A lot of history has happened at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street. In 1849, The Joseph Horne Company chose the location to be the site of city’s first department store and built a landmark seven-story building boasting views of the Allegheny River and what would become known as the Golden Triangle.
The corner has been the site of many dramas through the years, including the 1936 flood that put the city under siege for five days. But these days, the corner is most known for the Horne’s Tree. We visited this iconic landmark in a post last year. We’re returning now because we found in the Post-Gazette archive a few new pictures, including a stunning image by former Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette photographer Andy Starnes.
Andy shot the picture on Nov. 12, 1979, when the tree was lit after a one-year absence (it was mothballed in 1978 because of a national energy crisis). Andy set his camera to a slow shutter speed and used a zoom lens to create lines of light that appear to shoot from the tree.
The earliest photo in our collection was taken in 1956 and shows the original tree that featured only lights. First hung in 1953, it was dedicated to the kids at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Incidentally, 1953 was also the year that Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he was successful in testing vaccine for polio. The year prior — 1952 — was an epidemic year for the disease with 58,000 new cases in the United States.
Other photographs show the tree’s evolution from an elegant string of lights to a more traditional green tree, decorated with massive ornaments.
Today, Light-Up night is a weekend-long celebration and the building is sits on is called Penn Avenue Place. Highmark, the main tenant, continues the tradition and a contest renamed it “The Unity Tree” in the mid 90’s. But no one calls it that. For Pittsburgher’s are a stubborn clan and the beloved symbol of holiday cheer forges on in the hearts of many as “The Hornes Tree.”