I just read a well researched and succinctly written review of the University of Pittsburgh’s new “Master Plan” for its main Oakland campus.
It was written and posted by a Pitt alumni who goes by the screen name “Paco”.
Paco posted the below on Rivals.com message board titled Between Fifth and Forbes.
This is so very impressive and because I agree with everything he has not only said in this piece, but also with his ideas and opinions about Pitt as a whole, I’ll  reprint it for a larger audience.
I responded to his post on Rivals by suggesting he both submit his ideas directly to the Chancellor’s  Officer but also start a petition concerning saving the historically significant buildings that should and must remain extant to continue to tell Pitt’s glorious history via the architecture built in its early days.

Thank you Paco!

So there are some MAJOR changes and I have some BIG concerns about historically significant buildings, but also some exciting things. But these plans are also very vague. Except for the “Innovation District stuff, they also detail zero additional land acquisitions (which is probably a smart thing).

Below are the major changes that I see. The first three are very troubling.

Absolutely idiotic if true:

  • The 1884 Richardsonian Romanesque Music Building by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow, the oldest structure on Pitt’s campus, looks like it is to be replaced. This is the former William Jacob Holland house, a renown zoologist and former Chancellor of the university, and the original studio for WQED and Mr. Rogers’. A Schenley Farms Historic District Contributing Property, this is simply an unacceptable, contemptible loss. Hopefully they are just building around it (they have the entire parking lot there to build on). Build around it, or even get rid of the 1950s addition, fine, but hopefully this gets nominated for historic protective status or the city’s historic review commission blocks it. Just so stupid.
  • The O’Hara Student Center, formerly the Concordia Club, looks like it is being torn down. This is a 1913 Romanesque Revival building by Charles Bickel and is also a Schenley Farms Historic District Contributing Property and an absolutely unacceptable loss. Just 7 years ago Pitt put a lot of money and care into the restoration and preservation of the interior of the building, which contains chandeliered ball rooms and beautiful deep oak paneling. A giant WTF to the planners on this one and hopefully the city never lets this get touched. Historic societies need to draw up the nominations for protective status.
  • In the same horrendous destruction plan along O’Hara St, the Gardner Steel Conference Center also looks slated for destruction. This 1911 early modernist Kiehnel and Elliot structure features Art Deco detailing. It was originally the Central Turnverein, a German-American club, that also served as a venue for Pitt athletics and a dental school clinic during the university’s early days in Oakland. It is also Schenley Farms Historic District Contributing Property and absolutely asinine to destroy. I know for a fact that the city planning commission blocked the alteration of an entrance on this building because it detracted from its historic integrity too much, so I can’t imagine they’d let any of these three buildings come down. The interior of this one could be gutted, as could the Music Building, but the exteriors shouldn’t be touched. Whoever signed off on a plan to remove these three historic buildings is a flat out idiot.
  • Concept sketches show no attempt to preserve the facade of the former Allegheny Public Health building on Forbes. The building shouldbe demolished, but the facade needs to be preserved and incorporated into the new structure. A major shortsighted architectural loss.

Not sure (will have to see final product):

  • Bouquet Gardens townhouse buildings all look to demolished and replaced by dorm style buildings. The current plot also seems to be sliced through by an extension of Roberto Clemente Dr. If that is open to vehicular traffic, that is a big mistake. Pitt does not need to create more of a grid. Not sure if I like this plan. Bouquet Gardens is nicely done area of campus if you ever walk through it. I can see replacing the townhouse units, but not sure about these large dorms structures are the right way to go about it.
  • For the “Innovation District”, it looks like they are targeting the entire block that McDonald’s, Dave & Andy’s, Fuel & Fuddle, and the Garage Door/former Decade sit on. Also the half block of the former IGA/Attic and Loeffler Building. If they were smart, they’d preserve some of the facades of these buildings. A lot, if not all of the character of Forbes will be lost if they don’t. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are that smart.
  • New building going up between Hillman and the Barco Law Building. This has been long planned. Will be interesting to see the design here as it is going to be in the midst of a brutalist paradise. This has to be done carefully and designed to complement the existing architecture while not being beholden to it. In general, they do need to put something here, but IMO the design is going to be tricky and it is such a central part of campus, it could easily be botched.
  • Expansions of Posvar (taking out the Bouquet side plaza). This, again, could destroy the exiting architecture grouping and may result in a much more grided, less campus feel because you are losing the set back there along Bouquet which helps transition into Bouquet Gardens and the residential neighborhood. This expansion, along with the new dorm complexes, I fear will in no way soften the urban grid feeling.
  • The 1965 Tasso Katselas designed Information Science Building. A brutalist structure, it is also one of the more interesting modern buildings on campus. The ground floor was already significantly altered. I think they’ll eventually regret getting rid of this one. I’m not sure if you truly need to replace this, so it better be replaced by something architecturally significant.

