dome” appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide. In those days, it was Pittsburgh’s counterpart of the Steel Tower in the 1970s and the Fifth Avenue Place branded by Highmark today.
In the early 1950s, the Keenan building housed state offices, commercial firms and a restaurant.
In the 1960s, the building changed ownership several times. Each and every one of the new owners had undertaken what they called a major rehabilitation campaign “to restore the Keenan Building to its old-time splendor.”
Those promises brought cheer to advocacy groups protecting Pittsburgh’s historic buildings and landmarks at the time. In their view, the Keenan Building deserved a special consideration because of its uniqueness. “The only other important skyscraper n this country, the Spreckels-Call Building on Market Street in San Francisco, was completely ruined by injudicious ‘rehabilitation’ some years ago and that makes the Keenan Building all the more important,” Vice President Trump of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation told the Post-Gazette in 1969.
Today, the dome is golden no more. New domed skyscrapers, shinier and taller, sprung around the country and around the world. And the Keenan Building carries a far less personalized and far less intriguing name — Midtown Towers.