William Pitt Union

This project received a 1984 Award of Excellence from the Architectural Woodwork Institute; a 1987 Merit Award from the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; and was published in numerous local and national magazines and newspapers.

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA

Historic Renovation

Project Description

From 1898 until it closed in 1956, the Hotel Schenley was one of Pittsburgh’s finest and most elegant hotels.  Its’ guest book included such renown persons as Lillian Russell, Diamond Jim Brady, Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, Sarah Bernhart, Vaslav Nijinsky, Enrico Caruso, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

The building was designed by the Pittsburgh architectural firm of Rutan & Russell.  The initial construction was of 174,000 square feet in 10-stories and a basement.  The Hotel Schenley was Pittsburgh’s first large steel-framed skyscraper hotel.  An 11th floor laundry was added in 1911.

The building was purchased by the University of Pittsburgh in 1956 and used as a dormitory.  It was later converted into a make-shift student union.  Located directly across from the Cathedral of Learning, and Hillman Library at the intersections of Forbes Avenue, Bigelow Boulevard, and Fifth Avenue, the building was geographically at the heart of the university’s campus.  But the aging facility needed a significant renovation.

The building program of uses was very complex.  The basement was converted into a student recreation concourse containing a student cafeteria, a vending area, an automatic banking machine, television room, billiard hall, ping pong room, and electronic game rooms.  The grade was lowered on the south side of the building to create a large entrance plaza, with a major new entrance to the lower level, and a greenhouse enclosed dining room.  On the west side, a three-story sky-lighted court was built to connect the concourse with the main Fifth Avenue lobby and a new plaza entrance to the residence halls.  The ground floor included a caterer’s kitchen, banquet hall, formal ballroom, public lobbies, student lounge, art gallery, a multi-purpose room with state-of-the-art sound system, stage, projection, motion picture and dance floor capabilities, and a ticket booth with bullet-proof glass. 

Work on the upper floors included meeting, dining, and conference rooms, administrative offices for the Department of Student Activities, seven floors of modern office space for student government offices, student council, a judicial hearing room, and offices for a wide variety of campus organizations.  Specialty uses included the production offices for the Pitt News, the yearbook, and a literary magazine and the University’s radio broadcasting studio for WPTS-FM, 92.1.

Work included all new heating, plumbing, air conditioning, electrical, telephone, sound systems, new energy efficient windows, modernized elevators, and a new fire suppression sprinkler system throughout.

Specialty services included measured drawings, landscape architecture, acoustical design, historic restoration, historic color matching, food service consultants, interior space planning, interior design, signage design, and graphic design.

(worked on project while employed by other firm)