A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
Equitable Plaza and its pedestrian bridge leading to Gateway Center. Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation/Photo by Frank Stroker

Equitable Plaza and its pedestrian bridge leading to Gateway Center.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation/Photo by Frank Stroker

Throughout much of its industrial history, Pittsburgh had an image problem. In 1868 James Parton wrote in The Atlantic Monthly that it was “Hell with the lid taken off.” Later, it became known as “The Smoky City.” Pollution was a big issue, but there were other problems, such as traffic congestion, flooding and blight that made Pittsburgh a less-than-desirable place to live. It was so bad that in 1944 The Wall Street Journal characterized Pittsburgh among cities “that had bleak futures.” One could argue that nowhere were these issues more visible than at the Point, the area of downtown where the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River join to form the Ohio River. Prior to World War II, the Point was a smoky, gritty, blighted area that was home to two railyards, several exposition halls, offices, clubs and hotels. It was also home to the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, a 1764 building owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the sole remaining aboveground structure from the Colonial-era Fort Pitt.

In all fairness, Pittsburgh did not ignore these issues prior to the mid-20th century. Earlier, the city considered several recommendations for the future of the Point. One of the more interesting proposals, advanced in 1947 by Frank Lloyd Wright, was to transform the Point into an automobile-centered amusement park. The formulation of plans, however, could not overcome two major impediments, the Manchester and Point bridges near the Point’s tip, which would need to be moved in order to redevelop the area.

Several political developments in the 1940s allowed redevelopment at the Point to move beyond plans and recommendations, however. In 1945 Pennsylvania’s Urban Redevelopment Law allowed cities to acquire privately owned property, clear it, and sell it to private companies for redevelopment. In 1947 amendments to the state’s Insurance Act allowed insurance companies to invest in real estate.

With the 1945 announcement by Governor Edward Martin that the state would fund “clearing of thirty-six acres at the lower Point, removal of two unsightly bridges, construction of two new bridges upstream, and creation of a state park at the Point,” the redevelopment of 59 acres began. The plan called for 36 acres to become Point State Park and 23 acres to be turned over to the Equitable Life Assurance Company to develop.

Between 1945 and 1974 the Point was completely redeveloped. A park and fountain were created and 12 mostly high-rise buildings were constructed from 1950 to 1969 in two landscaped plazas – Equitable Plaza, atop an underground parking garage, and Gateway Plaza. One building, the former Pittsburgh Press Building, dates to 1927, but was refaced in 1964.

The redevelopment of these 59 acres at the Point was only one part of the postwar planning effort to reimagine Pittsburgh. The concomitant efforts toward pollution control through city ordinances, projects to decrease flooding, and transportation improvements to remove through-traffic from the Point contributed to the success of the redevelopment and helped create a new postwar city.


Recent listings in the National Register of Historic Places include Ajax Metal Company Plant, Philadelphia; Bangor Historic District, Bangor, Northampton County; John Berger & Son Company Tobacco Warehouse, East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County; Nantmeal Village Historic District, East Nantmeal Township, Chester County; Henry F. Ortlieb Company Bottling House, Philadelphia; and William Penn Memorial (The State) Museum and State Archives Building, Harrisburg, Dauphin County.


Keith Heinrich is a historic preservation specialist in PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation. He holds a B.A. in history and archaeology from Lycoming College and an M.A. in anthropology from East Carolina University.