Catching Views on the Doors Open Antique Skyscrapers Tour

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on May 10, 2021.

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You may know of the Doors Open Pittsburgh organization from the annual event of the same name that takes place each October. During this event, dozens of normally private buildings around the city open their doors for the public and is a pretty stellar event all around.

Since the founding of this now-staple event, Doors Open has expanded to included many custom walking tours with varying themes throughout the year. These vary month-to-month, but one caught our eye- the Antique Skyscrapers: Rooftops & Views tour. As getting on top of all of the downtown skyscrapers is a goal of ours, we naturally grabbed tickets to this one right away (as they quickly sold out).

In this one, we wanted to share a bit more about what the tour was like as well as share a few of our favorite photos!

Learning The History of Pittsburgh's Skyscrapers

Koppers Building Entrance in Pittsburgh

The Antique Skyscrapers: Rooftops & Views tour caught our attention for a number of reasons. First, rooftop access is hard to come by and we jump on every chance we can get for photography purposes. Second, the two-hour tour was led by Mark Houser– historian and writer about all things skyscrapers (often at Pittsburgh Magazine). Finally, we simply love the curated tours by Doors Open Pittsburgh.

It was a good thing that we jumped on buying tickets for this, as despite the fact that there were several timeslots over the weekend, they all sold out rather quickly. In fact, the Saturday sunset tour we were hoping to snag was already sold out by the time we heard about the tour, but thankfully the weather cooperated for our mid-afternoon Sunday tour all the same.

The tour itself was designed to go to the top of three Pittsburgh skyscrapers- the Koppers Building, the Frick Building, and the Oliver Building. When visiting the buildings, Mark went into great detail about the industrialists who erected these masterpieces, their respective businesses, a bit about buildings you could see nearby, as well as a deep dive into the architects themselves.

View of the North Side from the Koppers Roof

For example, the Koppers Building was the headquarters of the Koppers chemical company which produced treatments for wood. Banker Andrew Mellon purchased a large portion of the company, relocated its headquarters to Pittsburgh, and constructed the gorgeous art deco building between 1927-1929.

View of PNC Park from the Oliver Building

The Oliver Building was built between 1908-1910 and incorporated a unique terra cotta design which was popular at the time. The building's namesake, Henry Oliver, produced iron in Minnesota. He sadly died before the building was constructed and it was named in his memory. Today the top floors of the building are occupied by the Embassy Suites hotel which has a pretty stellar view (as well as a great cocktail bar- Ollie's Gastropub).

Inside the Frick Building in Pittsburgh
The original lobby of the Frick Building was one story higher. A hill was removed to flatten the street and the basement was turned into the new lobby. Photo taken during Doors Open annual event- not on this walking tour.

The one regret we had on this particular tour was that the owners of the Frick building apparently decided to revoke rooftop access at the last minute, so we sadly did not get to go inside here. The folks at Doors Open managed this quite well with a partial refund, and we still got to learn a lot about the history of Frick and the steel industry from our guide, including how Frick built his skyscraper taller than Carnegie's next door to blot out the sun to spite him after their falling out.

Overall, apart from not being able to go up the Frick building, we really loved this tour put on by Doors Open Pittsburgh as led by Mark Houser. If you ever see this or a similar rooftop tour put out by the group, we would highly recommend jumping on it as they are quite informative, have great views, and, most importantly, sell out fast!

Looking to the Hill District and Oakland from the Koppers Building

Doors Open Pittsburgh runs numerous walking tours of various themes throughout the year. As such, it is hard to predict when this one may return. Be on the lookout for new tours on their website as the skyscraper tour sold out fast!

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