Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on May 3, 2023.
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Doors Open has since expanded to include tours throughout the city, focusing on specific neighborhoods and boroughs throughout the year. In 2023, the two largest tours will take place in Millvale on June 17th and South Side on September 23rd. The downtown tour as outlined below is likely not taking place in 2023.
Doors Open Pittsburgh is a new annual event in the city where local businesses and public offices open their doors to give residents a behind-the-scenes look at their architecture, interior designs, and inner-workings. As it is our quest to experience everything Pittsburgh has to offer, we found this event to be a great way for us to see a side of the city that is normally removed from the public eye.
After exploring countless properties downtown over the course of the weekend, we have decided to share some of our favorites today in order to inspire you to get out and check out the next Doors Open event!
(Note– Several of the properties featured below are open to the public outside of the Doors Open event, so in some cases you may not have to wait until the next event date to go explore!)
The Performing Art Venues
The performing arts venues in Pittsburgh's Cultural District are some of the most beautiful buildings in the city. This photo is from one of our favorite sections of Heinz Hall, the venue the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra calls home. We normally say we go to this one for the music, which is true, but I am always in awe with just how beautiful the venue is and am more than happily visit just to appreciate the designs alone.
The Frick Building
The Frick Building is one of the most interesting skyscrapers in downtown Pittsburgh due to the man behind the building itself: Henry Clay Frick.
For those who have toured the Clayton estate (Frick's one-time residence) in Point Breeze, you'll have learned that a lot of Frick's work during his later years were to spite his once business partner turned rival, Andrew Carnegie. This skyscraper in downtown Pittsburgh followed that mantra accordingly and was said to be built so large and in such close proximity to Carnegie's office that it would cast it in perpetual shadow.
Yes, Frick was serious in his hatred of Carnegie.
The building also has a lot of other interesting nuances about it that we learned during the Doors Open event. There is the fact that the current entryway is in the former basement, as the street was dug out to remove a pesky hill that was once present (and extremely difficult to navigate in the pre-automobile days). This is why the lion statues and main elevators appear one floor higher than today's entry level.
The building also had a shower installed on the 19th floor for Frick, which was a true feat of engineering of the time as pumping technology was not that great in those days.
The things you can do when you're one of the richest men in the world, I suppose.
The Union Trust Building
Frick actually has three downtown buildings associated with his name: The Frick Building (above), the Omni William Penn Hotel (one of Pittsburgh's most renowned hotels), and the Union Trust Building.
The Union Trust Building is located just a few doors down from the Frick Building and was built to be an iconic shopping arcade featuring over 200 stores and businesses. This one fell on hard times and was only recently purchased in a foreclosure auction. $100 million in repairs later, and the inside of the building has finally been restored.
As the renovation work is still on-going at the Union Trust Building, right now there is not much to say other than the fact that this is simply one gorgeous building. But in the coming months and years be sure to watch this one as restaurants, retail spaces, and other businesses bring this one back to its former glory!
Dollar Bank is located on one of our favorite streets in all of Pittsburgh, Fourth Avenue, as it is home to some incredibly unique architecture at every intersection. The bank itself was built in 1871 is known for its iconic facade and two large resting lion statues that guard the entrance.
But did you know that these are replicas that were only added just a few years ago? Don't worry, the originals can now be found inside!
Since you normally do not have carte blanche to explore a bank during regular visiting hours, touring during Doors Open Pittsburgh is a great opportunity to experience this building's amazing designs at your leisure!
The City-County Building
The City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh is one of the main government offices in the city. The mayor's office, city council chambers, and many other public entities call this building home.
Normally a visit to the City-County Building only happens when you have a very specific reason (such as renewing a passport or attending to legal matters), but during Doors Open Pittsburgh many offices are open for tours that you'd not otherwise see.
Between getting to act like a council person at the podium (we proclaim free ice cream for all!), touring the archives, and even being able to go into the mayor's office, the City-County Building was one of our favorites to check out during Doors Open Pittsburgh.
BNY Mellon Executive Floors
Shifting from the public offices to private ones, we come to the Executive Level at BNY Mellon- perhaps the most popular spot on the entire Doors Open itinerary (which came with a 15-30 minute wait as a result).
The Executive Level, as the name suggests, is the floor where the big-wigs of BNY Mellon conduct business, put on luncheons, and, perhaps most importantly to us, have one killer view of the city! Since getting to the top of buildings in downtown Pittsburgh is often limited, this stop was perfect for a view of the city we've never seen before.
Smithfield United Church of Christ
The event also has many churches and cathedrals joining in, and one of our favorites of all is the Smithfield United Church of Christ. Between the stunning architecture, beautiful stained glass, and incredible attention to detail put on every inch of the building, we were awe inspired.
Be sure to look at the bottom panels of the stained glass when you visit as they depict scenes from Pittsburgh's history!
Allegheny HYP Club
The Allegheny HYP Club formed in 1929 and was designed to be a private club for alumni of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (HYP) right in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. This one certainly has the feeling of exclusivity when you walk in, as the high-end designs as well as names and photos of prestigious HYP alumni adorning the walls boosts the club's stature to outsiders.
These days you only need to be an alumni of a college to join, which we just might do in order to be able to dine at their on-site restaurant. The things we do for this blog.
Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania
Moving on to a club that we could join via its original intent, we come to the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania- located in another beautiful building on Fourth Avenue just across the street from Dollar Bank.
The inside of this one is rather reserved when compared to other architectural wonders nearby, but it does contain a vault door that is one of the most robust and beautiful you will ever see!
The Oliver Building
The Oliver Building was constructed in the early 1900s by the estate of yet-another steel magnate in the city – Henry Oliver. Although the building was constructed after his death, it was built to be opulent and command a presence in Pittsburgh's skyline which it most certainly does even to this day.
To us, one of the best parts of the Oliver Building comes from the fact that Embassy Suites Downtown Pittsburgh is located on its upper floors- meaning this is one of a few buildings members of the public can go up any time they like. (Read our full review here.)
The pride and jewel of this one is their bar, Ollie's Gastropub, which serves up some incredible cocktails and looks straight onto home plate at PNC Park- perfect for game days or fireworks nights!
Although we could continue to share more buildings featured in the Doors Open Pittsburgh event, we finish on one that is one of our favorites in the city- The Pennsylvanian.
This building used to be known as Union Station, a transport hub for train travel within the region. While it is still used partially for the train service today as it is connected to the current Amtrak station in Pittsburgh, the vast majority of the building has been replaced with luxury apartments.
The Doors Open Pittsburgh event did offer tours of these units, but we opted to skip them to spend more time in the best part of the building- the iconic rotunda outside. Out of all of the architectural beauties Pittsburgh has to offer, there is none more grand nor opulent than the rotunda at the Pennsylvanian.
So when you visit this one we recommend allotting quite a bit of time so you can appreciate its beauty. You won't regret it.
Doors Open Pittsburgh takes place each October at many locations in downtown Pittsburgh and other city neighborhoods.
Want to find more things to do in Pittsburgh in October? Click the previous link to read more of our recommendations!