Even as his fellow county commissioners placed the cornerstone, Charles C. McGovern fumed.
He remained frustrated about the cost to taxpayers of a new $3.65-million county administration building. The fight had long been lost on that day in April 1930 when the cornerstone was laid.
Still, he said, “the increase in the public business of this county does not require a deal of millions of dollars over a period of 30 years.”
Translation: we’re not that busy that we need to buy this big new building.
But at that point, five months into the Great Depression, the deal was done. Allegheny County’s administration had a new home — one that neighbors another fine governmental structure, the City-County Building on Grant Street.
That building had a parallel history with the previous structure, alternately known as Municipal Hall or, simply, City Hall. Replaced by the new one on Grant Street, the 1872 structure stood mostly empty until the 1950s, when it was torn down. Today, the former Saks on Fifth Avenue store sits there.
In our archive, we found two drawings of what each office’s replacement could have looked like. Those are the fourth and fifth images here.
Somewhere along the way, that park, the extra floors and the grand pointed roof were ditched in favor of the more utilitarian.
During Pittsburgh’s mid-century renaissance, both needed a good cleaning. All the dirt, dust, soot, ash and other industry particulates left the bright exteriors quite dark. That’s not unlike the 2007 Cathedral of Learning cleaning that restored to the Oakland landmark its stone sheen.
Today, the City-County building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the County Administration Building boasts a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation designation. We wonder what Mr. McGovern would say.
Updated from original: My thanks to former county manager Robert Webb, who knows the two buildings well and elucidated my confusion of more than one of the county building photos.