Not ideal, but necessary:

  • Learning Research and Development Center is bulldozed to make way for a new student rec center (the O’Hara St parking garage is also lost). The LRDC was an award winning building by Harrison & Abramovitz and is one of Pitt’s only interesting modern buildings. This is a moderate, but acceptable loss. A new student rec center is much needed.
  • Falk Clinic, which is actually a Pitt building, looks to be lost and replaced. Falk Clinic is actual a 1931 Edward Purcell Mellon building. It’s original style and facade was largely obliterated by a modernist glass addition to the Forbes Ave entrance. Because of that, it is not much of a loss.
  • Redesign, but not closure of Bigelow Blvd: this goes with their zero acquisition of new properties theme in their presentation but not pushing for a full closure is a failure. Slowly squeezing it is closed may be the way to proceed.

Applause:

  • The Space Research & Coordination Center, a 1965 monstrosity that obliterated the classical facade of the main entrance of Thaw Hall, looks to be coming down. A new building appears to replace it on the parking lot. It looks like, and I really hope that, Thaw’s facade could be restored. Great move if so.
  • Two buildings are going up on the former Syria Mosque site, too long a surface parking lot. Long overdue. Nice to see they’re incorporating a quad feature. The design of these buildings is critical. Hopefully they don’t skimp and make some lasting, signature buildings that complement the campus.
  • The Center Oakland Apartments and Oakwood Apartments are demoed and replaced by dorm like structures. Also a building is placed on the Sennot Square parking lot. These changes are all long overdue as the existing apartment buildings were worn and dated, but I can see substantial push back from community residents. Also the student micro farm on Oakland is lost, which is not unexpected and never meant to be permanent, but I imagine that will cause some students to raise a stink.
  • New housing (likely in the style of Irvis and Panther Halls) going up on the former site of the Mineral Industries Building/original dental school. About time.
  • Crabtree Hall (which is an annex to the Public Health building) is being demoed and rebuilt as tower. This is a good idea and replacement of that building is long overdue and its surface lot has been an eyesore on that corner.
  • New building going on the former Burger King site/current parking lot across Bouquet from the Towers. This has long been planned and way overdue.
  • New building on the PNC Bank site on Fifth and Craig. Long overdue.
  • Previously known expansions of Scaife Hall and WPIC are shown. Victoria also getting an addition.
  • The plaza around the Towers looks like it will get a major rennovation/rebuild.
  • Lothrop Hall looks like it will be demolished and rebuilt.
  • Forbes Hall looks like it is targeted for demolishing and rebuilding as an Innovation District building
  • Looks like chunks of Montefiore Hospital along 5th are targeted to come down.
  • Salk Hall Pavilion (the 1967 annex in front of the landmark hospital, but thankfully not the historic hospital building) looks to be redone.
  • Frick Fine Arts Building annex: this has long been in the works, overdue, and needed, so I’ll assume they build something complementary to FFA and not something that ruins or detracts from it.

Athletics (I see no problem with any of these):

  • Most of Trees Hall (except for the pool which looks to get an addition, probably a diving well) is bulldozed and replace by an indoor facility with an apparent glass covering. It looks like its front lawn is lost.
  • Major development on the OC lot
  • Fitzgerald Field House is bulldozed and rebuilt as flex support space with a quad.
  • Expansions to the Pete and and PSC.

