Thursday, January 20, 2011

Department Store Building of the ... Golden Triangle (2)

I couldn't get a good screen shot of the former Gimbel Brothers store in downtown Pittsburgh, and this shot of the Joseph Horne Co. store is not all that satisfactory. Horne's in the 1960s had among the most stylish ads in the country, and part of that was that the store name was placed almost as an afterthought: instead of dominating the ad -- the dress or coat or table and the copy would be used surrounded by white space, and down in a corner would appear in sans-serif type, not very large, as if "it would be in poor taste to draw attention to ourselves," a simple


Downtown Pittsburgh is oddly sited, and it was always hard for me to understand how it developed with Horne's at 501 Penn Avenue blocks away from Gimbels and Kaufmann's on Smithfield Street. The answer is in Pittsburgh's peculiar geography and where the stores drew their trade from. Unless you're from Pittsburgh or have a map this will probably make no sense, but: downtown Pittsburgh was originally centered on Market Square, at Diamond Street (now Forbes Avenue) and Market Street. Stores spread up and down Market, and then onto Fifth Avenue a half-block north as well as Diamond. Kaufmann's was originally a South Side store, serving the working class, and the Smithfield Street bridge was a main entrance to downtown from the South Side, so when Kaufmann's came downtown it built on Smithfield where it encountered downtown traffic reaching out along Diamond (Forbes) and Fifth.

Horne's, however, was the carriage-trade store, and in the late 19th century much of the carriage trade -- not the super-rich, who lived out past East Liberty, but the upper middle class -- lived on the North Side, in what then was the separate suburb of Allegheny. Allegheny had its own department stores -- one, Boggs & Buhl Co., lasted into the 1950s -- along its main street, Federal Street, which when it crossed the Allegheny River entered Pittsburgh as Sixth Street and eventually turned into Market.  Horne's started out near Sixth Street on Penn, and then moved a block west. Eventually, Market Square, which had been the center of downtown Pittsburgh, lost its prominence. The railroad that ran down Liberty Street and other commuting trails also enter into this, but the strange disconnectedness of Pittsburgh's major department stores in the 1960s came from their placement to dominate the streetcar lines coming across the bridges from very different parts of town.

1 comment:

honchojock said...

Love reading your two Golden Triangle posts.

No mention was made of another carriage trade department store, Rosenbaum's which was two blocks away from Joseph Horne Company on the corner of Liberty Ave, 6th street and Penn Avenues. A grand dame with creaky floors, my dad remembers visiting Santa as a little boy there during Christmas 1958, its last Christmas before closing.

Also no one ever mentions Spear's Department store on Wood Street. Originally home to another department store, Mccreery department store, Spear's occupied the 14 story space into the late 1950's.. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Spear's spent more than a million dollars on the total remodel and the story opened to great fanfare on May 21, 1942. That beautiful building still stands today,