36 thoughts on “Pitt’s New Master Plan

    1. https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/28/us/expensive-college-football-stadiums/index.html

      Unless a venue could be multi-purpose (serving more than 1 program and be more than an athletics facility), it wont happen.

      Any building has to produce multiple revenues streams to pay for itself. That means dorms, classrooms, business offices, retail space, holding multiple events. Would have to be ‘open’ 365 days a year.

      The VA hospital wont be around forever….

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  1. Wow! I remember Oakland from the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t know where some of the Bouquet St. additions are to be located. Will residents be moved out or relocated? This Paco person really knows a lot about Pitt architectural history. When I was at Pitt, I remember a professor talking about Ohio State’s architectural sprawl and how it was a “menagerie” of design that he hoped Pitt would avoid in its future. He loved Miami of Ohio’s architecture scheme, with buildings having a design and symmetry that seemed to reflect a rational and aesthetically pleasing master plan to best represent the university.

    I was a Johnstown kid who transferred in from Pitt-Johnstown and roomed in a third floor apartment in one of the homes there behind right field. I lived in Oakland for four years as I earned my BA and M ED at Pitt. I lived in some Atwood St. apartments and a place I think in a square at the end of Bouquet St. Nearly all my places were in buildings owned and occupied by first floor residents. I wonder if they will be affected by this master plan.

    Sorry, Reed, to drift from Pitt football. This piece was very interesting to me, as it seems to be for you with your Pitt historical background. Pitt’s game last week at UNC and today’s at UCF have me bummed out. I expect a blowout. I would welcome a win, of course, but hope for at least a competitive game.

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  2. Couldn’t disagree more. A few building I can see saving. The rest need mowed down. They need to close a few streets, make them pedestrian only.

    Love the housing center, rec building, victory heights. All good improvements for students.

    Looks like a looooooong term plan. We will all be long gone before much of it happens.

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  3. Agree with Paco on many of his thoughts particularly about preserving historical buildings.

    Would love to see the area around the Library completely bulldozed. Thats close to the heart of campus and is an eyesore of architecture. Looks like a German bunker.

    Any building (unless historical) thats over 60 years really should be subject to demo. I cant imagine what the maintenance and utility costs are for these old and inefficient buildings.

    Part of Oaklands charm is the mixture of old with new. I always liked the Romanesque look. I think that look should be preserved at least in the facade of some newer buildings.

    And of course would love to see the slums of South Oakland razed and maybe the University is targeting certain sections and secretly will purchase them over time.

    But this is just a future plan. Plans change. Some things will come to fruition and others not. Some things not even mentioned could find their way onto the plans.

    Where is Pitt getting the money to do these things though? Fundraising campaign? Corporate sponsorship’s? Incurring debt? Raising tuition and fees?

    These ideas wont happen without money.

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    1. Have you seen tuition rates? There is little campus to maintain like most big schools. They make plenty of money. Ie Narduzzi stealing 3.5M a year.

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  4. Any time the conversation of Pitt comes up, one of the things I say to someone is that the Pitt Campus has some of the most BEAUTIFUL architecture of any school in the country.

    The problem is all of the CRAP in between.

    The emphasis should be a continuing effort to simply tear down as many INSIGNIFICANT buildings that detract from that BEAUTY as possible whenever possible. The empty space can then be filled with an expanding infrastructure designed to complement the architectural GEMS that stand today as testament to the rich history of the University and the City of Pittsburgh.

    Not complicated.

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  5. Keeping the famously wonderful architect historical buildings intact is a MUST! In fact these historical sites need to be the centerpiece of the campus (IMHO) revealing and protecting the universities rich past.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Have always beat up PSU alums over their lack of professional and grad schools and their ugly modern architecture sprawl including cheeply built apts. vs the beautiful panoply of architecture that is Oakland. Lots of nice flat land covered by 3 floor walkups around Oakland and Atwood. An OC Stadium multi use facility should be part of this plan. I also will never see this happen. PS. the learning center O’Hara parking garage slot at street level used to be part of my season ticket plan for quick exits after those late night PS games we won on the hill.

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  7. Just watched ESPN Gameday wrap up the ACC for today. Summary is good case why Pitt forecasts of 4 or fewer games are real. Va. good defense, new QB new life. Duke on a roll. Cus improving. VT needs QB back then OK etc, etc. End of summary ” Pitt plays Central Fla.” That”s all. They did not want to even talk about it! Since I Picked Cuse as the family game toattend for this year because I thought it would be a W after several L’s I guess I’m screwed on that now.

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    1. If I’m ever on the road on a Saturday and listening to the radio to get scores, no matter if it’s Sirius or ESPN radio or even some college radio station, I never hear Pitt’s score announced unless they played a top-20 team that day. Frustrating.

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  8. Much of Pitt’s plan for development wont be publicly released. Thats because once you start letting it known you are interested in properties, the value of those properties skyrockets. If they are smart, they will have identified 3 land areas for future development:

    VA Hospital
    Panther Hollow
    South Oakland

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I took syracuse Ike and Ole Miss and OSU.

    Syracuse was getting a ton of points.

    Ole Miss 14.5 I think

    OSU -3.5

    I have a few more but forget them.

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        1. Then you’re looking good with all those points. Imagine that, a school in the northeast running a spread to compete with the big boys. And then there is Pitt hiring a coach who runs archaic schemes.

          And when Pitt has Canada it lets him walk instead of paying him. And Pitt fans like to say it will pay when it has a good coach. Yeah, right.

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  10. Seems like a lot of moves for a University with an enrollment of that size. But Pitt is moving from a comuter school to student on campus living. But Heinz as a facility is an unknown in 2030 for Steelers use and may need some upgrade that is costly. Pitt has to get ahead of this and build a 45K on campus stadium that has track, soccer capability as well. But not sure what the landscape of P5 football will be by then. HS football is dying in the NE and except for NJ, Pitt is limited in recruiting the traditional areas. I can see the power programs moving to a level that many programs simply can’t compete with.

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  11. Watching ‘Cuse DL harrass and hammer the Clemson QB..

    Imagine what they’ll do to Pickett with our horrendous OL.

    I think I’ll take out some insurance on Pickett and make myself the beneficiary.

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  12. An argument exists that with rising tuition costs and school loan debt long surpassing mortgage debt, that Internet based college education will explode, thereby making investment in bricks and mortar a losing proposition.

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  13. You cannot tear down the building that (I am told) Mr. Rogers was once filmed at? (The Music building). As a former music major, bummer.

    I know it is a pipe dream but what Pitt should do is what Penn has been trying to do, though with only VERY slow success. Penn borders West Philly…by no means the worst part of it, but still, row homes, many that have seen much better days, and not the safest part of the city by any stretch. At Penn they pay your closing costs and do a bunch of other things if you are alum and want to buy property there….encouraging gentrification in short. More importantly they have bought quite a bit of it and today you can get to 42nd street without feeling like you have left the safe zone.

    Oversimplifying, South Oakland has much less of a crime problem than West Philly and much more of a “its a dump” problem with a lot of the housing. I have friends who know I went to Pitt and visited with their kids and the response upon coming back, all three families independently, was, wow, great school you went to. Too bad off campus housing is a total dump, and yeah, not greatly safe. When I was back on campus 2 years ago, after a decade of having not visited, I was a bit shocked at the number of homeless on Atwood avenue and the general dumpiness of it even before getting to the off campus housing part…I am just talking near the Rite Aid.

    It is tough, Universities only have so much control of their surroundings. I guess Pitt is trying to do the next best thing, which is to make so much more on campus housing that the off campus housing problem is less of a problem…HTP!!

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  14. Dear Mr. Crazy Paco,

    Thank you. It was a memorable walk down memory lane reviewing your commentary of Pitt’s edifices, where I traipsed from 1970 through 1974 as a student. What gets lost on this blog is what a world (not only USA, but world) class academic institution PItt is. Athletically, give Coach Pat this year and yeah give him next year. If no improvement, then move on. Behind closed doors, even Narduzzi knows it. Criticize Heather all you want, but she hit a grand slam hiring Coach Capel. The last Pitt AD to hit a grand slam was Cas Myslinski.

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